Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

Valanciunas to return in Game 4

TORONTO — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is on the active list and will make his return from an ankle injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday. He will come off the bench for the Raptors, who are looking to tie the series at two games apiece.

Valanciunas originally injured his ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He has missed the last seven games, with Toronto using Bismack Biyombo in the starting lineup and different combinations on the frontline behind him.

Biyombo has been a bit of a revelation and was a huge factor in the Raptors’ Game 3 victory on Saturday, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 20 points in the paint.

Valanciunas has averaged 15.0 points (on 55 percent shooting) and 12.1 rebounds in 10 playoff games. He gives Toronto a low-post presence through which to run its offense, but it’s unclear how mobile he’ll be or if he’ll be able to match up with Cleveland’s five-out second unit when Tristan Thompson goes to the bench.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that Valanciunas’ role would be limited.

“He brings a post presence, gives them a chance to slow the game down,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “With his presence, it gives a different dynamic to their team outside of just a jump-shooting team and two guards attacking. So it’s a different look for us, but we’ll be ready for it.”

Cavs, Raptors will ‘dance’ again in Game 4

TORONTO — The home team has won all six games played between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors this season. If the Raptors can keep that trend going in Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Eastern Conference finals will suddenly get very interesting.

Here are things to watch on either end of the floor as the Raptors try to even the series and the Cavs try to get within one win of their second straight trip to The Finals.

Toronto on offense – The value of a good screen

Bismack Biyombo was the big story in Game 3, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cavs to just 20 points in the paint. He also scored six straight points to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

But Biyombo’s biggest offensive contribution on Saturday were his seven screen assists, five more than any other player recorded. The Raptors struggled offensively through the first two rounds and shot 41 percent in the first two games against the Cavs, who are the worst defensive team they’ve faced in the playoffs.

Toronto broke out offensively in Game 3, scoring 60 points on just 43 possessions in the first half and finishing with 99 on 85. SportVU data tells us that the Raptors set fewer ball screens in Game 3 (68) than they did in Games 1 or 2 (91, 85). But Biyombo’s screens were particularly effective.

According to SportVU, the Raptors scored 36 points (1.29 per possession) on possessions in which Biyombo set a ball screen. That’s more than they scored off Biyombo screens in Games 1 and 2 combined (33, 0.75 per possession).

Here are a couple of screens from Biyombo that allowed DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph attack Tristan Thompson off the dribble…



Good screening allows the offense to pick which defender they want to go at. The Raptors have three ball-handlers — DeRozan, Joseph and Kyle Lowry — who can take advantage of non-rim-protectors off the dribble and the Cavs have three non-rim-protectors — Thompson, Kevin Love and Channing Frye — on their frontline.

On Sunday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey stressed the importance of both a good screen and the ball-handler’s timing and ability to create space as the screen is being set.

“It’s really important,” Casey said. “I think especially when it’s a physical-type game where the opposing team is into the guard or into the pin-down of the guy receiving the screen. I think it’s really important, the timing, where you don’t set illegal screens or the defense doesn’t hurry you up, and it gives [the screener] an opportunity to get his body on the defender.

“It’s a dance. You’ve got to have a dance partner, is what I call it. The guy that’s receiving the screen has got to be able to dance with the guy guarding him. They’re doing a lot of top-blocking, so you’ve still got to be able to dance with him to take him to the screen and/or create the separation, one of the two. If you’re a point guard and you’re trying to come off on the pick-and-roll, your ability to get separation from the defender is just as important as that screen. So now with the defense heightened and them understanding exactly what you’re doing, it’s even more important.”

Cleveland is not a great defensive team if you pick the right spots to attack and execute with effective screens. Toronto will look to do that again in Game 4.

Cleveland on offense – LeBron with the ball

Of course, the Cavs usually don’t have to be a great defensive team, because their offense is so potent. But that offense took a step backward on Saturday, scoring just 84 points on 84 possessions (37 on 41 in the second half).

Kyrie Irving (3-for-19) and Kevin Love (1-for-9) combined to shoot 4-for-28 in Game 3 after shooting 58 percent combined in their two home games. Regression to the mean was certainly in play, but the Toronto defense deserves some credit for defending better than they did in Games 1 and 2.

Casey spoke about the pick-and-roll “dance” on the Raptors’ end of the floor, but there’s also been an interesting dance going on when LeBron James has had the ball in this series.

Early in Game 1, James posted up DeMarre Carroll on the right side of the floor…


Biyombo was stationed on the opposite side of the lane, sticking with Thompson so that the weak-side defenders didn’t have to help off the Cavs’ shooters. And of course, James spun baseline, where there was no help, scoring two of the Cavs’ 50 points in the restricted area in Game 1.

Early in Game 2, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…


This time, Biyombo slid over to the strong side, to help at the rim…


… and both DeRozan and Luis Scola sank down to put a body on Thompson. So James just zipped a pass to Love for an open three, with DeRozan a half second too late on his close-out.

In the second quarter of Game 3, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor…


Biyombo was dancing back and forth, but in the paint and ready to help, with Patrick Patterson putting a body on Thompson. There’s might have been a passing lane there, but it wasn’t as wide as it was in Game 2, and the Raptors were more organized on the weak side, where both guys weren’t helping and DeRozan was in position to recover to J.R. Smith.

The result of the play? James spun baseline, Biyombo stopped him there, and he passed to Love, who forced an ugly, leaning, step-in jumper after Patterson closed out in time.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said with his other two stars struggling, the coach should have leaned more on his best player.

“I should have put the ball in LeBron’s hands a little bit more,” Lue said Sunday, “to let him create and let him draw double teams.”

While the Raptors handled that play in Game 3 better than they did in Cleveland, they didn’t see it as often. In fact, Love posted up more than James did on Saturday, when James more often had the ball on the perimeter.

The Raptors didn’t defend James the same way every time. Sometimes, Carroll was in his shirt…


… but mostly, he wasn’t.


And he went under screens, giving James space to shoot or act “like a quarterback” as Carroll says.


The Raptors would obviously love to make James a jump-shooter. This year, he shot just 34.3 percent from outside the paint, his worst mark since his rookie year. And he’s 4-for-16 from outside the restricted area in this series.

James is less likely to take the bait than he has been in previous years. In these playoffs, 53 percent of his shots have come in the restricted area, up from 36 percent in playoffs past. But he will be happy to use that space to see the floor and find his teammates for open shots.

The key is the other Raptors’ ability to stay at home on the Cavs’ shooters and fight through pin-down screens being set for Smith and Irving. They did a better job of that in Game 3 and will have to continue to be sharp defensively in Game 4.

“If you back off of him, he’s going to make a good decision,” Casey said. “So we have to mix up how we want to play him, whether it’s up on him or back or sending help or not sending help. There’s not one way you can play a great player like he is.”

Morning shootaround — May 22


Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”


No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.


No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”


No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — May 19


Durant silenced in third quarter | LeBron: ‘I have no idea’ what flagrant foul is on me | Report: Magic confident they can get Vogel | Ginobili to talk with Duncan, Popovich

No. 1: Warriors find way to keep Durant under wraps  In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant finished with 26 points on 10-for-30 shooting. His shooting woes were more about him just plain missing shots than anything the Golden State Warriors threw at him defensively. In Game 2 of the series last night, Durant got his points (29) and had a solid shooting night in terms of raw numbers (11-for-18), but a third quarter stretch cut off OKC’s hopes of a win. Erik Horne of The Oklahoma has more on Durant’s Game 2:

Coming off a scorching 23-point first half, Kevin Durant hoisted his first shot attempt of the third quarter. The fadeaway jumper fell, a textbook Durant stroke.

It came halfway through the quarter. The Thunder trailed by double digits. It was far too late on a night when the turnover issues of Durant vs. Warriors past came back in full force in Golden State’s 118-91 win.

Still, it was Durant’s only made shot from the field in the third: a pull-up jumper at 6:22 that was sandwiched in between Stephen Curry’spersonal 14-point barrage. Durant had only two shot attempts in the entire third quarter in which the Thunder was outscored 31-19.


“They were sending three guys and I was trying to make the right pass,” Durant said. “I was turning the ball over, playing in a crowd.”

Durant finished with eight turnovers, upping his season average against the Warriors to 6.4 per game – his most against any opponent.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it wasn’t anything new. Durant’s seen the double and triple teams the Warriors threw at him. The swarming. The sneak attacks from a help defender as his back is turned.

Donovan wants Durant to be a willing passer, but he also wants better decisions from his star … and those around him. On Durant’s pass attempt to Roberson, Durant held the ball for seconds, probing and waiting for movement before trying to laser a pass between three players.

“… so maybe I’ve just gotta shoot over three people,” Durant said in postgame.

No, but Donovan wants better decisions from not just Durant, but the players around him.

“He’s got to do a better job, and we’ve got to do a better job creating open avenues and gaps for him to either pass it or drive it when teams elect to kind of send somebody at him,” Donovan said. “When he’s up there playmaking and they’re coming at him, obviously you’ve got to make those decisions very quickly.

“So I think Kevin watching the film will have a chance to get better from it.”

Raptors hope to protect the basket better in Game 2

VIDEO: Best of Phantom: Toronto vs. Cleveland Game 1

CLEVELAND — The Toronto Raptors did not want to get beaten by a barrage of 3-pointers like the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks did.

The Cleveland Cavaliers averaged 16.8 threes per game through the first two rounds, shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. After getting through a seven-game series against a Miami Heat team that wasn’t going to beat them from the outside, the Raptors adjusted their defensive game plan.

The result was only seven 3-pointers from the Cavs on 20 attempts in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Good defense from the Raptors?

Not really.

Instead of shooting 3s, the Cavs just went to the basket, early and often on their way to a 115-84 blowout in Game 1. The Cavs’ 25 baskets in the restricted area on Tuesday were the most they’ve had in any game this season and the most any team has had in a game in the 2016 playoffs. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined to shoot 17-for-18 at the basket.

Across the league, 3-point shooting has been trending up for several years. But even with the Golden State Warriors and, now, the Cavs taking 3-point shooting to new levels, layups are still more valuable than 3s. Even with their increased proficiency from beyond the arc in the playoffs, the Cavs’ shots in the restricted area — shot at 63 percent — have been worth 1.26 points per attempt this year, while their 3s — 37 percent — have been worth just 1.12 points per attempt.

The Raptors have been one of the league’s best teams at protecting the paint, and allowed the Cavs to get just 35 buckets in the restricted area over their three regular season meetings. But on Tuesday, bad on-ball defense was exacerbated by a lack of help near the basket.

This doesn’t have to be a simple choice between taking away 3s or taking away layups. You can do both if, when you’re aggressive on the perimeter, you have a rim protector as a second line of defense. Bismack Biyombo is the Raptors’ rim protector, but he often wasn’t in position to actually protect the rim in Game 1.

One issue is that the Cavs’ have only one non-shooting big in their rotation. And when Tristan Thompson goes to the bench, they have five players, with Kevin Love or Channing Frye at center, who can shoot 3s.

Here’s Iman Shumpert catching a pass from Irving after setting a screen and having a clear lane to the basket, because all five defenders have both feet outside the paint:


Here’s all 10 players on the perimeter, opening the paint for Matthew Dellavedova to cut through and get an and-one off a pass from Frye:


But Thompson was on the floor for 13 of the Cavs’ 22 non-garbage time layups and dunks. Five of those 13 were in transition, but there were other examples of Biyombo just not being in position to help.

Here are two examples of DeMarre Carroll being left on an island with James while Biyombo is on the other side of the paint with Thompson:



The dilemma here is that, if Biyombo slides over to the strong side to help on James, one of the other weak-side defenders has to slide down into the paint to prevent a duck-in from Thompson. If that happens, a shooter is open on the weak-side and nobody throws cross-court darts to open shooters better than James.

But there were other times on Tuesday when Biyombo got caught too far away from the basket without that weak-side worry. Here’s Irving crossing over Cory Joseph and rejecting a screen from Thompson in transition, with Biyombo’s feet above the foul line:


So the Raptors have to figure out how they’re going to protect the rim better in Game 2 on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), both with Thompson on the floor and with him on the bench. For Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey, defensive improvement has to start on the ball. Carroll, in particular, got beat off the dribble too often in Game 1.

“You have to pick your poison with those guys,” Casey said Wednesday. “Some of the straight-line drives, it’s just like in the summertime, you’re guarding a guy one-on-one, you’ve got to get down in the stance and understand your cushion that you can have on the guy. If you get too close, he’s going to blow by you. If you’re off too far, he’s going to pull up.”

As for defending the Cavs’ five-out lineups, Casey says a more tactical adjustment is in order.

“We made some adjustments on that to make sure we still have help there at the rim,” Casey said. “We’ve got to take away the first beast, which is their 3-point shooting. We did that, but now we’ve got to make adjustments to make sure we have bodies on the drives.”

Casey was on the staff in Dallas when the Mavs beat James’ Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals, using a zone at times to keep James away from the basket. The Raptors have rarely used zone this season, but when he was asked if he had a zone look in his back pocket, Casey’s response was clear.

“Always,” said. “Always.”

Desperate times could call for desperate measures.

Morning shootaround — May 18


OKC playing with calmness in postseason | Lowry didn’t intend to diss LeBron | Butler reflects on difficult season | Lakers relieved to land No. 2 pick

No. 1: Thunder continue to show postseason composure  Game 2 of the Western Conference finals is tonight (9 ET, TNT) and the Oklahoma City Thunder look to close the evening with a 2-0 series edge on the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder snagged Game 1 despite falling into a 14-point hole after halftime thanks to a comeback marked by a self-control and smart play in the second half. That aplomb has marked Oklahoma City’s playoff run to date, writes Eric Horne of The Oklahoman:

Yes, composure. The Thunder’s weakness has largely been erased in the NBA Playoffs. There have been slips, but in Game 1 against Golden State, a team OKC collapsed against in every regular-season meeting, the Thunder was more composed than the defending NBA Champions.

“It was huge,” Kevin Durant said of the Thunder’s play in the fourth quarter. “We know coming in here we just wanted to stay together through it all, and I think our guys did a great job mentally of just sticking with it.

“We’ve just had our ups and downs throughout the season, but we just stayed with it.”

“Early in the season when we had a lead into the fourth quarter, we let a lot of games slip away,” said Thunder guard Dion Waiters, who had one of the Thunder’s few uncomposed fourth-quarter moments of the postseason with his inbound elbow in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio.

“I think in the postseason we’ve just been finding ways just to finish it out.”

The Warriors led 46-38 in the second when a Steven Adams dunk was blocked by Draymond Green, setting Golden State off quickly on the fast break. Klay Thompson had a free path to the rim, but as he went up to dunk, Serge Ibaka rushed back on defense and pinned his attempt on the glass.

The Thunder suddenly had a 4-on-3 break. Westbrook passed on an open 3. So did Durant. So did Waiters, who finally drove baseline and passed to Adams for a layup and the foul. It only cut the Warriors’ lead to 46-40, but it was a telling possession.

Waiters said the temptation to match the Warriors shot-for-shot is nonexistent.

“No, we want to get into our offense. That’s what they do,” Waiters said of the Warriors’ rapid-fire offense. “We know they’re going to make shots. Our job is to try to make it as tough as possible and contest. And we live with the results after that.”

Numbers preview: Cavs-Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers have always been the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference. At any point in the season, you would have a hard time finding a neutral party who believed that any other East team could stop the Cavs from getting back to The Finals.

Still, the Cavs were always, at best, the third-best team in the league. They were never nearly as good offensively as the Golden State Warriors or nearly as good defensively as the San Antonio Spurs.

But Cleveland has found a new gear in the postseason. The Cavs’ haven’t been a great defensive team in the playoffs, but they haven’t needed to be, because they’ve scored a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve swept through the first two rounds.

The Cavs have become the most prolific and the most proficient 3-point shooting team in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks were the league’s best defensive team since Christmas, but couldn’t stop the Cavs’ onslaught in the conference semifinals.

The Toronto Raptors are seemingly just happy to be in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But there are reasons the Raptors won 56 games, including two of the three they played against the Cavs this season. They were a top-five offensive team with a much-improved defense. They’ve escaped the competitive bottom half of the East bracket and they played their most complete game of the postseason in Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Sunday.

The Cavs have the opportunity to be the first team to ever go 12-0 on its way to The Finals. To keep that from happening, the Raptors will have to find a way to slow down Cleveland’s potent offense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Conf. semis: Beat Atlanta in four games.
Pace: 91.6 (14)
OffRtg: 117.0 (1)
DefRtg: 106.6 (11)
NetRtg: +10.4 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups




Cavs playoff notes:


Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Conf. semis: Beat Miami in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.4 (11)
DefRtg: 101.5 (6)
NetRtg: -2.1 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups




Raptors playoff notes:


The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 2-1 (Home team won all three games).
Nov. 25 – Raptors 103, Cavs 99
Jan. 4 – Cavs 122, Raptors 100
Feb. 26 – Raptors 99, Cavs 97

Pace: 89.6
CLE OffRtg: 119.7 (1st vs. TOR)
TOR OffRtg: 111.1 (5th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:


Blogtable: Which teams will win in the conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?

> Your prediction for the Western Conference finals and the Eastern Conference finals? Who will win and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors in seven. This is going to be one great series, with star power coming out of its pores. It’s taken a long time, but OKC finally got strong play from its supporting cast in toppling San Antonio, and the thought here is that guys like Steven Adams, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter should be able to continue that stretch against the Warriors, who enter the series banged up. If Andrew Bogut‘s adductor is an issue throughout the series, OKC’s size will have an even greater impact. The reasons for sticking with GSW are these: 1) Klay Thompson does as good a job as anyone I’ve seen guarding Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t stop him, of course, but he makes it as hard as possible, not allowing Russ to break him down off the dribble. 2) Haven’t seen anyone slow down the Lineup of Death all season, and I don’t see the Thunder having the solution to it, either. 3) One team has the MVP, who makes shots no one else would even contemplate taking, and makes them. The other doesn’t. Fin.

In the East, it’s Cavaliers in six. So glad for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who faced down their playoff demons from past years (and the Indiana series in this year’s first round) to take their team somewhere it’s never been. But it ends against a Cleveland team that just has too many players clicking on too many cylinders. Yes, the Raps won the regular season series. But that Cavs team is buried somewhere near the old Richfield Coliseum. This one has been hyper-hot behind the three-point line, and even if that cools off a bit, Cleveland’s found chemistry that it lacked for long stretches of the regular season. A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have made a huge difference, and LeBron James has gotten a week’s rest. Too many weapons, too much motivation to return to The Finals.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m already on record in our series preview as picking Cleveland in 5. The Cavaliers’ 3-point tsunami, even if it’s not quite what it was against Atlanta, still is going to be too much for Toronto, which has trouble scoring even against less potent opponents.

Out West, give me Golden State in 6. Greater depth, the Warriors’ counters to OKC’s bigs and the defending champs’ gang tactics against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will decide this one. Then we get a repeat – but entirely different version – of last year’s Finals matchup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in five in the East. Let’s not underestimate the job coach Tyronn Lue has done in getting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to feel comfortable within themselves and with each other. The Cavs went to The Finals a year ago despite slogging through injuries and battling self-doubt. Now they’re healthy, confident and have added the 3-ball to their arsenal. They’re ready and capable to get back to June and finish the job.

The Warriors in six in the West. The Thunder are now playing with tremendous confidence that borders on cockiness. They’ve been getting solid contributions up and down the roster. That’s enough to make the series interesting. But the Warriors are still the best team in basketball, won the regular season series 3-0 and are on a mission to show all the critics of last year’s championship what they’ve been missing about depth and drive.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWarriors in 6. I could see it going 7. The Thunder will not go quietly, but Golden State beats opponents from too many directions. The Dubs’ health is obviously a big factor.

Cavaliers in 5. This is the Cleveland team a lot of people thought possible all season but has not spotted until recently.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIn the West, I’m going with the Warriors in a seven-game classic. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should enjoy a tremendous series, and their support help was a bit better than expected through two rounds of the playoffs. And yet: Golden State is a better defensive team, makes fewer mistakes, has Steph Curry and too many additional weapons that will ultimately wear down OKC in a long series.

In the East, folks are sleeping on the Raptors, who are battle tested after a pair of punishing series against the formidable Pacers and Heat, which they survived even after losing Jonas Valenciunas for good. Therefore, I suspect they’ll push the Cavs to four games.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Raptors needed seven games to beat the offensive anemic Indiana Pacers and the score-in-the-paint-or-don’t-score-at-all Miami Heat. The Cavs are more potent than both of those teams combined, but I’ll give Toronto a game because Game 7 on Sunday was the best they’ve looked in the postseason. Cavs in 5.

The Thunder have two of the most dangerous offensive players in the world and can slow down the Warriors by beating them up on the glass. But Golden State has the defenders to make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work hard for their buckets, as well as the league’s No. 1 offense, which never goes stagnant. Warriors in 5.

Sekou Smith, I’ve gone with the Warriors all season and will not change my mind now, even with the Thunder looking like they are capable of beating anyone they face right now. The Warriors won 73 games for a reason. Golden State will need six games to finish off the Thunder and get back to The Finals for a chance to repeat.

Cleveland has been resting nicely after two sweeps in their first two playoff series. If they play half as well as they did against the Pistons and Hawks, they advance without much of a scare. I’m sure the Cavs would love to make it three straight sweeps, but the Raptors win one up North as the Cavaliers win it in five.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Cavaliers in 5. They’re at at full strength and playing their best basketball of the season.

In the West I’m going to with the Warriors in seven games, because for two years they’ve been the NBA’s most competitive team. Golden State was the hungriest contender in the league all season, which is an amazing achievement for the defending champs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are talented enough to prevail, but can they summon the intensity and focus necessary to upset Golden State? I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just pointing out that no one has done so for a long time.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogCleveland will win in 4. They are focused and playing so well right now, and Toronto will be tired and are still dealing with injuries.

On the other side of the country, as I predicted on last week’s Hang Time Podcast, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win in seven games. I know, my Twitter mentions are going to go crazy, but the Thunder are white hot right now, and Westbrook and Durant are playing at the peak of their powers. Every year, some team gets hot in the postseason. And right now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Eastern Conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?

> A key player in the Eastern Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors’ backup center was a catalyst in Toronto’s clincher Sunday, and he’ll have to do the same for seven games if Toronto is to have a chance at pulling off the upset against Cleveland. The Cavs’ playoff lineup with Channing Frye at center has been one of the most lethal in the postseason, with an offensive rating of 127.2 AND a defensive rating of 88.1, per The Raptors have to have a counter to match up against it, and it turns out that they do — with Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph. That quintet’s defensive rating is even better than Cleveland’s, at 87.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Biyombo’s 17-point, 16-rebound effort Sunday has to be the norm against the Cavs.

Steve Aschburner, Not sure the Raptors can count on this, but if Terrence Ross can have two or three of his mindlessly hot scoring nights, Toronto’s ability to generate points improves dramatically. Ross scored 20 or more four times in 73 appearances, but I’m calling for him to get 20 at least three times if the Raptors are going to push their series to six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comA year after he had an rather uncomfortable season trying to fit into the Cavaliers picture and then missed virtually all of the playoffs, Kevin Love has been a steady force through the first two rounds and if he keeps it up makes Cleveland quite capable of winning it all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLeBron James. Not exactly an X Factor, but let’s face it. He is the perfect fit for the answer: If LeBron comes up big, his team advances. He can singularly dominate a series as a player no opponent can counter, someone who can initiate the offense as a point guard and pound the boards like a power forward-center.

Shaun Powell, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should be enough to send Toronto home in four. But for insurance’s sake, it’ll be less wear on those three if Channing Frye can continue pulling weight on Cleveland’s amazing 3-point surge. The goal for the Cavs is to win this series quickly and safely — remember, Love and Irving were injured last spring — and efficiently, saving gas for the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Cavs don’t need J.R. Smith to continue to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range to get back to The Finals, but Smith is the ultimate wild card. Cleveland swept through the first two rounds on the strength of its 3-point shooting and Smith (31-for-61) was a big part of that. He’s been given license to shoot (as 61 of his 69 shots have come from beyond the arc), and a free-shooting Smith probably scares both coaching staffs. LeBron James makes him a better shooter and 45 of those 61 threes have been off the pass, but regression from Smith (either with shot selection or success rate) would make this series more interesting.

Sekou Smith, Two words I honestly never thought I’d utter or write in response to this question: Bismack Biyombo. I know, it sounds crazy. But with Jonas Valanciunas on the mend and the rebounding machine that is Tristan Thompson eager to show off for the local (Cleveland) and hometown (he’s from Toronto) fans, the Raptors will need someone to match his energy, effort and relentless hustle on the boards. After seeing the impact Biyombo had against the Miami Heat in the conference finals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he steps up against the Cavaliers.

Ian Thomsen, LeBron James is the reason Cleveland will continue to dominate the Eastern bracket. The Cavs’ goal should be to finish off this series ASAP in order to send LeBron onto the NBA Finals on fresh legs, because they’re going to need 40 minutes or more per game from him against Golden State or OKC. This conference final is all about preparing Cleveland to win the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Well, Cleveland is going to win this series, so instead of saying the obvious like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, how about let’s go with Kevin Love? He seems to have found his fit with the Cavs as they’ve gone smaller, and this will be the deepest he’s ever played in his postseason career. I’m curious to see if Love can continue stretching the floor like he did against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Morning shootaround — May 15


Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves | Was Pacers’ answer sitting right there? | Adams: No formula for Durant, Westbook | Ginobili weighs old love vs. new life

No. 1:  Another Game 7, as Raptors define themselves — Growing pains. Notice that it’s a plural noun. Adolescence of any sort would be a lot easier if it were singular, a one-and-done experience or rite of passage that got you quickly from Point A to Point Done. But real life rarely works that way and neither does the maturation of an NBA playoff team, as the Toronto Raptors are finding out. Toronto, as it tries to go toward something special in the Eastern Conference, has faced a gauntlet of tests and pressures. From the expectations that accompany home-court advantage for a No. 2 seed to getting pushed to seven games in the first round, from the frustrations of a franchise that historically has left its fans wanting to now, again, feeling the burden of a Game 7 (3:30 ET, ABC) that could define everything the Raptors have done since October. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star looks at the Raptors’ advancement, more internally than merely through the East bracket:

The Toronto Raptors and Wade’s Miami Heat will play Game 7 Sunday afternoon, and the winner gets to keep playing under the lights. Let’s be honest, for Toronto, the playoffs have been a fine agony, punctuated by the exhilaration of escape.

Two more Game 1 losses, because the Raptors almost always lose Game 1. So many missed shots, bad shots, empty shots. Kyle Lowry’s elbow, Kyle Lowry’s head, Jonas Valanciunas’s ankle, DeMar DeRozan’s thumb, DeMarre Carroll’s wrist. A Game 7 win that seemed comfortable, then nearly slid into the lake, then didn’t. And another Game 7, with the pieces dented or missing.

These are the Raptors. The franchise, in its best moments, has tended towards anxiety. The Raptors have never seemed born for this.

But these are the franchise’s best moments, or near enough. It can be hard to remember that when they get drilled off the dribble in Game 6. There was Vince Carter’s graduation day, and then there were 14 years that ended with 49 empty-calorie wins and a fourth humiliating game in Washington last season, and there is this.

At the trade deadline Masai Ujiri could have traded the top-10 pick he has in the draft, plus pieces, and brought back a rental — Ryan Anderson from New Orleans, maybe. Instead he stood still. That day Ujiri said, “you play with that in your mind a little bit, but I just don’t think we’re there yet, as a team, as a ball club. We’ve got some good momentum coming in here, but we’re a good team in the East, and we want to keep plugging along and figure out the playoffs.”

He wanted them to prove what they are worth, and while that picture is still muddled in places, here they are. Before Game 5, with Valanciunas sidelined, Lowry said that if he and DeRozan got going, “I think we’d have an opportunity to do something special. We’re not playing well and I think we still have an opportunity to do something special. And that’s the scary thing.” Lowry was asked how he would define something special.

“Finals,” he said. He didn’t have to, but he did.

“I already had this conversation with Kyle on numerous nights the last couple weeks — we can’t never get down, or let the media, or people discourage us in any type of way on the way we’ve been playing,” said DeRozan, before the Raptors won Game 5. “As long as we have the opportunity to put on these shoes and this jersey and go out there and play, we still have an opportunity to go as far as it goes. And that’s to get somewhere this franchise has never been to, to play for the world championship. That’s six (wins) away. And that’s the type of motivation, whatever we need to believe in ourself, we’re right there.

“And we can’t say, OK, we got this close, we can get even closer next year. We got to take advantage. I tell everybody, we might never get this opportunity again.”