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Lowry’s leadership lifts Raptors to first Finals appearance



TORONTO — With 3.9 seconds left, he knew.

Kawhi Leonard had grabbed the game-sealing rebound and was at the free throw line with the Toronto Raptors up by four. Leonard was the star that had carried this team though most of these playoffs, but your eyes gravitated to the man standing behind Leonard.

Kyle Lowry was giddy. As Leonard released his first free throw, he was pumping his fists. After the first shot, he had a huge grin as he dapped up Leonard, who remained characteristically stone-faced. As Leonard stepped back to the line for his second free throw, Lowry retreated to the backcourt with his hands on his head. It was a goofy smile, one he just couldn’t control.

Sitting at his locker after his Toronto Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals with a 100-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6, Lowry stumbled trying to explain what that moment felt like.

“That feeling is not,” he started. “You don’t know that feeling … You just don’t know what to say. It’s not a feeling you can describe.”

As he talked, the game ball was in his locker, sitting on top of a pile of gear. He had made sure to grab the final rebound after the buzzer sounded. As he ran off the floor to hug his kids, that ball was stuck to his hip. It was still there as he spoke with TNT’s Ernie Johnson at the trophy presentation.

“I might take it home,” he admitted.


The Raptors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Over the five regular seasons prior to this one, the Toronto Raptors had 19 more regular-season wins than any other team in the Eastern Conference. But in regard to postseason success, they had little to show for it.

There was Lowry getting blocked at the buzzer of Game 7 against Brooklyn in 2014. There was the embarrassing, first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards the year after that. They reached the conference finals in 2016, but a 2-2 series wasn’t an “adverse situation” for LeBron James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Raptors out of the conference semis in both 2017 and 2018.

Lowry is the only guy on the current roster that’s been here for all the regular-season success and all the postseason frustration. And more often than not, he’s been the face of the latter.

There was another time when Lowry had a ball by his side as he addressed the media after a playoff game. It wasn’t the game ball, but rather the ball he had used in an impromptu, practice-court shooting session after a rough performance against the Miami Heat in 2016, one of the many Game 1 losses that the Raptors have suffered over the years.

Lowry has had a lot of ups and downs over the years, and really, his postseason struggles are probably overstated. In 67 playoff games with the Raptors, he has averaged 17.1 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 50.4 percent) and 6.3 assists. He’s a plus-80 in his Toronto playoff career, even though his team has been outscored by a total of 156 points over those six postseasons.

Whether or not the shots are going in, Lowry’s impact is felt. He makes big plays on both ends of the floor. And he’s made them in a lot of big moments in these 2019 playoffs.

It’s kind of incredible to think about how often this Raptors’ postseason was on the brink of another disappointing finish. In the conference semifinals, they trailed 2-1 and by four points early in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Philadelphia. They needed four bounces to win Game 7. And in this series, they were just a possession or two from being down 0-3, a deficit that no team in NBA history has ever come back from.

On Saturday, the Raptors trailed by 15 points with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter, in danger of losing their best opportunity to close out this series. Some life had been breathed back into the Bucks, who would have had a Game 7 back in Milwaukee. Prior to Saturday, they were 57-5 in games they led by at least 15 points. The Raptors made some abbreviated runs, but just couldn’t get over the hump.

But then it happened. A 26-3 run that turned that 15-point deficit into an eight-point lead, one that the Raptors would never lose (though they came close). Leonard got it started with eight points and an assist to close the third quarter, but the Raptors kept it going with their star on the bench for the first two and a half minutes of the fourth.


Kawhi Leonard was dominant during the Raptors’ 26-3 run in Game 6.

Lowry didn’t score any of the 26 points, but he had four assists on the run, and the last was one every Raptor fan will remember forever. After Leonard missed a three, Fred VanVleet picked up Middleton in transition. But when Middleton tried to go behind his back, Lowry pounced from off of George Hill in the strong-side corner.

He took the ball from Middleton and raced down the floor with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe on his tail. He stopped just inside the free throw line, waited for the two Bucks to pass by and dropped an underhand pass to a trailing Leonard. As Leonard rose for a majestic left-handed dunk, Lowry gave Antetokounmpo a little nudge to help prevent a block.

“I know just to keep running with Kyle,” Leonard said. “If he doesn’t have nothing easy, he’s going to make the right play.”

It was the highlight of the night, a play only topped on this postseason run by Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater. And it capped what was a remarkable comeback from a tough, resilient team.

The Raptors wouldn’t be here without Leonard, the star that has lifted them. They also wouldn’t be here without Lowry, the tough point guard who has played through an injured left thumb (that seems bound for surgery after The Finals) and spent most of the series guarding a guy – Khris Middleton – seven inches taller than him.

“His natural instincts are to be a leader out there, and he shows it,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He does it with his IQ and his great knowledge of the game. He shows it with tremendous toughness as well. That’s his other natural characteristic. He’s blocking out guys twice his size. He’s taking charges every game. He’s just going to fight to win. He’s a hell of a competitor, and that rubs off on guys.”

After five years of playoff frustration, Kyle Lowry finally broke through. And though this postseason isn’t over, an Eastern Conference championship was clearly a time for celebration.

“I’m going to savor the moment,” Lowry said, “but I’m not satisfied. Our goal is to win the NBA championship.”

The Finals start Thursday.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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Celtics’ Jayson Tatum says NBA players in contract years ‘putting a lot on the line’



Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he fought to protect players who are approaching potentially lucrative contract extensions or free agency after this season comes to a close in discussions between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

“[There’s] a lot of guys in my situation; a lot of guys are going to be free agents,” Tatum said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “… We’ve been off for four months, not being able to be in the facility. Obviously, we’re supposed to stay at home and not having the normal access that we would have to the training facility or the weight room or the gym. And then, [we’re] kind of being asked to ramp up and pick it back up at such a rapid pace and go down there and play. Guys are putting a lot on the line.”

He was one of several players involved in discussions between the league and the union about how to successfully restart the season. The group also included NBPA president Chris Paul, Rockets star Russell Westbrook, Raptors star Kyle Lowry and Mavericks center Dwight Powell.

Tatum, a third-year forward who made his first All-Star Game in February, is one of several young stars from the 2017 draft class — including Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Heat center Bam Adebayo and Kings guard De’Aaron Fox — who will be eligible to sign contract extensions this fall.

Meanwhile, Wizards forward Davis Bertans, who has twice torn his ACL in his right knee, chose to opt out of the league’s restart in Orlando because of concerns about his health. Bertans, who averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game and shot over 42% from 3-point range, is going to be an unrestricted free agent this fall.

Tatum acknowledged players who either are approaching an extension or free agency are taking a risk by entering the bubble and playing.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Tatum said. “No matter if they say, ‘You’re young enough, no matter what you’re still getting paid.’ I think it’s still putting a lot on the line. I know a lot of people won’t really care that much because they feel like we make so much money, which is true, but there are a lot of guys … I understand guys like Bertans that decided to sit out because he has dealt with injuries, and he was looking to get paid this summer.

“I mean, it makes sense. Everybody has their own reasons for not playing, and I don’t fault anybody. It’s a tough decision to go through. But yeah, I was voicing for them to make some type of adjustment that could give some guys some stability going into this time that’s so uncertain.”

While the league and the union did discuss potential remedies to the situation, including the possibility of creating “loss of value” insurance policies, ultimately there was only an agreement for players across the league taking part in the restart to be covered by disability insurance.

Ultimately, Tatum said that agreement didn’t do much to influence his decision to play one way or the other, saying that instead the biggest concern he had was having to spend a significant chunk of time away from Deuce, his two-and-a-half year-old son.

“I saw that there were reports out there that said I wasn’t going to play because of my contract, and then I saw reports that said that was a lie,” Tatum said. “I never talked to anybody about that, or said I was or wasn’t going to play because of my contract. I knew that if I didn’t play without people hearing why I wasn’t going to play, I knew they would assume I didn’t want to play because I didn’t want to risk losing out on that contract and that would be insensitive, especially during this time when so many people have to file for unemployment, for me to be worried about ‘X’ amount of dollars.

“So that didn’t have anything to do or sway if I was going to play or not. For me, the main concern was just being away from my son. That’s what was most important to me, and if I was or wasn’t going to play.”

Tatum said his final decision as to whether he would play or not didn’t actually happen until the past few days, when he officially decided he would go to Orlando. The fact he has never been away from his son for more than a couple weeks — and now will be away for nearly two months — was the biggest thing that weighed on his mind.

“I was very unsure,” Tatum said. “… There’s a multitude of reasons why I wasn’t comfortable. … [I’m] still not excited about it, not thrilled. Obviously, what we’re fighting for, against racism and social injustice and equality, obviously the virus is still very well and alive and continues to rise in Florida.

“For me, just being away from my son for two or three months, that’s what’s really bothering me. … Especially when they’re that young — their growth, they change every week. Just knowing I’m going to miss out on that. Missing my mom, my family. It’s been tough.”

Now that he’s committed to going, though, Tatum said he has one goal in mind.

“If we’re going to go down there, we might as well try to win a championship,” he said.

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Nets won’t have Spencer Dinwiddie after positive coronavirus tests



Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie announced Tuesday that he won’t join his team in Orlando after testing positive again for the coronavirus.

Dinwidddie tweeted the news.

Dinwiddie’s teammate, center DeAndre Jordan, has also tested positive for the coronavirus and opted out of joining the team in Orlando.

The Nets were scheduled to arrive in Orlando Tuesday, one of the 22 NBA teams scheduled to resume games on July 30. They are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Orlando Magic for the final playoff spot.

Losing Dinwiddie leaves a big hole for the Nets. He was second on the team in scoring average this season at 20.6 points per game. The top scorer, Kyrie Irving, played in only 20 games due to injury — compared to Dinwiddie’s 64. Dinwiddie led the team in assists with 6.8 per game.

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Wizards’ Bradley Beal won’t play in NBA restart because of shoulder injury



Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal will not play in the NBA’s restart because of a right rotator cuff injury.

The Wizards announced Tuesday that Beal has experienced shoulder discomfort since early in the season, and the symptoms worsened during the NBA’s hiatus that started in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bradley did everything possible to be ready to play, but after closely monitoring his individual workouts we came to the conclusion that it was best for him to sit out the upcoming games in Orlando and avoid the risk of further injury,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in a statement. “Although he was able to play through the majority of the season with the injury, the layoff from March until now did not leave any of us feeling comfortable that he would have enough time to be ready to perform at the extremely high level we are all accustomed to seeing and agreed that not participating in the games in Orlando was the right decision.”

The Wizards (24-40) said they will travel to Orlando, Florida, without Beal, their best player and the NBA’s second-leading scorer.

“This was a difficult decision and one that I did not take lightly as the leader of this team,” Beal said. “I wanted to help my teammates compete for a playoff spot in Orlando, but also understand that this will be best for all of us in the long term. I appreciate the support of my teammates, the fans and the entire organization and look forward to returning next season to continue the progress we have made.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks had said Monday that Beal was undecided whether to play but was expected to travel with the team. Brooks added that Beal looked terrific in workouts.

Washington, which owns the worst record of the 22 teams playing at the Walt Disney World resort, will resume its season without three of its best players. Star point guard John Wall is out for the season with an Achilles injury, and second-leading scorer Davis Bertans opted out of returning to play.

The Wizards are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, trailing Orlando (30-35) by 5.5 games for the eighth spot and Brooklyn (30-34) by six games for the seventh spot.

Beal, 27, averaged a career-high 30.5 points and 6.1 assists this season, trailing only Houston’s James Harden (34.4) for the league lead in scoring. Beal became just the sixth player in NBA history to post back-to-back 50-point games when he had 53 points at Chicago on Feb. 23 and 55 points against Milwaukee on Feb. 24.

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