HOOP HANGOUT • NBA PLAYOFFS • GAMEDAY POST • May 23rd 2019

SportsLine

Leonard scores 35, Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 for 3-2 lead

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 105-99 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Leonard showed no obvious signs of the leg soreness that bothered him in Toronto’s victories in the previous two games, hitting the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series. He made five 3-pointers and had seven rebounds and nine assists.

Fred VanVleet scored 21 points, hitting seven 3s. Kyle Lowry added 17 as the Raptors put themselves in position to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time. A victory at home Saturday would set up a matchup with two-time defending champion Golden State.

The Raptors battled out of an early 14-point hole, then got 15 points from Leonard in the fourth quarter to send the top-seeded Bucks to their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points for Milwaukee hours after being announced as a unanimous first-team, All-NBA selection. Eric Bledsoe scored 20 and Malcolm Brogdon added 18 points and 11 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup.

The Raptors were clinging to a two-point lead in the closing minute after Khris Middleton drove around Leonard on the baseline for a layup.

Toronto was initially called for a shot-clock violation when Leonard missed a fadeaway jumper with 35 seconds left. That got overturned by a replay review, and Brook Lopez was called for a foul, instead, for bumping Marc Gasol after he retrieved the loose ball.

Gasol hit both free throws to make it 100-97. Another replay review went in Toronto’s favor when officials determined a ball went out of bounds off Brogdon with 26.8 seconds left. Brogdon pulled his hand away, thinking his dribble had gone off Pascal Siakam‘s foot.

Siakam then drove for a dunk, making it 102-97, and the Raptors hung on from there.

Milwaukee was leading 81-79 with about 8 1/2 minutes left when Leonard nailed back-to-back 3-pointers. He hit two free throws before Siakam threw down a put-back dunk to make it 89-81.

The Bucks tied it at 93-all with 2:44 left on a 3-pointer by Lopez. VanVleet answered with one of his own before Antetokounmpo threw down an alley-oop dunk to cut it to 96-95 with just over two minutes remaining.

The Bucks set a fast pace early on and led by 10 after the first quarter, delighting the towel-waving fans chanting “Fear The Deer! Fear the Deer!” They withstood a 16-2 run by Toronto to start the second, with Antetokounmpo nailing a 3 to stop it.

The Bucks also went on a 14-2 run early in the third, with the Greek Freak throwing down a hard dunk off a feed by Middleton for a 63-51 lead. But the Raptors got right back into it.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Lowry now has 1,126 points in 66 playoff games for Toronto, surpassing DeMar DeRozan (1,117) as the franchise’s postseason scoring leader.

Bucks: Brogdon started all 64 games he played in during the regular season, before missing basically all of the first two rounds because of a heel injury. With Brogdon back in the lineup, Nikola Mirotic came off the bench.

UP NEXT

Game 6 is at Toronto on Saturday.

Charles Barkley admits he was wrong about Steph Curry’s rank in NBA

Jessica Kleinschmidt | NBC SPORTS 

Stop the presses, but Charles Barkley is admitting he’s wrong — “100 percent wrong.”

Sir Charles admitted his much during an interview with ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” when discussing Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

“Steph Curry has put his name back in the conversation — we talk about the best players in the world, we talk about KD, we talk about Giannis, Kawhi, LeBron — Steph Curry is proving to us he’s a two-time MVP,” Barkley said.

What was he wrong about exactly? Well, for starters — he left Steph out of his top five list of players currently in the NBA. 

This was his list:

OK, OK — it’s not an easy task. Any top-five lists are difficult because no matter what, you have to make some cuts. 

But … it’s Steph freakin’ Curry, and it appears Barkley finally knows that. 

“He’s been fabulous,” Barkley said of the six-time All-Star.

But wait … there’s more.

Earlier this month, the Basketball Hall of Famer-turned-analyst said the Warriors had “no chance” of beating the Houston Rockets in the second-round NBA playoff series without the help of the injured Kevin Durant. He even said the Rockets will win “in blowout fashion.”

Hmm … OK.

He also said the Blazers … whom the Warriors just sweptwould be going to The Finals (although he originally said this back in March). Barkley received some backup from his fellow TNT analyst Kenny Smith, who agreed with the statement and followed it with a high-five. That’ll boost your confidence.

But for now, Sir Charles admitted his faults and is even giving compliments to the entire Warriors team in the same interview … something he is not known for.

[RELATED: Barkley predicts Bucks, not Dubs win 2019 NBA title]

“I want to give a shoutout to Steve Kerr and his coaching staff because they got guys on the bench who have come in the game — going back to Game 6 in Houston — and played fabulous and that’s the coaching staff,” he said. “It goes to show that when they’re not playing games they’re working with those young players.”

Is this the year he finally stops trolling the Dubs?

Don’t bank on it. 

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Budenholzer miffed by Drake antics; rapper replies

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ESPN

Drake clearly has been enjoying Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s struggles during the Eastern Conference finals, but the superstar rapper’s antics are rubbing some people the wrong way.

A day after the Raptors beat the Bucks to tie the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 – a game in which Drake, sitting in his usual courtside seat in Toronto, was seen laughing when Antetokounmpo missed free throws and at one point even rubbed Toronto coach Nick Nurse’s shoulders — Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was asked if it was fair that a celebrity received special treatment.

“I will say, again, I see it in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach — I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court,” he said. “I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

Budenholzer’s comments came after Georgios Dimitropoulos, a senior executive for Octagon who used to be Antetokounmpo’s European agent, tweeted that he had “never seen anything as disrespectful” as Drake’s repeated trolling.

Imagine a gig & an athlete on VIP seats, right next to the band, stands up on the stage just to show off during the entire game, knowing cameras are on him, occasionally even massaging the singer. Security&him both allow it. Never seen anything as disrespectful as this before…— Georgios Dimitropoulos (@DimitropulosOCT) May 22, 2019

Dimitropoulos later deleted the tweet.

Drake responded to the criticism on social media Wednesday night, first with a series of emojis on Instagram, and then with an Instagram Live post that showed him liking a user’s comment that read in part:

“If you don’t want the opposing team to celebrate and dance, prevent them from scoring, winning, or achieving their objective. Get over it and keep moving.”

Antetokounmpo scored 25 points in Game 4 but shot just 6-of-10 from the line and airballed a free throw for the second consecutive contest. He scored just 12 points in Milwaukee’s double-overtime loss in Game 3 and went 2-for-7 from the line.

Antetokounmpo was not asked about Drake after Tuesday’s game, but the star rapper was a hot topic a day later.

“You can’t help but occasionally see Drake just going into timeouts or in and out of timeouts, whether he’s encouraging or cheering for Toronto,” Budenholzer said. “You know, trying to talk to referees. To say I don’t see it at all would be inaccurate, but to say I give it much or any thought, you know, it’s kind of same answer, same mantra. I just tend to ignore and focus on our team, focus on whatever it is we need to be doing.”

(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

In regards to the shoulder rub, Nurse said Wednesday that he didn’t even realize what happened.

“I didn’t even know I got the shoulder rub last night until somebody showed me a picture of it today,” he said. “I didn’t even feel it. I was so locked into the game.”

The series resumes in Milwaukee for Game 5 on Thursday night. But Drake will get one more chance to taunt Antetokounmpo and the Bucks when the series returns to Toronto on Saturday for Game 6.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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Colin Kaepernick sits next to Warriors bench in Game 4 vs. Blazers

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) holds his son Canon as he meets Colin Kaepernick after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Monday, May 20, 2019. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime 119-117. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Marcus White | NBC SPORTS 

Colin Kaepernick had a great view of Game 4 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals Monday night. 

The ex-49ers quarterback had a courtside seat next to the Warriors’ bench at Portland’s Moda Center as they squared off with the Trail Blazers.

Kaepernick told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion that he was not in town to visit Oregon-based shoe giant Nike, which is one of his sponsors.  

“Being in the Bay so long, I’ve always followed them,” he told the Chronicle. “And they’ve always supported me.” 

Kaepernick met with Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala, and DeMarcus Cousins after the Warriors outlasted the Blazers in overtime to advance to their fifth straight Finals.

Kaepernick played six seasons with San Francisco. He kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before games in 2016 in order to protest social injustice and racial inequality. Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Golden State players — including Steph Curry and Kevin Durant — have staunchly supported Kaepernick, even as he went unsigned by an NFL team after opting out of his 49ers contract during the 2017 offseason. 

Kaepernick and former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, who was the first player to kneel alongside the QB, settled collusion grievances with the league back in February. Reid signed a lucrative extension with the Carolina Panthers this offseason, but Kaepernick is still not on an NFL roster. 

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Damian Lillard expected to get $191M supermax deal from Trail Blazers this summer

Chris Haynes | Yahoo Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard would officially qualify for the supermax if he’s voted to one of the three All-NBA Teams, which is virtually a lock for the four-time All-Star.

Lillard has two years and approximately $62 million remaining on his current deal. The extension would put him under contract for the next six years, and he’d be 34 years old by the time the deal expires, perhaps solidifying his status as arguably the greatest Trail Blazer of all time.

According to rival executives, a new pact for Lillard would almost certainly include a player option, something the guard bypassed on his previous deal.

“We’ll focus on the [contract] later,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports after the Blazers’ 119-117 Game 4 overtime loss to Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

The seven-year veteran led the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years before being swept by the defending champions.

“Look at what we did this year,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “We played without our starting center [Jusuf Nurkic, who suffered a season-ending leg injury]. We played without CJ [McCollum] toward the end of the season. So, looking at that, we were still able to get here. We were one step away [from the Finals]. And not only here, we had double-digit leads in three of the four games. I think getting here is reassuring that we can get the job done.”

Although Lillard wasn’t able to have a breakout offensive performance because of the Warriors’ ultra aggressive traps and double teams and a nagging rib injury, his competitiveness and perseverance were admired from the opposite bench.

“Dame is a special player,” Warriors star Draymond Green told Yahoo Sports. “He just keeps battling. He loves this team and this city, and you respect the fact that he wants to win here and do it his way. He’s an ultimate competitor, and you can tell he’s from Oakland. He’s going to find a way to get it done.”

The series proved Portland is still a few pieces away from legitimately contending for a title. For the second consecutive year, the game plan was to take Lillard out of the game by swarming the star and forcing him to pass and rely on his teammates to hit big shots.

Roster depth also remains a major concern for Portland. Including the regular season and postseason, Lillard led the league in minutes played with 3,488.

If Neil Olshey — the Blazers’ president of basketball operations — decides against making a trade or stretching the contracts of Evan Turner or Meyers Leonard, then Portland is likely headed for another season over the luxury tax threshold and it would severely restrict the team’s options in the offseason.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, right, shoots near Golden State Warriors forward Jordan Bell during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball playoffs Western Conference finals Monday, May 20, 2019, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Blazers guard Damian Lillard goes to the hoop during the first half of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Monday. (AP)

“We just have to continue to improve with the guys we have,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “And then if it presents itself where we can get some guys in that can maybe take us to the next level, then look at that. I think that’s all we can do.”

“It’s a disappointing loss, but for me it was an outstanding season,” head coach, Terry Stotts said Monday night. “The guys in the locker room are special. It’s been a special season. Always tough to lose the last game of the year, but I couldn’t be more proud of the group that we’ve had.”

The Trail Blazers watched the Warriors celebrate on their home court as Golden State heads to a fifth straight NBA Finals. The Blazers were so close to extending the series, but realize how much more they need to grow.

“We’re one step away from the Finals, and I see it’s the maturity and understanding how steady you have to be,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “We played great in spurts. We had four great first halves. But those moments where we kind of let up and relaxed and we stopped doing the things that gave us that lead and they pounced on us because they don’t change the way they play. They just keep going, keep doing the same stuff. They overtook every game that way.

“I think one of things we needed was experience and knowing what it’s like to play this far into the season. We’ve never been this far in the playoffs, so I think the experience is something you need. And obviously as players, we’ve got to improve. We have to improve as players. We were in some positions where we weren’t able to capitalize. All of us. From top to bottom. We’ve got to improve. And once those situations present itself again, we’ll be able to hold on.”

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Steph Curry quiets critics, validates legacy with dominant West finals

Monte Poole | NBC SPORTS 

PORTLAND, Ore. — All through the first two rounds, the silliest of debates kept resurfacing in those charmless public dive bars we call sports talk and social media.

Stephen Curry can’t do this. Or can he? He isn’t doing that. But is he? He Is overrated. He is underrated.

Curry handled it as he always does, as he would a heckler in the forest 100 miles away. He keeps playing. And winning.

He came into the Western Conference finals to the sound of skeptics wondering if he could thrive in the postseason, as if he has not already. As if the Warriors, with him as their front man, hadn’t won three NBA championships in four years.

Oh, but without Kevin Durant, could Curry carry the load?

Answer: Curry came out of the conference finals with 146 points, or 36.5 per game, as the Warriors swept the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, finishing the job with a 119-117 overtime win in Game 4 on Monday night at Moda Center.

Validated. Again.

If Curry’s 33-point second half in Game 6 of the second round to bury the Rockets weren’t enough, he averaged 36.5 over the four conference finals games.

“The situation called for more aggressiveness,” Curry said. “The way KD was playing up until the time he was hurt, we had a certain balance and a certain look as a team. Every guy took the challenge when he went out to step up and play a little more aggressive: Myself, Draymond — what he did in the series is unbelievable — Klay, on both ends of the floor. And then the collection of bench guys and role guys that really helped us in this series.”

Curry in Game 4 posted a triple-double: 37 points (on 11-of-25 shooting, including 7 of 15 from deep), 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He did enough to cover for the offensive struggles of Klay Thompson (17 points, 7-of-21 shooting, four turnovers).

“Steph was making shots tonight,” Thompson said. “Me, I missed a couple. I missed a few of them.”

What might have been most impressive of Curry is that after scoring 25 points in the first half, he never left the floor once the third quarter started, playing all 29 minutes of the second half and overtime. No one else on either team subjected themselves to such torture.

When the Blazers went up 17 (95-78) late in the third quarter, Curry responded with a 30-foot 30-ball. It trimmed the deficit to 14, but it also sent a message that the Warriors were going nowhere. That shot set off a 9-0 run that allowed the Warriors to open the fourth quarter down eight.

“We know we can cover 17 points in a matter of three or four minutes, and so we always try to keep that mindset that we are never out of the game and we just need to make solid plays,” Draymond Green said. “It definitely helps to have No. 30 [Curry], who they can go up 17 and he hits a 3, it just kind of puts them back on their heels and it shifts the momentum for us.”

Curry usually sits for the first five or six minutes of the fourth quarter. Not this time. Less than a minute into the fourth, he drilled a 27-foot 3-ball that pulled the Warriors within five. The Moda Center crowd turned quiet, as if they knew what was coming.

The Warriors outscored Portland 24-16 in the fourth quarter to send the game into OT.

Once there, the Warriors seemed to get into a zone of comfort. Both teams were reeling, but the Warriors were pulling the Blazers toward the deep end of the postseason ocean. Curry’s biggest play in OT was not a bucket but a dime, a pass whipped to Green that he launched from 25 feet.

Splash. A triple. Warriors up four (119-115), 39.6 seconds remaining.

Game over, with Curry dancing off in triumph.

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