Warriors start playoff road, without LeBron there at the end

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant dunks the ball as Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo defends in the second quarter at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 12 April 2019
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Warriors start playoff road, without LeBron there at the end

  • The long road to get to the finals begins Saturday with four games, including the top-seeded Warriors against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West
  • It’s the start of postseason that looks different far beyond just the absence of LeBron James for the first time since 2005

LOS ANGELES: The Golden State Warriors are set to begin their quest for a third straight title, and this time it’s up to someone else to try to stop them.
With LeBron James gone to the West and this year gone entirely from the postseason, the Eastern Conference headquarters for the NBA Finals won’t be in his home for the first time since 2010.
He played for the title for eight straight years, which may have been great for the TV ratings but lately wasn’t much good for the competition. The Warriors swept Cleveland last year after winning 4-1 in 2017.
Teams are lining up to seize his old spot atop the East, all capable of providing the intrigue that was absent the last couple years.
There’s Milwaukee, with Giannis Antetokounmpo in position to exit June fully atop the NBA with a title and an MVP award.
Or Toronto, humiliated by the Cavaliers in the last two years but armed now with a former NBA Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard.
It could be Philadelphia, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons anchoring perhaps the most talented starting five outside of the Bay Area.
And don’t forget Boston, the presumptive East favorite in the preseason that can still live up to expectations.
The best player is gone, but maybe things will be better.
“I think the parity and the competition in the East, and not knowing and everyone having a sincere chance maybe in the East that did not, when not you look between Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia,” TNT analyst Chris Webber said. “All of those story lines, new young stars that’s coming in.”
The long road to get to the finals begins Saturday with four games, including the top-seeded Warriors against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West. No. 2 Denver faces No. 7 San Antonio in the other West opener, while No. 3 Philadelphia meets No. 6 Brooklyn, and No. 2 Toronto takes on No. 7 Orlando in the East.
On Sunday, the overall No. 1 seed Bucks face No. 8 Detroit, and No. 4 Boston hosts No. 5 Indiana in the East. In the West, No. 3 Portland and No. 6 Oklahoma City meet in a matchup of Northwest Division rivals, and No. 4 Houston and No. 5 Utah square off in the opener of a series between two of the strongest teams in the second half of the season.
It’s the start of postseason that looks different far beyond just the absence of James for the first time since 2005.
It includes Denver, in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Brooklyn is a playoff team for the first time since 2015 and Orlando is back for the first time since 2012.
The Warriors, of course, haven’t just been going to the postseason every year, but getting all the way to the finals once they do. They’ve done that four straight years, winning three of them, and with a strong finish after some occasional lapses surged to the best record in the West.
Still, this playoff path could provide them plenty of obstacles. The Warriors may need to get by scoring champion James Harden and the Rockets, who took them to a seventh game last year in the conference finals, just to get back to that round this time.
“It doesn’t matter who you play in the playoffs, you’re going to get tested. Everybody’s good,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Get out of the West, and the Warriors may have to then get on a plane. They had home-court advantage in all four finals against Cleveland, but Milwaukee and Toronto both finished with better records and would host Games 1 and 2 if they win the East.
And there could be the distractions about their future, with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson able to become free agents this summer.
The Warriors wouldn’t be alone when dealing with that. Toronto (Leonard), Philadelphia (Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris) and Boston (Kyrie Irving) all will be trying to win a title with players who could then leave them.
But those are issues for July. First, it’s all about just getting to June.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton said. “Playoffs don’t always come around. I’ve been a part of that couple years but it’s been a great season so far. I know guys been itching to get to this first playoff game.”


Leonard stars as Raptors claw back with win over Bucks

Updated 20 May 2019
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Leonard stars as Raptors claw back with win over Bucks

  • Milwaukee’s MVP finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo struggles to just 12 points
  • He then fouled out in the first minute of the second overtime period

LOS ANGELES: Kawhi Leonard scored eight of his 36 points in the second overtime period Sunday to lead the Toronto Raptors to a gritty 118-112 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
The Raptors, who dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Milwaukee, clawed their way back to 2-1 in front of home fans and will try to level the set when they host game four on Tuesday.
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points and Spanish center Marc Gasol added 16 for the Raptors, who got off to a quick start and led much of the night but had to battle to put the Bucks away.
“We just played a lot tougher,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We were up guarding, we were physical. We were ready to play tonight.”
Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to just 12 points on five-of-16 shooting.
Antetokounmpo’s 23 rebounds helped the Bucks stay in touch, but he didn’t reach double figures in points until the middle of the fourth quarter and he produced eight of the Bucks’ 20 turnovers.
Antetokounmpo fouled out in the first minute of the second overtime period.
Moments later the Bucks managed to edge ahead 105-103 — taking the lead for the first time since Antetokounmpo scored the game’s opening basket — but Leonard and the Raptors roared back.
Leonard’s steal and dunk put Toronto ahead 112-109 and his driving bank shot gave Toronto a 114-110 lead with 32.4 seconds remaining.
Leonard played a key role in limiting Antetokounmpo and Nurse said his defensive play was “probably the biggest key of the game.”
“Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and break aways,” Nurse said.
“Offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while and any time you can get a steal and a break out it’s a huge momentum play.”
Toronto had a chance to win it in regulation, but they let a 96-91 lead slip away in the final 1:13 of the fourth quarter.
Milwaukee guard Khris Middleton’s putback basket from his own miss with 2.2 seconds left in regulation forced overtime.
The Raptors led 103-99 with 1:29 remaining in the first extra session.
But Malcolm Brogdon floated in a shot and George Hill drained two free throws to tie it before Leonard’s jump shot fell short.
The Raptors overcame a slow night from Kyle Lowry, who scored 11 points before fouling out with 6:12 left in the fourth.
Although Leonard scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and both overtimes, some grimaces from the Raptors star sparked concerns he might be injured.
“I’m feeling all right,” he said. “This is playoff basketball. Everybody’s hurting, you just have to keep fighting.”
Hill led the Bucks with 24 points and fellow reserve Brogdon added 20. Center Brook Lopez led the Bucks starters with 16 points.
“I feel like we gave ourselves several chances,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We weren’t able to get over the hump.
“When you have opportunities you’ve got to make them and we didn’t quite make enough of our good ones. I think we’ll be better in game four, Giannis, everybody.”