Five pressing questions that will decide Bucks-Raptors


About an hour after his team suffered a blowout loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard — never one to be subsumed into narratives or high drama — offered the most literal response to the most pressing question facing his Toronto Raptors.

“We’re going to Toronto,” said Leonard, when asked where his team, now trailing the Eastern Conference finals 2-0, goes from here. “Game 3.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

You have to admire Leonard’s unflappable resolve. After outplaying the Bucks for most of Game 1 before losing in the closing minutes, the Raptors were outperformed wire-to-wire in Game 2. They struggled on each end of the floor, both with establishing a steady flow in the half court and with neutralizing Milwaukee’s rhythm. The Bucks, now 10-1 this postseason, are just two games from their first NBA Finals in 45 years — and they have yet to play their best basketball in the first two games of this series.10

Even though Leonard’s comment might seem imperceptive on the surface, he’s correct to point out that the action now heads to Toronto, because few things shift momentum in a series quite like a change in venue. Yet to hold serve in Toronto, the Raptors will have to quickly come up with some solutions to a few very pressing problems.

Few defenders in the NBA have thrived in that challenge more effectively than Khris Middleton this season, a pattern that has continued in the playoffs. Leonard scored 31 points in both games at Milwaukee, but he has worked exceptionally hard to do so. Middleton, as well as Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, have limited Leonard’s drives to his right, influencing him to his weaker hand — and into the Bucks’ active help defenders. Time and again on Friday, Leonard found himself headed in a suboptimal direction off a screen only to encounter the likes of Brook Lopez — who, as Raptors coach Nick Nurse said on Saturday, “never leaves the paint” — or Ersan nfl nike jerseys from china

In Games 3 and 4, the Raptors will need to figure out ways to shift the Bucks’ defense to give Leonard a little more breathing room in the half court. That might mean getting Leonard the ball later in the possession after some primary actions predicated on movement. For instance, Pascal Siakam can pressure defenses off the dribble, as can Kyle Lowry off some crafty pick-and-roll action.

The Raptors certainly ran these sorts of sets, but when they’re generating only 0.80 points per Leonard drive and 0.79 points on possessions when Leonard works in isolation, they’ll need to be even more resourceful.

Draymond: Warriors want sweep to get more rest


As the Golden State Warriors attempt to become the first team since the 1960s Boston Celtics to go to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight season, Warriors forward Draymond Green said the group is motivated to finish off the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and take advantage of the nine days off before the Finals begin May 30.

“I think it’s very motivating for us to try to sweep this series and have that time off,” Green said on Sunday. “Obviously we’re a little banged up, so nine days off would be great for us. Allow Andre [Iguodala] time to heal, Shaun [Livingston]’s old — but also allow the possibility of Kevin [Durant] and DeMarcus [Cousins] to get healthy and come back as well. So I think it’s very important for us to come out tomorrow with the right mindset. We didn’t do that against the Clippers. We extended the series and all of a sudden Klay [Thompson] and Steph [Curry] was going into the Houston series questionable because of some ankle injuries they suffered in series that should have been over. And so we understand that. We got a great opportunity.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Despite the fact that the Warriors hold a 3-0 lead in the series, Green knows the Blazers aren’t going to let Golden state roll over them in a potential closeout game. But after coming back from double-digit deficits in the second half of each of the past two games of this series, the Warriors enter Monday night’s contest with more confidence than they’ve had all season.

“We know this team is, they’re a very resilient group,” Green said of the Blazers. “They’re not going to lay down. They have great leadership in Dame [Damian Lillard] and C.J. [McCollum] and they’re going to come out and continue to play, and play with the force that they can play with. It’s on us to make sure we can play with the right mindset and focus, that we know what it takes to close out a series, especially on the road.”8

Green, who earned his seventh career postseason triple-double in Game 3 on Saturday night, has been dominant at times throughout the postseason, helping the Warriors come together after Durant suffered a calf injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. Green opened up about just how much his mindset changes when the postseason begins.

“When I finish the playoffs every year I’m exhausted,” Green said. “And more so mentally than physically because I view these games like life or death. Like I’ll be stressed out the entire playoffs. It’s like a life-or-death situation for me. That’s how I view it. And so when you have that mindset and you’re viewing it that way, it’s easy to raise your game because it’s bigger than just that particular game. And so there’s been times when I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m putting too much strain on myself. Too much stress on myself.’ And I can’t change it because this is the times I live nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“This is what I enjoy most. This is what you play for, this is what you train for, to be at your best at this time of year, to try to win a championship. And so when you look at it from that standpoint, which is the way I look at it, it makes it a lot easier to step up to that challenge because you’re playing for something so much bigger than to win that game.”

Green has thrived in the postseason since entering the league in 2012, and like many on the Warriors’ roster, he acknowledged the grind of an 82-game regular season is tougher to handle after years of long playoff runs and the stress that comes with them.

“For me personally I kind of view the season in three different parts,” Green said. “You come into the season and you’re ready to go. In the league, you kind of hit that point of where, ‘All right, get me to the All-Star break.’ And then you come out of the All-Star break and you’re refreshed, and you’re ready to go again. And that works and that happens for like two weeks and then it’s like, ‘Get me to the playoffs.’ You feel like you’re getting life at each one of those moments. And for me personally once you get that new life in the playoffs, it’s the playoffs. If you got to find life again in the playoffs you’re going home. And you should. It’s the part of the year I love. It’s the part where you’re playing for all the marbles. If you can’t get up for this, what can you get up for?”

Butler after 76ers’ 36-point loss: ‘We laid an egg’


Brett Brown became a meme, Joel Embiid was mocked by Raptors fans the way he normally mocks opponents, and the 76ers suffered one of their worst losses in the franchise’s postseason history in a 125-89 defeat Tuesday night.

The Sixers now trail the Raptors 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“I think we laid an egg,” guard Jimmy Butler said after the 76ers coughed up 19 turnovers leading to 31 Toronto points and failed to crack 100 points for the fourth time this series.
By halftime, Philadelphia had more personal fouls (16) than made field goals (14), and the Sixers’ two All-Stars, Embiid and Ben Simmons, struggled as much as anyone. The duo combined for seven turnovers in the first half, which was more than the field goals and assists they combined to register in that span (six).cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Embiid, still reeling from the upper respiratory infection that limited him in Game 4, finished with 13 pcheap nike nfl jerseys wholesaleoints on 5-for-10 shooting (2-for-6 from 3), six rebounds, one assist and eight turnovers. In the past five postseasons, only two players have finished a game with one or zero assists and eight or more turnovers: Kevin Durant in 2016 and Embiid, who has now done it twice, as he matched his one-assist, eight-turnover game in the first round against the Miami Heat last year.10

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I know I got to do a better job for us to win. I got to do the little things. When I’m needed to score the ball, I got to show up. Setting screens, I got to do a better job of rebounding the ball. So that’s on me. … I just got to do more.”

Embiid played one of his finest games as a pro in Game 3 against the Raptors, putting up 33 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to put the Sixers up 2-1 in the series. In the two losses since, he has totaled just 24 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

When the Sixers center checked out of Game 5 for good with 9:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, fans in the stands at Scotiabank Arena — including Canadian rapper Drake, the Raptors’ global ambassador — spread their arms out and mimicked Embiid’s airplane celebration that he broke out after his late windmill dunk in Game nfl nike jerseys from china

Embiid hasn’t been able to help the Sixers land a win since.

“I just saw them shake their bodies,” Embiid said of the fans. “I didn’t pay attention about what the hell they were doing. Good for them. … I don’t care if it offends anybody, but what I do is all about having fun. I don’t care. And I’m going to do that because I know I’m going to dominate.”

Kyrie Irving’s failed leadership tells the story of the Celtics’ failed season


cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesaleAt first, it seemed like things were going to be just fine.

When the Boston Celtics convened for media day back in September, they were the heavy favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in this season’s NBA Finals, and arguably no team in the league had a brighter road ahead.

Brad Stevens saw something different.

“I knew going in that it was going to be super challenging, but October screamed it,” the Celtics coach told ESPN recently. “I knew after the first two exhibition games, it was going to be really, really hard.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

It turned out to be harder than he could have imagined. And in the end, it was too difficult to overcome, as Boston suffered a fourth consecutive loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday to crash out of the second round of the playoffs.9

This was not what was supposed to happen to a team that made the conference finals the past two years — and then added a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the mix.

There are plenty of reasons to explain why this season was so hard, and why these Celtics were so disappointing. At the root of all of them, though, is Irving — and, more specifically, his leadership through words and actions on and off the court.

Those comments became the guideposts of this long, strange trip of a season in Boston, the things that — in retrospect — were signaling to the world how hard this was turning out to be for the nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Irving’s words not only defined the Celtics’ disappointing season; they help to explain how a season that was supposed to mark Boston’s return to the top of the sport instead left all involved searching for answers.

D’Antoni: Tucker ‘wouldn’t let us lose’ in Game 3


“Oh, I said something to all of them,” Tucker said, cracking a slight grin after the Rockets’ 126-121 overtime win in Game 3 to record their first victory of the Western Conference semifinals series.

D’Antoni didn’t need any more convincing. He called timeout and substituted in Tucker. Suddenly, Durant appeared to be human again, scoring only seven points on 2-of-7 shooting in the final 15 minutes of the game, including overtime, with Tucker as his primary defender.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Tucker dominated the glass down the stretch, grabbing nine of his game-high 12 rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime, a major factor in the Rockets’ dominating the rebounding battle by a 55-35 margin. He also scored all seven of his points after checking back in with 10 minutes, 1 second remaining in regulation. He unleashed a primal screen after fighting for two offensive rebounds and muscling in a lead-changing, and-1 putback for his first points at the 7:19 mark of the first quarter and made two smart cuts for buckets in overtime.

“That’s who Tuck is,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a winner, and he wouldn’t let us lose.”10

Reigning MVP James Harden had his highest-scoring game of this postseason. He put up 41 points, including half of the Rockets’ 14 in overtime, sinking a stepback 3 and floater in the final minute to seal the win.

Shooting guard Eric Gordon had a sensational night, scoring 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting and hitting half of his 14 3-point nfl nike jerseys from china

Center Clint Capela made his biggest impact of the series after a disappointing first two games, scoring 13 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and rejecting an Andre Iguodala dunk attempt in spectacular fashion.

But it was Tucker, the lowest-paid and lowest-scoring member of Houston’s starting lineup, whom Rockets teammates and coaches raved about the most after notching their first win of the highly anticipated series between West heavyweights.

“Tuck doesn’t do any of the glamorous stuff,” said guard Chris Paul, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. “All of the stuff he does doesn’t [necessarily] show up on the stat sheet. We say it all the time, but it’s always nice for other people to get a chance to see it and appreciate it. He’s easily one of the most valuable guys on our team just because of the way he plays. He plays hard, and he forces you to do the same.”

Tucker’s toughness and versatility give the Rockets the option to go small and counter the Warriors’ feared “Hamptons 5” lineup, which features Draymond Green at center. Houston played much of the fourth quarter and all but 44 seconds of overtime with Tucker, who is 6-foot-6, at center surrounded by four guards and still outrebounded the Warriors by a 17-9 margin in that span.

Raptors say Siakam (calf) is doubtful for Game 4


Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam suffered a right calf contusion and has been listed as doubtful for Game 4 of the Raptors’ NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Siakam said Saturday he hurt the calf in the Raptors’ 116-95 loss at Philadelphia in Game 3 on Thursday. Asked if he thought the injury could have occurred when he tripped Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Siakam said he had no recollection.

A favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Siakam, 25, has emerged as one of the Raptors’ most consistent offensive producers behind Kawhi Leonard this postseason. In eight playoff games this spring, Siakam has averaged 22.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists, with an effective field goal percentage of 56.9. Siakam is also a versatile defender who has guarded all five positions for the Raptors at various junctures over the past two nfl jerseys cheap china

Siakam’s absence would challenge the Raptors because the team is already without reserve forward OG Anunoby, who underwent an emergency appendectomy just prior to the start of the playoffs.9

“With the OG out, it’s not the ideal position for us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We’re a little thin there.”

Each scenario presents a different complication for Toronto. Nurse suggested Raptors backup guard Fred VanVleet as one option, noting the team had enjoyed success with pace and ball movement when VanVleet has played as part of a three-guard lineup. In 56 minutes on the floor with the starting backcourt and Leonard, lineups featuring VanVleet averaged 116.7 points per 100 possessions, with a net rating of plus-46.8.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Yet replacing Siakam with a perimeter player would put the Raptors at a greater size disadvantage against a Philadelphia team that features exceptional length and has hurt Toronto on the offensive glass.

“Size has been a problem,” Nurse said. “We knew coming into the series that they would have size at a lot of positions.”

The Raptors could also opt to start backup big man Serge Ibaka, who has struggled in the series. Nurse also suggested as another possibility 6-foot-7 swingman Patrick McCaw, who has seen limited time on the floor since returning from a right thumb injury. Introducing McCaw into the starting lineup would enable the Raptors to preserve their current rotation, Nurse said.

Banged-up Curry, Thompson playing in Game 1


Golden State Warriors star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will play in Game 1 of Golden State’s playoff series against the Houston Rockets on Sunday after being listed as questionable because of ankle nfl jerseys china nike

Warriors coach Steve Kerr first announced Curry’s status Sunday afternoon, adding that fellow injured All-Star Klay Thompson would be a game-time decision. But after going through pregame warm-ups, Thompson was cleared to play and will be in Golden State’s starting lineup along with Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.10

An MRI on Thompson’s right ankle returned clean on Saturday night. His ankle was heavily taped during the warm-up session nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Reserve guard Austin Rivers (illness) will not play for the Rockets.

Rockets’ Harden wants ‘a fair chance’ from refs


Houston Rockets guard James Harden pleaded for a “fair chance” from officials after Houston’s 104-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Sunday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Harden and the Rockets were specifically upset about what they believed were several incorrect non-calls on his 3-point attempts, on which the Warriors were allowed to close out without giving Harden the required landing space. According to Harden and coach Mike D’Antoni, the referees admitted at halftime that they missed four such calls in the first half.

Harden also thought he got fouled on a pair of 3-point attempts in the second half, including by Draymond Green on a potential game-tying attempt with 7.4 seconds remaining. Klay Thompson was the defender on the other non-calls that upset the nfl jerseys china nike

“I mean, I just want a fair chance, man,” said Harden, who scored 35 points but was 9-of-28 from the floor and 4-of-16 from behind the 3-point line. “Call the game how it’s supposed to be called, and that’s it. And I’ll live with the results.”8

Joe Borgia, the NBA’s senior vice president of replay and referee operations, later told NBA TV that Green did not foul Harden on his last 3 attempt because Green was going across, and not into, Harden’s path, and in addition, Harden “jackknifed” his body so that his feet made contact with nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Harden was 13-of-14 from the line, but the Warriors were called for only one foul when he attempted a 3-pointer. That occurred in the first quarter, when Harden’s shooting arm was clearly hit by Golden State forward Alfonzo McKinnie.

Harden referenced the series-ending injury suffered by Kawhi Leonard in the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 1 loss to the Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference finals, on which he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot after shooting a jumper, as a reason referees need to be vigilant about enforcing the rule requiring 3-point shooters to have space to land.

“We all know what happened a few years back with Kawhi,” Harden said. “That can change the entire series. Just call the game the way it’s supposed to be called, and we’ll live with the results. It’s plain and simple.”

The Pacers’ big dilemma: Can Turner, Sabonis coexist?


In a quiet moment after his team finished up practice Thursday afternoon, Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young was asked a question: Do you ever, even for a second, think about what this series against the Boston Celtics would look like if Victor Oladipo — who has been sidelined with a ruptured quad tendon since Jan. 26 — was healthy and able to play in the series?

“I try not to,” Young said with a smile, and a rueful shake of his head.

“This is why you have a guy like Vic,” he continued. “You have a situation where you have guys switching onto Vic. Bigger guys. We know what Vic does. He’s gonna back it out to half court, take two or three dribbles in, go up for his midrange jumper or his 3. Make [the defender] feel those. Now you start to pressure up. Go by him, get a few layups. Get a couple fouls, and-1s. And now you double-team. Now that’s when everybody else takes over.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Anyone who has watched the Celtics take a 3-0 lead in this series would agree with Young’s assessment. The Pacers are a team built in a very specific, calculated manner: hard-nosed, hardworking guys who work well together, play stifling defense and give the ball to Oladipo — their closer — to carry them home. But Oladipo’s absence has loomed large.10

The Pacers are one more loss away from beginning their offseason, when they’ll be forced to address the gap between them and the Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks and the other top teams in the East. When they do so, one question will loom over almost every decision the Pacers have to make: Can their two emerging young big men, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, play together?

As of now, the Pacers’ future has more questions than answers. While it is unclear when Oladipo will return, the Pacers have no choice but to operate under the assumption that he will return to All-Star form when he does. Indiana also has six key players — current starters Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Bojan Bogdanovic and Young, as well as top reserves Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans — who will be unrestricted free agents this nfl nike jerseys from china

Then there are the futures of Turner and Sabonis in Indiana, which directly impact everything else. For teams in bigger markets, the answer would be simple: Pay them both, and keep two talented players.

Things in the NBA are rarely simple, though, and this is no exception. Herb Simon, Indiana’s longtime owner, isn’t likely to green-light the Pacers going near the luxury tax anytime soon, which makes it difficult for their front office — led by president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard and general manager Chad Buchanan — to commit significant contracts to a pair of centers who don’t easily fit together on the court.

One half of that equation has already been determined, as Turner and the Pacers agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract extension last fall. Turner rewarded that investment by taking a significant step forward this season, leading the NBA in blocks and earning himself All-Defensive Team consideration.

Sources: Suns given OK to meet 76ers’ Williams


The Phoenix Suns have received permission to meet with Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams to discuss the franchise’s coaching opening, league sources told ESPN.

A Sixers official told ESPN the request came on Tuesday and the organization granted nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The Suns plan to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers in pursuit of Williams, league sources said. The Suns see Williams as a coach who can develop a young roster and bring discipline to a fractured Suns culture.9

After firing coach Igor Kokoskov on Monday night, the Suns will be hiring their fifth coach in five years.

Williams is working to set up a second interview that includes Lakers ownership in Philadelphia soon, league sources said. Williams and Tyronn Lue are prominent candidates in the Lakers’ coaching nfl jerseys cheap china

Suns general manager James Jones played under Williams in his time as a Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach, and new senior vice president of basketball operations Jeff Bower hired Williams as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2010.