Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Wed, May 8

3-2. Let’s kill this on Thursday.

10 things from Raptors-Sixers (Game 5)

One – Smackdown: The Raptors just ran the Sixers straight out of the gym. Admittedly, the Sixers were just completely out of sorts, but this was also a statement by the Raptors, who reasserted control of the series in the most emphatic way possible. The Raptors won every quarter, ran down every loose ball, found their range from deep, and made highlight after highlight to put Philadelphia on the brink of elimination.

Two – Together: Toronto’s wins in Games 1 and 4 came down to having the best player in the series, while tonight’s win was about being the better team. Every starter finished in double-digits, and the bench even tallied 32 points. Again, it helped that the Sixers were completely out of sorts, but it was a positive sign that the Raptors played with such confidence as a team. They pushed the pace on both misses and makes, confidently stepped into open threes, and shared the ball beautifully as a group. This is the best version of the Raptors.

Instant observations: The Sixers were complete trash in Game 5 loss to Toronto Raptors | PhillyVoice

• Just like on Sunday, the story of Ben Simmons’ game was largely defined by his inability to score around the basket. There were point-blank layups that Simmons missed without any shot alteration to blame it on, and there’s simply no other way to put it — he has to make them, no excuses.

It’s worth pointing out that this was something of a teamwide problem in Game 5. Butler was getting into the teeth of Toronto’s defense fairly easily, but he could not buy one around the basket in the early going. Getting fouled on a pair of threes in the first quarter made up the majority of his scoring output, despite Butler being heavily involved in the action.

The Raptors certainly show you a lot of bodies and arms in the paint, and they were a top-five defense in the playoffs for a reason. But the Sixers made them look like the greatest defensive team of all-time out there for stretches of the first half, and that’s simply inexcusable for a team with their firepower.

• Let’s hover on Simmons individually for a second. At times in this series, it has been easy to handwave away his disappearing act on offense by pointing to the difficulty of the assignment he has on the other end of the floor. He gets no such pass in Game 5. He was a man adrift for a lot of Tuesday’s game, often failing to make easy plays in addition to making some head-scratching decisions on both ends.

‘Being who I am, not thinking about being injured’: Pascal Siakam’s resurgent Game 5 lifts Raptors – The Athletic

There was nobody behind him. Healthy, that rarely matters to Siakam, one of basketball’s fastest and most unrelenting sprinters with or without the ball. There was an opportunity to head-man to Kawhi Leonard or slow things down for a hand-off to Lowry. But this is Siakam, and if he’s playing, he’s running. There was nobody behind him, sure. There was also nobody he thought would beat him to the rim even with a head start.

And so he took off. He offered a hesitation dribble at midcourt that avoided a defender and lulled the 76ers to slow down and try to set up. He changed speeds again, getting the edge on Ennis and swinging the ball through a helping poke at the ball from Jimmy Butler. Then he planted – on his left foot, his skogging ability one of the things that makes him so dynamic and difficult to anticipate as a defender – and drew the foul from Ennis, arm outstretched and nearly converting.

“I think I’m getting better, but then I understand that I have to be aggressive,” Siakam said. “I can’t be passive. What makes me dangerous is the fact that I’m aggressive. I play fast. I’ve got to keep that. Sometimes when you have an injury, you tend to think a lot, and want to choose your spots. It kind of like, it takes away from your aggressiveness. I think me tonight, just going out there and being who I am, and not thinking about being injured.”

A Different Toronto Raptors Team Is Getting Different Results – The Ringer

Toronto’s total demolition of the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday—a 125-89 shit-kicking in Game 5 of the second round, drawing the Raptors within one win of the Eastern Conference finals—did feel different, both from the games that preceded it in this series and from other turning-point moments in the Raps’ postseason past. It was the most lopsided playoff victory in Toronto basketball history, topping a 29-point shellacking of Orlando in Game 2 of Round 1 last month, and it tied for the second-largest postseason defeat ever for the Sixers, who, as a franchise, have been around quite a bit longer than the Raptors. On the heels of three straight heart-attack games, the Raptors traded in their customary queasiness for something calmer, more assured—and far less dependent on their superstar reason to believe.

The Raptors suffocated the Sixers, limiting Philly to 41.8 percent shooting and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range. They swarmed Joel Embiid—hampered by illness again, this time an upper respiratory infection—and Ben Simmons, harassing the Sixers’ crown jewels into 13 combined turnovers. They shut off JJ Redick’s water, limiting him to just six field goal attempts and a whisper-quiet three points. They helped and recovered, they contested everything, and with the exception of Jimmy Butler grinding out some free throws and Tobias Harris hitting a few pull-ups, they conceded nothing. The Raptors defense played well enough that Leonard didn’t need to be Superman. Which was good, because he wasn’t.

Raptors dominate without super performance from Kawhi | NBA.com

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse didn’t believe his team needed another huge performance from Kawhi Leonard to win Game 5 of of his team’s Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Raptors were 17-5 without Leonard in the regular season. Kyle Lowry is an All-Star, Pascal Siakam is the next big thing, and the Raptors’ go eight deep with capable NBA players with postseason experience.

But that 17-5 record without Leonard broke down to 13-0 against non-playoff teams and 4-5 against playoff teams. And in this series, Leonard simply wasn’t getting a lot of help. His 68 points over Games 2 and 3 weren’t enough, and the Raptors needed every bit of his 39 to win Game 4 in Philadelphia on Sunday and essentially keep their season alive. The guy was averaging 38 points on 62 percent shooting, and they were a possession or two from being down 3-1.

So yeah, to have Leonard come back down to earth somewhat and still get a blowout, 125-89 victory on Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead? It was somewhat comforting, as you might imagine.

“It was good to prove it a little bit in the playoffs,” Nurse said of winning without a superhuman performance from Leonard. “I don’t know if ‘relief’ is the right word, but it’s nice to see other guys pick it up.”

The rest of the Raptors joined Kawhi in dismantling the 76ers

Leonard’s exceptional play in the postseason might be an unfair standard to which to hold his teammates. Prior to suffering a right calf contusion in Game 3, Siakam’s athletic stylings and range from the corners had provided consistent offense for Toronto. Furthermore, the Raptors feature a core of heady veterans such as Lowry, Marc Gasol and Danny Green, whose contributions aren’t always easily quantified in stat lines. By nature, these are cerebral players who have mastered the art of contributing without scoring, and what often looks like a dud in the box score is an exercise in winning on the game’s margins.

Still, the disparity between Leonard’s production and the rest of the team was profound. Coming into Game 5, Leonard had scored 38.8 percent of the Raptors’ points in this series — far and away a larger share than any other individual player in the conference semifinals (Kevin Durant and James Harden are next, at 32 percent). After the Raptors were embarrassed in Game 3, Lowry told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, “We’ve got to help him.”

Help came early and often Tuesday, and every member of the team was, in some form or fashion, the best version of himself.

“We needed this type of game where everyone played well,” Lowry said. “I don’t think we had a game like this in a while. We’ve still got another level that I think we can play at offensively and defensively. But it was a good team win.”

Raptors’ rotation shows up to give Kawhi Leonard a bit of a rest – The Athletic

He did not blame Nurse, given what is at stake here and how he has performed, but that does not make it any easier to get himself going.

“I could sit here and tell you how I’m a team player and I’m locked in and I’m playing great defence. But I know what it is,” VanVleet said. “I feel it just like you guys see it. Staying engaged and staying locked in is the easy part. To be upset with yourself and to be disappointed is part of the game. It’s part of being a human being. I’m not a robot. I go out there and go through the highs and lows just like anybody else. But it’s being able to navigate through that and still bring the non-negotiables to the table, which is the defence, the leadership, the energy, foul a couple guys a couple times. The rest of that stuff will balance itself out I think. A lot of it is just the rotation and the minutes and the looks and the offence. I’m caught up in all of it. But it’ll turn around.”

His five points were a very small part of the win, but it was emblematic of the shift in tone to the series. Even in the Raptors’ Game 1 blowout, it was largely the Kawhi and Pascal Show. In Game 5, it was about everybody.

Sixers don’t show up in Game 5 and fall to the Raptors – Liberty Ballers

The game started with the same kind of frenetic energy that lasted throughout much of Game 4, neither side able to grab a big enough lead to feel confident heading into the second frame. Joel Embiid wasn’t himself once again in this one, as he has been battling an upper respiratory infection that sapped his energy. The big man only had five points to go along with three turnovers through the first 12 minutes.

Jimmy Butler was once again the focal point on offense, as he brought his normal aggressiveness that led to eight early points and several trips to the free throw line. The biggest surprise of the quarter came on defense though, as Ben Simmons turned things around from his rough Game 4 performance and forced Kawhi Leonard into one of his worst quarters of the series. With Leonard only scoring five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field, the Sixers were able to bring the score to 27-26 in favor of the Raptors by the end of the first quarter.

For all of the adjustments the Sixers made in the first quarter, they seemingly fizzled out in the second. The Sixers went back on everything they did in the first twelve minutes and the Raptors took advantage, outscoring Philadelphia by 20 in the quarter. Embiid was a non-factor, Simmons refused to attack the lane, and JJ Redick couldn’t get open even if he tried. The Raptors shot 4-of-9 from deep in the quarter, while the Sixers went 0-of-8, and that stat might not even crack the top 20 reasons why the Sixers dropped this game. By the end of the second, the Raptors had opened up a 64-43 lead.

The Sixers looked ready to fight to start the second half, going on a quick 10-2 run to cut the lead to 13, but then all of a sudden, that evaporated just like every other good thing on the Sixers’ side. The Raptors were able to weather the storm and once again took control of the game. For the rest of the second half, the Raptors controlled every aspect of the game, and the Sixers decided to pack it in and let the deep bench play out most of the fourth quarter.

Sixers Bell Ringer: Everything falls apart for Sixers in demoralizing Game 5 defeat – Liberty Ballers

Jimmy Butler was the proverbial port in the storm for the Sixers, at least until the storm of ineptitude from the majority of his teammates grew large and fierce enough to wipe out the entire coastline. Butler kept the Sixers in the game for the bulk of the first half, continuously earning trips to the free throw line (10-of-11 from the foul line for the game), either via confident drives to the rim or getting fouled on 3-point attempts.

His 7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio also warrants him a gold star on a night when every other pass the Sixers threw landed either in the hands of a waiting Raptor or the third row. Butler was the on-court proxy for Sixers fans’ frustration, on multiple occasions looking visibly exasperated by some dumb turnover, foul, or missed defensive assignment by one of his teammates. Jimmy has been a rock of consistency in this series. Hopefully, the rest of the Sixers can join him Thursday night.

The Sixers’ two young stars were absent in Game 5 against Raptors, and now the season is on the brink | David Murphy

After Lowry coasted down to the other end of the court for an easy layup, Brown leaned back in his chair and stared up at the giant video board hanging high above his head. Right then and there, he seemed to know. If he didn’t, he would soon. A series that the Sixers not long ago held in firm control was about to deliver them to the brink of another long offseason.

It would do so in embarrassing fashion, a 125-89 thrashing to complete what many will see as a validation of all of their darkest fears about this team. For a second straight game, their two young cornerstones were absent enough to warrant a candlelight vigil, Simmons and Joel Embiid combining for 13 turnovers and just eight made shots. Barring the dramatic arrival of a team that has been missing in action for the vast majority of this series, the Sixers will finish this season the same way they did the last one, staring warily ahead to a pivotal summer in which, despite a slew of looming free-agent decisions, the most important work will need to be done from within.

Leonard's co-stars step up as Raptors outshine 76ers in Game 5 – Sportsnet.ca

He clarified: Did he tell Drake the Sixers would be back for Game 7 on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena?

“Yes,” he said through a stuffed-up sounding nose. “I did.”

The Raptors will certainly have a lot to say about that, and in Game 5 they made their intentions very clear as they pasted the 76ers 125-89 on Tuesday to take a 3-2 lead in their second-round series. It was the largest margin of victory in Raptors playoff history, and leaves them with a chance to close out Philly in Game 6 on Thursday night and book a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time.

The Sixers can pledge to be back for Game 7 all they want, but at this point you have to like the Raptors’ chances. Not only because Embiid has been a shadow of himself as he has now threatened to call in sick for three of his past four games, but because for the first time in the series, the Raptors looked like a team to be reckoned with even without Kawhi Leonard turning himself into some kind of comic book hero sent to save the world.

Raptors bring Claw and order with blowout win over Sixers in Game 5 | The Star

“We needed for everyone to play well,” said point guard Kyle Lowry, as he walked the back halls of the arena. “Not individually, but just more of a team, well-rounded game, when everyone played well, everyone played together, everyone worked. We felt good about ourselves. Everybody did. You know what I mean? Not, I did it. We did it. That’s the thing about it that was good for us.

“I don’t think we had a game like this in a while … We needed that type of win, just for our team.”

Through four games, the Raptors were watching one of the great shows in sports. Kawhi had entered the game in singular territory: 38 points per game over the first four on a .618/.464/.829 shooting line for a .728 true shooting percentage, which is simply beyond the stars. Some on the Sixers thought Ben Simmons had performed at an all-NBA level on defence against Kawhi, and was still getting torched.

And in this game, Kawhi looked … human. It was jarring. He missed shots, just like a normal person. He fell closer to Earth, or as close to Earth as someone who can dunk over Joel Embiid can come.

“Kawhi has been unbelievable, and we figured we had to help him at some point,” said Lowry, who finished with 19 points on nine shots, six rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block. “I think the last couple, we’ve helped him a lot.”

In Game 4, it was just enough help to allow Kawhi’s seismic three over Embiid to seal it. After that game, Toronto centre Marc Gasol said, “I think we are figuring each other out a little bit. We’re learning as we go. Being a new team, you have to go through those kind of things to know more about your teammates and your coaches and who you are as a team.”

Kawhi Leonard, Raptors Dominate Joel Embiid, 76ers in 125-89 Game 5 Blowout Win | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

Siakam has been a significant problem thanks to his 20.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals this series. He’s playing at a greater speed than any of his opponents, and that’s a serious issue for the 76ers as they try to fight back.

The question is whether Siakam can lead Toronto to greater heights.

If the Raptors move on, they’ll likely face the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, who lead the No. 4 Boston Celtics 3-1 in their best-of-seven series.

Not much needs to be said about the excellent play and energy of future NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can light up the Bucks’ home crowd at any moment’s notice with a play that only he can pull off, like taking one dribble past the half-court line and dunking right past the free-throw line.

But Siakam is the type of player who can match that energy on either end thanks to a powerful dunk, a backbreaking three or a block or steal to kill off the opposing team’s momentum.

The Raptors haven’t had a player this decade who looks like he plays a touch faster than everyone else, and they have that now in a much-improved Siakam, who has been exceptional in his third NBA season.

NBA playoffs: Raptors rout 76ers in Game 5, take 3-2 series lead

Lowry scored 19 points, while Danny Green shot 5 for 7 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. Marc Gasol scored 11 points and Serge Ibaka had 10. All five Toronto starters scored in double digits.

“Kawhi still had a great game and the surrounding cast contributed,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

The 36-point margin was the largest in Toronto’s postseason history, and marked Philadelphia’s worst playoff defeat since a 40-point loss to Boston in Game 1 of the 1982 Eastern Conference finals.

“The spirit, I thought, went away a little bit quicker than I’d wished,” Brown said.

Up by one after the first, the Raptors outscored the 76ers 37-17 in the second to take a 21-point lead, 64-43, at halftime.

“The second period is where it got away from us,” Brown said. “I give Toronto credit, we didn’t have the answers for a few of their players and it snowballed.”

Ahead 92-70 at the start of the fourth, Toronto extended its lead to a game-high 40 points on a dunk by Normal Powell with 2:24 remaining.

The Raptors shot 16 for 40 from 3-point range, setting a franchise record for 3-pointers in a postseason game. They hadn’t made more than 10 in the four previous games this series.

“The 3-point shot was punishing tonight,” Brown said.

Kawhi Leonard free agency rumors: Raptors superstar expected to seriously consider re-signing with Toronto – CBSSports.com

“Kawhi Leonard just felt all along, it was going to take the full year to sell him on Toronto,” Wojnarowski said. “It wasn’t going to be done in training camp or by Christmas or by the trade deadline. But I do think they’ve made progress with him. I do think they’ve made pretty good progress with him from the sense I have. They put themselves in it. And when Kawhi showed up there, I’m not sure he imagined any future in Toronto. I do think it’s a serious consideration now.

“Certainly the winning and development of [Pascal] Siakam. I think he’s built a good relationship with Kyle Lowry. Neither one is easy to get close to. Two guys who don’t let a lot of people in and then you put them together, right?

“And Nick Nurse has grown this year as he’s gone.

“I think the Kawhi thing is getting really interesting there. For them to just get through this series and get to a conference final, every day is the case you’re making. And, oh by the way, ‘we can pay you more than anybody else. If you want to be in L.A. and you want to live there in the offseason, there’s only so many days you really have to be in Toronto in the snow. You can get out of here. You’re on the road half the time. The rest of the year, you can get out of here and go in L.A. and be in California.’

“But Toronto is selling winning on him. They can’t sell geography to him, I don’t think. I don’t think they can’t sell weather on him. There’s nothing they can do about that. When you have that kind of organization, you sell winning and again, the chance to make the most money.”

Raptors destroy Sixers with total team effort, take 3-2 series lead – ProBasketballTalk

Toronto outscored Philadelphia 37-17 in the second quarter to lead by 21 at the half, and they never were seriously challenged after that, going on to win 125-89.

The Raptors now lead the series 3-2 heading back to Philadelphia for Game 4 Thursday night.

It can’t be a worse night for the Sixers at home — this was an everything that could go wrong went wrong kind of game. Joel Embiid, who was a game-time decision with an upper respiratory issue, had 13 points and 8 turnovers, and was just not himself defensively. Ben Simmons disappeared into the background and had 7 points on the night. Jimmy Butler was the best of the Sixers and he finished with 22 points on 6-of-16 shooting, and when he went to the bench Philly fell apart.

The big story in this game was that Leonard did not have to carry the Raptors offense.

Philadelphia kept throwing double-teams at him from different angles, and Leonard had 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half — he was not what we had seen earlier in the season as Philly. However, all the attention he drew open things up for everyone else.

Pascal Siakam had 25 points and was back to his normal self, putting on a clinic at points. Kyle Lowry had 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Danny Green had 17 points and was 5-of-7 from three. Toronto had six players in double figures. Even Fred Van Vleet had his best game of the season.

A Sad, Somber Emergency Pod for Raptors-Sixers Game 5 – The Ringer

John Gonzalez is joined by fellow 76ers fan Michael Baumann to discuss Philadelphia’s embarrassing 36-point loss

Healthy dose of Siakam does the job for Raptors in Game 5 | The Star

“Sometimes when you have an injury, you tend to think a lot and want to choose your spots. It kind of like, it takes away from your aggressiveness. I think me tonight, (I was) just going out there and being who I am, and not thinking about being injured.”

But he is thinking about getting better.

“It’s my calf, and it’s my hamstring, so it’s both combined,” he said. “The staff is doing a great job to make sure that I get treatment, keep icing and keep taking care of it. It’s going to need some rest, but we don’t have time, so I just have to do my best to make sure when game time comes I’m ready.”

Siakam was just one of the Raptors not named Kawhi Leonard who exploded as Toronto took a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 on Thursday in Philadelphia.

Danny Green made five three-pointers on a breakout night as he finished with 17 points, and Serge Ibaka had 10 points after being cut on the head for three stitches by an errant Leonard elbow in the first quarter.

Fred VanVleet may have only had five points, but his first-half defence on J.J. Redick and Harris was excellent, keeping up with standards Nurse said the backup point guard had met all series.

“Everyone contributed,” Siakam said. “When we play together as a team — get stops, we run, everyone gets touches, and we play on the run — everyone gets involved. I think we did a pretty good job tonight just getting stops and running.”

Expectations for Raptors and 76ers in Game 5? Something different than before | The Star

Brown and Nurse also know there is no such thing as “momentum” in a series like this — no two games are remotely the same — and being able and willing to change on the fly is where Nurse and Brown are earning their multimillion-dollar salaries.

And even they have no clue if what they want to do will work.

“Each game takes on its own personality, I just don’t ever know,” Nurse said on the off-day before Tuesday’s Game 5. “I didn’t plan on it being the way it was (Sunday), at all. I did plan on going bigger to help us in the rebounding.

“(Tuesday’s) game will probably change but my basic philosophy is whenever you’re rolling you’ve got to continue to roll. If you come in off the bench and impact, your minutes get extended. You come in off the bench and impact in a big way, you might play 15 minutes straight.”

Those kinds of changes — someone unexpectedly having a big night out of nowhere, some combination of players working for the first time — is why games take on different characteristics one night to the next. And why every player on the roster thinks tonight might be his night.

“Each one of them should be ready to play 40-plus if they need to, and I think the bench guys are champing at the bit to make a bigger impact,” Nurse said. “It’s kind of the way we are, but it’s no different. Their players are feeling the same way, I’m sure.”

Kawhi Leonard is the closest player we've seen to Michael Jordan – Sir Charles in Charge

Kawhi Leonard exhibits a level of offensive dominance that few shooting guards or small forwards have been able to match. He is judicious with his shot selection. He never seems to get worried or flustered when he is playing.

So far in the playoffs this season, Kawhi Leonard is averaging 32.3 points on 59 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range. Kobe, at 27, averaged 28 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from 3 in the playoffs.

While Kobe is arguably better than Kawhi offensively, he is not as efficient as Kawhi on the floor. If Kawhi took as many shots as Kobe Bryant, he would probably average more points. Offensively, Kawhi’s efficiency is what separates him from other elite shooting guards and small forwards.

Not only can Kawhi be the best scorer on the floor in a given game, but he does not have to take a ton of shots to do so. He controls his pace offensively and is always consistent. He can shoot the 3 and drive to the basket on any defender. To most defenders, Kawhi is unstoppable. However, he does not get as much attention for his offensive game because he is less flashy than most elite scores.

Physically, Kawhi Leonard is 6-foot-7, 230 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. Michael Jordan was 6-foot-6, 216 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. Kawhi is stronger than Kobe and has the infamous huge hands that gave Jordan an edge.

Kawhi’s size and strength allow him to shoot over other shooting guards and small forwards. And he is faster than power forwards or centers that may attempt to guard him. His ability to get to the basket and get off any shot he wants is reminiscent of Jordan. Kawhi Leonard and MJ are arguably the two most physically superior shooting guards to ever play in the NBA.

Nylon Calculus: Kyle Lowry is a playoff problem – Nylon Calculus

Kyle Lowry, ostensibly Toronto’s second-best player, is averaging just 12.5 points per game in the second round against Philadelphia, shooting 38 percent from the field and 20 percent on 3-pointers. This is part of an unfortunately long history of playoff underperformance and, with the Raptors immediate future hinging on their ability to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay, his struggles are especially problematic, even if they don’t keep Toronto from advancing in this series.

The Raptors were able to steal Game 4 and even their series with the 76ers and Lowry, ostensibly, showed up in this game. But with DRE, a linear weights metric measure bulk production on a single-game basis, we can put that “showing up” in context and see just what his playoff track record really looks like.

Lowry’s 14-point, 7-assist, 6-rebound performance in Game 4 measured out with a DRE of 6.6. By that measure, it was almost exactly an average playoff performance for him. However, it would only rank in the 37th percentile of compared to the DRE marks for all of his regular season games going back to the 2013-14 season.

And that’s the issue. Every player has it a bit tougher in the playoffs when the level of competition ramps up and teams have multiple days and multiple games to strategize for a specific opponent. But there has been a dramatic and consistent difference, stretching across multiple seasons, between regular season Kyle Lowry and postseason Kyle Lowry.

Kawhi Leonard holds keys to Raptors’ playoff future and beyond | SI.com

The future will be as bright as ever in The Six if Leonard sticks around. The Raptors will have a top-flight superstar surrounded by a combination of battle-tested veterans and young talent, able to act prudently toward the future without a ticking clock on their franchise star. Pascal Siakam will be able to grow without a star’s burden, while Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol will age gracefully with their flaws masked by the 2014 Finals MVP. If Leonard stays, Masai Ujiri’s deal will go down as one of the greatest in recent memory.

Earning a long-term commitment from Leonard has been a critical objective for Toronto all season. A failure to retain his services would create a messy future, with a rebuild on the way in the very near future, which would spell the end of six straight playoff appearances. So what does a Kawhi-less future look like? The picture isn’t pretty.

Toronto’s first question would come in the frontcourt with a decision largely out of its control. Marc Gasol will face a player option of $25.6 million, a hefty payday for an aging center. If it’s a matter of money, expect Big Spain to quickly opt in. Another year of Gasol could create a one-year contention window even without Leonard. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka come off the books following the 2019-20 season, likely spurring a wholesale rebuild in two summers. In the meantime, Toronto could look to nurture Siakam as a lead option as the veteran trio scraps for a middling seed in the East playoff race. The scenario is far from the most sexy option, though it will allow Toronto a year to fully prepare for the next decade while logging another playoff appearance. A shred of competence will earn at least the eight seed in the East.

What drives Kyle Lowry's unexplainable basketball genius? – ESPN

When the shot leaves Kawhi Leonard’s hands, nine players on the floor stand closer to the basket than Lowry.

The Raptors lead the Orlando Magic by three in Game 3 of a series tied 1-1, with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Leonard’s shot falls short. When the ball caroms off the front lip of the rim and lands just beyond the free throw line, Lowry still hasn’t crashed the frame from where he was standing, heels just in front of the big Magic logo 40 feet from the hoop.

“It bounced once or twice, and I thought to get back to Terrence [Ross] because he was hot,” Lowry will say moments later. “It kind of bounced and sat, so go make winning basketball plays.”

Lowry darts into the vacuum of space, between D.J. Augustin and Ross, who have every claim on that floating ball that he does. Lowry’s lurching for possession is no feat of dexterity — this is a fire alarm. Before Lowry is sure he’ll be the first to it, he’s already looking at teammate Danny Green, five feet to his right, because even if he’s able to get to the loose ball, there’s no certainty that he’ll be able to control it or his momentum. But Green is insulated from the scrum, so if the ball can find its way to him, it will be safe. Lowry’s hands take hold of the ball and, in one seamless motion, push it off to Green, who promptly returns it to Leonard, effectively securing a Toronto win.

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Lowry ices game with offensive reboundKawhi Leonard misses a jump shot, but Kyle Lowry hustles back and grabs a rebound to secure the win for the Raptors.
The ability to perform this mental inventory in chaos — accounting for the opponent’s most lethal shooter in a three-point game inside of 24 seconds, measuring the probability that corralling the ball is even possible, calculating the risk should you fail — has long been one of Lowry’s signature features. It’s the kind of stuff basketball people refer to when they wax about the “little things” or “hustle” or qualities that “don’t show up in the box score.”

At no point in his career have Lowry’s individual numbers popped off the page; there have been few gaudy, Westbrookian totals. He’s averaging 11.9 points per game in these playoffs, the fewest of any 2019 All-Star still playing in May.

Yet in his 13 seasons in the NBA, Lowry has established himself as a darling of advanced stats. What are Lowry enthusiasts seeing between the columns in the traditional box scores that everyone else is not? What are these little things that are so often mentioned but so rarely defined?

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