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AP Photo/Tony Avelar

It all seemed so futile, right up until it didn’t. When the Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, well-below-market value contract in the summer of 2018, it was as if the embarrassment of riches had itself become embarrassed. It is nice to have nice things; it is rude to flaunt those nice things so rabidly that the idea of not having any of it becomes offensive.

When Kawhi Leonard, the Board Man, decided it was his time to fell another dynastic squad, however, there was little that Golden State could do about it. Through an unreplicable series of transactions, the Toronto Raptors were able to beat the Warriors at their own game. On Thursday night, in the final NBA game ever at Oracle Arena, the Raptors became the world champions, bringing a title to the homeland of the sport’s inventor.

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Rock’N The City – Ylli Haruni

You’re talking yourself into this, huh? You listened to Drake’s entire discography (again) after the Eastern Conference Finals, and now you think the Raptors could do this thing, the thing only LeBron James and co. have accomplished over the past five years – and even then, only once in four tries. It will take a distinctly 2016 Cavs-esque effort, and perhaps some of the similar circumstances, for the Toronto Raptors to fell the Golden State Warriors.

Finally, after months of three-game road trips, Kia commercials and the proliferation of the phrase “load management,” we have arrived. The NBA Finals begin tonight, pitting two teams on different trajectories in a truly international showdown.

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Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

In the grand scheme of these playoffs, it is a singular moment that, taken to any other end, wouldn’t have mattered. The capital-A Adult Jimmy Butler shot just preceding it had tied the game at 90 apiece, meaning it would have gone to overtime anyway. Like the Damian Lillard shot against Oklahoma City before it – but also, so very unlike the Damian Lillard shot against Oklahoma City before it – the fortune of the shooter’s team would, at the very least, have been no worse in the moment after had he missed.

When Kawhi’s moonshot clinked-clanked-clunked-and-clinked-again before dropping in, sealing the Toronto Raptors’ 92-90 victory and sending the representatives of the lone Canadian outpost in the NBA to the Eastern Conference Finals, the basketball world stopped, if only for a brief respite. Now, with that ball through the hoop and the Raptors on to a date with the Milwaukee Bucks, as many questions have arisen as were answered.

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Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News

By now – that is, twenty or so games into the NBA season – we have seen enough of Kawhi Leonard in Toronto to buy into what he is post-injury to the Raptors. With LeBron gone, and the Celtics’ offense sputtering to the shoulder of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have seized an opportunity to claim their place as the toast of the town. Leonard and Kyle Lowry have jelled in marvelous fashion, despite the latter’s evident dismay at the departure of his running mate and best friend in the course of Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri doing business. So what of Lowry’s erstwhile backcourt partner?

With just under three and a half minutes remaining in a game in which his team was clinging to a one-point lead over the all-galaxy (but notably Steph Curry- and Draymond Green-less) Golden State Warriors, DeMar DeRozan did what he does best: he went and got two points, with the kind of inspiring ease that makes you laugh, grit your teeth and shake your head simultaneously.

In stretching the lead to three, DeRozan jump-started a seven-point run that gave his San Antonio Spurs just enough of a buffer to hold against the two-time defending NBA champions. He added a trio of free throws down the stretch before Patty Mills hit a clinching three-pointer, and San Antonio beat Golden State 104-92. In his fraught discomfort, away from the organization that drafted and fostered him, DeRozan has found something like peace.

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Photo courtesy SLAM Online/IG: @atibaphoto

“I am Toronto.”

With these three words, and a reported $139 million, Compton native and All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan took his seat at the table of the NBA’s leader in latitude, the modern king of the midrange having found comfort in an uneasy Eastern Conference all the more unsettled by the various fluctuations that the summer of 2016 carried with it. DeRozan’s empathy for the frozen North made for great newspaper fodder, but it did not alleviate the worry that fans of his team, the Toronto Raptors, had at the time concerning their franchise’s future.

As has become the standard, that relief would arrive the following summer, when All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry inked his own $100 million deal to stay in Canada. Along with DeRozan, Lowry represents Toronto’s best chance at viability in an Eastern Conference long dominated by LeBron James’ regular season malaise giving way to humdrum playoff dominance. By seizing control of the #1 seed in the East, along with several high-profile wins, including those against Houston, Cleveland and a back-to-back drubbing of dark horse Process favorites the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto has edged its way into something like favorability, edged on by a modernistic offense and an ability to rise to the occasion.

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Courtesy 2K Sports

Click here for an enlarged version of the above photo; you’re gonna need it.

Though they actually began on August 3rd with several group stage soccer matches, the Olympics spring to life in the hearts of most with today’s opening ceremony. Working with a budget of roughly £3 million[1], a tenth of what the 2012 opening ceremony in London cost, a nation ill-equipped to host an Olympics is going to go full-throttle into it anyway, featuring such Brazilian luminaries as Gisele Bundchen and Dame Judi Dench in the Maracana, where the Olympic cauldron will receive the Flame. Much has already been made of the ethical and economic implications of these Olympics, and more awaits. Either way, they’re here now, so we may as well do our best to embrace them.

The U.S. figures to play a prominent role in most competitions, with swimming, gymnastics and track and field being among the most noteworthy. Basketball, also, is notable, though most have written off the tournament as one in which every country aside from the United States is battling for second. That seems reasonable; this country would be loath to repeat a disaster like what happened in Athens in 2004. To mark the Games, 2K Sports has released an Olympic team available for play, not unlike when they did so in 2012 with the Dream and Redeem Teams. So, sure, the real-life versions of these NBA stars are extremely likely to bring home the gold. The NBA2K equivalents pictured above, however, seem bound for much dimmer pastures.

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So, Canada. The stereotypes abound for our neighbor to the north, from being polite to the point of apology to a seeming national mandate to wear flannel and grow beards to an unconscious appetite for maple syrup and Molson. At the moment, the country’s greatest export is a former teen actor-turned-living PBR&B emoticon who has enough #VIEWS to spawn several generations of memes. Innocuous, vaguely socialist and definitely non-confrontational: this is the Canada we know and love°.

A nation with seven (7) NHL teams and only one NBA franchise has this season seen its hockey teams fail to produce a single playoff participant – when half the league goes to the playoffs – and its basketball team reach its final four. Thus far, the Toronto Raptors have played two seven-game series and are arguably lucky to have escaped both on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Nevertheless, Toronto did make it, and though the spectre of the league’s most dominant player awaits them, it would seem foolish to write off the resident reptilians.

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