• The Raptors were staring at a gift from the heavens in Game 3. The opportunity to take a game on the road with the Warriors missing two of their six All-Stars qualifies as a must-win. Facing a never-ending stream of terrible takes had they lost (and a limited amount of terrible takes even in victory), the Raptors took care of business to take a 2-1 lead in the Finals.

    Kawhi Leonard once again led the team in scoring and Pascal Siakam helped establish the lead with a first-half flurry, but it was Toronto’s backcourt that carried the torch on Wednesday night.

    It’s a group that often takes heat, especially with how up-and-down their play has been this postseason. Nobody’s slump was as pronounced as Danny Green’s, as he shot a ghastly 18.3 percent from the field and 17.4 percent from deep in the Eastern Conference Finals and saw his playing time cut as a result. Over the first three rounds, Green was only shooting a shade over 31 percent.

    Through the struggles the Raptors repeatedly drew up plays for Green to get good looks and never publicly wavered about his role. Despite calls for Green to be benched in favor of a scorching Norman Powell, the Raptors stuck with their 3-and-D guard. A new series brought a fresh start, and so far Green has made the most of it.

    Game 3 saw Green connect on 6-of-10 from the field (all from deep) for 18 points. He went 4-of-7 on uncontested shots as the Warriors’ defense was compromised by their lack of Klay Thompson and any mobile centers, firing up shots with confidence.

    Good shooters can trust their larger body of work during slumps, and Green has the ace in the hole of knowing that he’s one of the best Finals performers of all-time. Following Wednesday’s explosion, Green has now hit 47 of his 91 3-point attempts in the Finals, good for a 51.6 percent mark. The regression was bound to come eventually, and the Raptors are now reaping the benefits of their patience.

    Green opened his evening with a pair of open threes, and from that point on it seemed as though he would be ready to rise and fire when the ball came his way. He closed the first quarter with a big shot following a Steph Curry flurry and hit this acrobatic one at the end of the clock, thanks to some big-time hustle out of Leonard.

     

    Half of his points came in the second half, providing a sign that Toronto’s first major adjustment of the series didn’t shake Green’s confidence. Coming off the bench for the first time all season, Green seemed unfazed, locking in for big buckets at the end of the third (see above) as well as a chase-down block on Quinn Cook. It was a key play that kept Golden State from getting closer, which is something that the Raptors excelled at throughout the night. The Warriors pushed the lead from 17 down to seven but never got closer in the second half.

    It has to be mentioned that the injuries to Thompson and Kevon Looney opened everything up for the Raptors offensively. The Warriors were missing perimeter length, and that aforementioned note about immobile centers really shows up on this play. In Andrew Bogut’s defense, you can see him almost thinking about trying.

     

    Green’s performance was a big part of the victory, and yet Nick Nurse opened the second half with a unit other than his starting five for the first time all postseason. For as much as Green was needed, Fred VanVleet had some heavy lifting to do.

    In a series that has left a lot of questions on the table, one thing has become clear – VanVleet is Toronto’s most trusted defender for Curry. That his shot has returned after a rough go of things against Philadelphia and early in the series against Milwaukee helps substantially, but VanVleet’s defense has made him one of Toronto’s most important players in these Finals.

    His 11 points, three steals and three 3-pointers – including one insane shot on a play that featured about four missed calls – were difference-makers, too, but VanVleet’s biggest impact is being made away from the ball.

    He ended up playing the first 22.5 minutes of the second half, only leaving the court when Steve Kerr waved the white flag and pulled Curry. 31 of his 33 minutes overall came with Curry on the court.

    On the night, VanVleet served as Curry’s primary defender for 30 possessions and “held” him to 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting. That doesn’t tell the whole story, especially with the Warriors starting to screen for Curry with another guard to shake him loose of VanVleet’s cover later in the game, but it’s clear that the former Sixth Man of the Year finalist is emptying the tank to make Golden State’s superstar work for his buckets.

    Per the NBA’s tracking data, Curry covered 3.31 miles of ground in Game 3, nearly 0.2 miles more than the next closest player (Kyle Lowry at 3.13). In Game 1, Curry covered 2.96 miles. In Game 2 it was 3.02 miles.

    VanVleet’s persistence is forcing Curry to expend extra energy just to shake free, and while the absences and changing defensive tactics also account for some additional off-ball movement, the Raptors will take any development that may wear Curry down. That VanVleet played a similar role against Terrence Ross and J.J. Redick has likely come in handy now.

    It’s definitely strange to praise the defensive effort on a night where Curry delivered 47 points. In fact, Curry scored 27 of his points in the 31 minutes that VanVleet was on the court. Of course, that means he also scored his other 20 in just 13 minutes.

    Covering Curry is the most thankless job on the board in this series, as even when you turn in a decent effort you might catch 47. On a night where everyone knew that Curry would have to put up a monster performance, VanVleet hung in.

    Typically it’s Kyle Lowry who shoulders the thankless burden for the Raptors, doing the dirty work in wins without any credit and finding the target on his back during losses. It’s cropped up again in the Finals, with people chattering about Lowry going 6-of-20 from the field through the first two games.

    Lowry scored 13 points with three triples in 28 foul-laden minutes in Game 2, drawing the detractors back out of the woodwork. In Game 1 Lowry went just 2-of-9 from the field but nobody seemed to have an issue with his play as the Raptors jumped out to a series lead. Funny how that works.

    Game 3 featured Lowry at his best. He cannot drop 30-plus as he could a few years back, but Lowry’s fingerprints are all over most Raptors games. The score-first abilities are still in there somewhere, and every so often he’ll bust out a throwback move like so:

     

    Though Lowry’s 23 points are undeniably helpful, it is the totality of his work that often sets the foundation for Toronto’s evening. His 16 shots and five triples forced the Warriors to respect him as a scoring threat, opening up space inside the arc that was put to good use by his teammates.

    His nine assists were part of a beautifully balanced attack, with all five of Toronto’s starters scoring 17 or more points. Lowry knows how to manipulate the defense, hitting the accelerator to create mismatches and chaos. Watch below as Lowry changes pace and sucks four Warriors into the paint while getting all five to completely turn away from their covers, leaving the Raptors with three wide-open players on the perimeter. It’s the sort of play that Lowry has previously used to pull the center out from under the hoop, but in this case he opts to get Toronto an easy three.

     

    That’s the sort of shot that a truly aggressive Lowry can open up, though Toronto’s changing roster has forced him into more of a facilitator role. It’s something that suits him just fine. Watch below as Lowry passes up an open three mid-shot to get Green going early with a great look.

     

    The Raptors have enough capable offensive players to have made it this far without Lowry completely locked into scoring mode. Those unselfish plays have been enough. Against the Warriors, that may no longer be the case. There’s more to do, whether that’s looking for more buckets or igniting the transition game more effectively than he has through three games.

    Even so, Lowry makes enough plays like this to keep the Raptors afloat. He sets the tone in more ways than one, and for all of the heroics that his teammates have offered up throughout the postseason run, Lowry remains both the heartbeat and brain of the Raptors.

    Toronto’s guards have faced plenty of scrutiny – Green and VanVleet in the last few weeks, and Lowry for years. In Game 3, each was able to flip the narrative to bring home a must-have victory. If they can keep it up, the Raptors may keep inching closer to history.

    Other Observations

    1 – Stephen Curry was absolutely sensational. Everyone knew what was coming and Curry still delivered a heroic performance with 47 points (14-of-31 shooting), eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and six 3-pointers. Even with all the shot-making and offensive wizardry, my personal favorite play of his from Game 3 was this one. Green had been getting freed up on similar screens all night and Curry calls for the switch and squeezes past the screener to create a turnover. Outstanding effort.

     

    2 – People are getting into their own heads a bit about this series. The Raptors won every quarter of Game 3, giving them the edge in 10 of 12 so far. Most of the chatter was about how Toronto should’ve been up by more, and how they were in the danger zone by letting Golden State hang around. The Warriors had one lead tonight (5-4 in the first quarter) and spent most of the second half trailing by double digits. If you honestly thought this iteration of the Warriors was going to rip off a major run, I don’t know what to tell you. This is miles apart from the team from the first two games. There’s respect and then there’s blind deference.

    3 – Serge Ibaka went from unplayable to throwback mode in a flash. His foul on Curry to gift the Dubs three free throws looked like the end of his night after he had already been victimized by poor defensive decisions, but Nick Nurse bought a couple more minutes and Ibaka responded with a confident jumper and an offensive rebound putback to add some cushion. The big man didn’t leave the floor until the final three minutes when it became apparent that he would have a hard time reading the Warriors’ comeback-mode defense quickly enough. All told, Ibaka only scored those four points but added five rebounds, two steals and six blocks. That a couple of those swats were blown goaltending calls doesn’t negate his effort on a night where things looked like they were about to fly off the rails.

    4 – In our look at Game 2 we mentioned how Marc Gasol has yet to have two bad games in a row in the postseason, and he kept the streak alive with a solid Game 3. Big Spain went 3-of-3 inside the arc against Boogie Cousins and earned some trips to the free throw line as well, making it work even if his outside shot was off. He slowed down as a scorer after an aggressive first quarter (eight points in the frame) and wasn’t needed as the same playmaking valve that he has been in the past, but there’s enough diversity in his game to make him effective in different manners at different moments. 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes will certainly pay the bills.

    5 – DeMarcus Cousins was not good, finishing with four points, three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers on 1-of-7 from the field (two of his points came from the line after an impeccable flop) in 19 minutes. The Raptors made him work a lot harder defensively in this game, even allowing Gasol to go to work in the post early in the first quarter. He seemed to be shaken by some tough non-calls and didn’t have the best body language, but the major issue was that Cousins simply had no lift at all. He air-balled a triple in the first quarter and barely left the ground on a layup attempt in the second half. Cousins does not have the mobility to stay on the floor if Toronto wants to get mean about it. This play is offensively bad:

     

    Here’s another one where Cousins’ atrocious defense ends up resulting in a wide-open triple.

     

    6 – As such, Andrew Bogut’s shocking competence may be a factor going forward. The Warriors seem hesitant to go to Draymond-at-center until they’re close to full health, which means that Bogut is going to have to keep up this type of play. He picked up six points, seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in his 21 minutes and seemed to visibly frustrate Gasol with lots of uncalled hand-checking. The fact that he can’t close out on shooters will remain an issue, but the effort won’t wane in ways that it will with Cousins, nor will his focus wane in ways that it will with Jordan Bell.

    7 – Pascal Siakam responded nicely from a poor Game 2, posting 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists on 8-of-16 shooting in 38 minutes. He scored 14 of those in the first half but was far more effective than he was in a 5-of-18 performance on Sunday. Freed from the Klay Thompson defensive assignment, Siakam seemed to have more juice on offense and even uncorked a step-back jumper. He cooked poor Jonas Jerebko in their brief time on the court together, and this version of the Warriors had nowhere to turn to with Green forced to take the Kawhi Leonard assignment. Even with the points piling up early, Siakam’s steady playmaking has been immensely valuable. If he’s attracting this much attention, he needs to make the Warriors pay, and it helps that he’s almost always buzzing enough to not get caught in a stationary position.

     

    8 – Oh yeah, Kawhi Leonard was pretty damn good again. He ended the first half with three turnovers and a 2-of-7 shooting line and promptly turned it around with 14 points in the third. Leonard ended the night with 30 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks and two threes on 9-of-17 from the field. Nobody puts up numbers like that so quietly. His work on his reads out of traps could use some work despite the dimes, though passes like this suggest that he can figure it out in the split second before the second man arrives:

     

    9 – Nick Nurse switched up his eighth-man spot again, calling on Patrick McCaw before Norman Powell. It seems like that will be a need-based spot for the rest of the series, with McCaw coming in when the Raptors need to shut off the faucet and Powell checking in when they need some scoring punch. It’s a bit of a tough break for Powell considering how well he played against the Bucks, but that’s life at this level. Toronto might be kicking themselves for not pulling away sooner, as more garbage time could’ve led to an OG Anunoby appearance. That would be a minor complaint, if anything.

    10 – Another atrocious night for the officiating crew. There were a handful of missed goaltends, with a couple of them being blatant. There was the missed carry on Curry, the phantom call on Alfonzo McKinnie that put Lowry at the line late in the fourth, a terrible miss on a Draymond Green block that took an and-one away from Leonard, a missed travel on VanVleet’s dagger and a missed call that should’ve turned the shot into a 4-point play. You can do this with any game and pick out bad calls, but we shouldn’t be able to do so this easily in the Finals.

Fantasy News

  • David Vanterpool - Team - Minnesota Timberwolves

    The Wolves have hired David Vanterpool as an assistant coach.

    Vanterpool was a popular name on the interview circuit this summer but ultimately did not land a head coaching job. An assistant with Portland for the last seven seasons, one would expect that Vanterpool's responsibilities will increase in Minnesota.

    Source: Timberwolves PR on Twitter

  • Al Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics

    Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer is reporting that the Mavs, Lakers and Clippers have all shown interest in Al Horford, with some of O'Connor's sources indicating that the Mavs are the frontrunners.

    Horford was expected to re-sign with the Celtics but the two didn't appear to be aligned in what they wanted moving forward, and rumors have Horford set to cash in on a four-year deal worth more than $100 million. He is an extremely malleable player who does almost everything at a high level, and his availability drastically changes the open market. Horford is a fit on just about any team build and should have no problem commanding a big offer come June 30. He'd be a fantastic pickup for any of the three teams mentioned, and his fit in Dallas next to two young, do-it-all stars would be great entertainment.

    Source: The Ringer

  • Ja Morant - G - College

    Ja Morant says he’s pain-free after undergoing a surgery to remove loose bodies from his right knee, and also expects to play in Summer League.

    Morant is widely expected to be taken by the Grizzlies at No. 2 overall in Thursday’s draft, and Wednesday’s trade of Mike Conley completely clears the runway for Morant to play a ton right out of the gates. Delon Wright will also be around and is good enough to push Morant for minutes to an extent, but the Grizzlies figure to spend most of the season exploring a Morant – Jaren Jackson Jr. pairing and figuring out what works around that. Barring a draft night surprise, Morant looks like one of the safer rookies to project in terms of sheer opportunity. There was some worry that his knee procedure would put him behind the eight ball but it no longer seems like that will be the case.

    Source: Ben Golliver on Twitter

  • Kyle Korver - G/F - Memphis Grizzlies

    Kyle Korver, who will be traded to the Grizzlies when they complete Wednesday's Mike Conley deal, is expected to play one more season, and possibly another beyond that per Marc Stein.

    Korver, 38, was said to be mulling retirement but it looks as though he's going to give it another crack. A notorious fitness nut, Korver keeps himself in great shape and relies on a skill that hasn't degraded at all with age. His place on a rebuilding team is questionable, however, and it would be surprising if he spent the entire season in Memphis. Consider him the same 3-point specialist he always is.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Jae Crowder - F - Memphis Grizzlies

    Jae Crowder is headed to the Grizzlies as soon as Wednesday's Mike Conley trade is officially completed.

    Crowder reasserted himself as a quality stretch four last season after he struggled in his pit stop with Cleveland. He might not hold much utility on a squad that's rebuilding, and Crowder's best shot at fantasy value might be getting re-routed to another team. Regardless, Crowder would only be a late-round guy in 9-cat leagues at best, and he'll likely settle in as a streamer for threes, rebounds and the occasional steal. If he does play out the year in Memphis, he figures to impact the minutes of Kyle Anderson and Avery Bradley.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Grayson Allen - G - Memphis Grizzlies

    Grayson Allen is part of Wednesday's Mike Conley trade and will be headed to the Grizzlies when the deal is completed.

    Allen only appeared in 37 games for the Jazz, though he did end up dropping 40 points in the season finale when Utah rested most of its players. On a rebuilding team, Allen is a lock to play more, but whether he becomes more than a deep-league points and threes guy is up for debate.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Mike Conley - G - Utah Jazz

    The Grizzlies are trading franchise star Mike Conley Jr. to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in Thursday's Draft and a future protected first-round pick.

    The Jazz were considered the frontrunner to trade for Conley in the last few days and they are able to execute a deal that upgrades their point guard position without selling the farm. It’s now obvious that the Grizzlies will be entering a rebuilding period and Ja Morant seems the obvious choice to replace Conley.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Kevin Durant - F - Golden State Warriors

    ESPN’s Jay Williams, a Kevin Durant friend and a partner with KD’s manager, Rich Kleiman, told the NY Post that it’s too early for the Warriors superstar to figure out what the injury means for his free-agent future.

    Williams has spoken with Durant since the devastating injury as he is still trying to deal with the post-surgery period. KD has until June 29th, the day before free-agency courting period, to opt out of the final season of his pact. Even though he will miss next season, he is likely to get a max deal either with the Warriors or elsewhere. The Knicks are still interested, believing that if there’s any player who can come back from this debilitating injury, it is Durant, who will be 32 to start the 2020-21 campaign.

    Source: NY Post

  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - F - Charlotte Hornets

    Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has opted into his $13M player option for the 2019-20 season.

    Ugh! This comes a week after Marvin Williams exercised his $15 million player option putting the Hornets in a tough financial situation with at least $98 million already on the books for next year. It’s highly unlikely that MKG would have commanded a salary anywhere close to $10 million per year in an open market so this was a no brainer for him. Kidd-Gilchrist is only 25 years old and is coming off a couple seasons where he struggled with injuries while the lack of a reliable jumper makes it hard for him to have value in today’s space and pace offense.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Khris Middleton - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton is declining his $13M player option and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    Middleton is expected to command a five-year max contract but he and the Bucks are planning to work together toward a new long-term deal. Middleton recently bought a new property in Milwaukee and Giannis has openly vouched for his teammate so we’d be shocked if the two parties don’t end up agreeing on a new deal. There will be plenty of suitors that can only offer him a four-year max deal, with the Lakers rumored to be one of them.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter