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To a certain extent, it feels impossible for the Raptors to feel as confident as they do. Yes, the core pillars on the team who are currently playing — namely Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — are unflappable, having won a title and all that. But how does that explain everyone else down the roster falling in line as they have? Again, to a certain extent, the mind boggles.

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In truth, the conception of this column was born from the idea that the Raptors’ end of bench players would go on a journey this season, one filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, apperances and disappearances. It’s what so often separates starters, or rotation players, from the names down the line. You need them to fill minutes and specific roles, sure, but you can’t necessarily count on them every single night. If you could, well, they wouldn’t be in those minutes or those roles. It makes for a varied narrative, if nothing else.

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Except, as of late, the narrative hasn’t varied! With multiple Raptors still injured, Toronto’s bench unit keeps playing their collective heart out and helping the squad win games. At this point, End of Bench Chronicles should be an inspiration… to us.

Eighth Man Title Holder
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Trust Meter: 10 out of 10

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Happenings: We’re going the whole 10 right now because the take I’ve been waiting for has finally be put out into the world: Really, the Nets couldn’t have used what Hollis-Jefferson was giving them? Brooklyn is currently 9-9 and essentially sitting out the year while Kevin Durant heals. The Kyrie Express is already steering them off the edge of the world. They play on a weird-as-hell Pleasantville court. And you’re telling me they didn’t want RHJ’s 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in a crisp 26 minutes per game (this week), plus stifling defense on every player possible?

Honestly, if you’re a Nets fan, first I’m sorry to hear it, and second, every time you see Rondae sneak along the baseline to receive another dump-off pass for a lay-up you really have to question what it is you’re doing with your sports fan passion.

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Roster Roll Call
Patrick McCaw
Trust Meter: N/A

Happenings: He’s feeling good, which is nice to hear.

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Inspiration: You see the recent Godzilla: King of the Monsters movie? In it, a character played by Vera Farmiga has an idea to save the planet and it involves letting loose some big-ass monsters. She immediately recognizes her mistake. I’m not saying McCaw is a monster, but I do wonder just how much chaos energy this Raptors squad can take. Let’s not Godzilla ourselves here!

Terence Davis
Trust Meter: 9 out of 10

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Happenings: It was just a steady incline this week for Davis — six points, 11 points, 15 points. There was never really a question as to whether he would get things done on the court, even when he wasn’t quite getting things done on the court. (His aspirationally airballed three against the Hawks did provoke a chuckle from me.) Meanwhile, in a game as pressure packed as their showdown with the Sixers, it’s telling that Davis could be counted on to play 20 minutes and give Fred VanVleet a breather down the stretch. One gets the feeling these entries will begin to look very similar as far as Davis is concerned.

Inspiration: Are you familiar with the work of the dearly departed Ricky Jay? Depending on what you look for on a screen, he was not a particularly noteworthy actor — a bit flat in his delivery, not particularly good looking, etc. And yet, he amassed 41 screen credits to his name. That’s because of what was innate within him: a cool confidence so strong as to be overwhelming. Also, great hands.

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Matt Thomas
Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Only one game for Thomas this week as it turns out he broke a bone in his hand during pre-game shootaround in Atlanta. He proceeded to play in that game and shoot 1-for-3 from the floor — a very un-Thomas outcome. Also, is it wild that he’s shooting just 60 percent from the free throw line? (What’s that? It’s a small sample size of five shots? Moving on!)

Inspiration: TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported on Thomas’ attire on Wednesday night:

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Pascal Siakam has been playing like an Eastern Conference All-Star if not All-NBA. Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet has taken on the starting role and has looked like he’s been playing the starting point guard for years.

The Toronto Raptors are looking like a well-oiled machine. They are playing with a lot of grit, hunger, and, most of all, defensive pressure. This is rooted in a lot of players wanting to prove themselves. These young guns are leaving everything they’ve got on the floor while they have the chance to get 10-20 minutes a game during the injury month.

From recent signings that haven’t had the chance to show what they’re made of to undrafted rookies, the Toronto Raptors are built with players that have bet on themselves. Overall, the Raptors have found themselves with a problem not a lot of teams can say they have. To this point, they have a lot of players that are overperforming and they have a lot of talent, young and old, that are hungry to take the floor.

To get started here are the two players that have been under-performing so far in the 2019-20 season.

A pair of Eastern Conference teams that met in the first round of the playoffs a season ago take the floor down in the Sunshine State. The Toronto Raptors are on the road as they travel to face the Orlando Magic Friday night. Toronto comes in off a 126-98 home pasting of the Knicks Wednesday night in their last contest. Orlando comes in off a 116-104 road win over Cleveland Wednesday night in their previous game. The Raptors own a 48-39 edge in the all-time regular season series between the teams and have taken the last three matchups. That includes a 113-97 home win in the most recent matchup on November 20.

Toronto Raptors Try to Maintain At Least Share of Atlantic Division Lead
Toronto earned their fifth straight win as they rolled past the Knicks Wednesday night in their previous contest. The Raptors come into this game tied with the Celtics for the top spot in the Atlantic Division race: the teams are 1.5 games ahead of third-place Philadelphia. Toronto trailed by eight after the opening quarter before waking up and taking control of the game. The Raptors outscored the Knicks 37-17 in the second quarter to take a 12-point lead at the half. Toronto didn’t see their lead drop below that the rest of the way. The Raptors shot 48.9 percent from the field, including knocking down 21 of 41 from three-point range, and won the rebounding battle 52-45. Pascal Siakam had 31 points and eight rebounds to lead Toronto in the victory.

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Fred VanVleet expressed a willingness to stay with the Toronto Raptors when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

VanVleet said Wednesday on Sportsnet’s Tim & Sid he doesn’t want to make any declarative statements because he has a number of things to consider before his final decision, but he also maintained he’d like to remain in Toronto.

“But, I mean, I’ve been on record about how I feel about this place,” the fourth-year guard said. “This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen.”

The Raptors gave Kyle Lowry a one-year, $30 million extension to keep him under contract through the 2020-21 season, and they signed Pascal Siakam to a four-year, $129.9 million max deal. The team has shown a willingness to keep its current roster together.

Money shouldn’t be an issue for the team. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are both coming off the books in the summer, while the quartet of Siakam, Norman Powell, Dewan Hernandez and Matt Thomas are the only players under contract through 2021.

But a thin free-agent class could make VanVleet’s value climb so high that re-signing him becomes unfeasible relative to his likely on-court returns.

CBSSports.com’s Colin Ward-Henninger ranked VanVleet as the 15th-best player overall and second-best point guard available in the offseason.

Some of the free agents ahead of him are effectively unattainable because they’re either restricted free agents (Brandon Ingram, Bogdan Bogdanovic) or have lucrative player options they can trigger (Andre Drummond, Gordon Hayward, Otto Porter Jr.).

VanVleet certainly knows what’s at stake this season. He had 34 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the Raptors’ 130-122 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. With a big year, he could command a huge contract even though he doesn’t have a strong collective body of work.

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In Onalaska, Wisconsin, a small town of 18,000 people on the banks of the Mississippi River where Friday night high school sports is what most people center their lives around, they still talk about the legend of Matt Thomas.

They still remember the fundraiser he attended in sixth grade, when a free throw competition broke out and he made 99 out of 100. Or the AAU tryout when elementary school kids were put through NBA-level 3-point shooting drills. Asked to make 15 3-pointers from five different spots in a minute and a half, Matt cleared the drill in 53 seconds.

At the local YMCA, there are still reports of players swishing a game-clinching 3 and celebrating by yelling out Matt Thomas’s name, because he is the iconic sharpshooter who grew up there and led the Onalaska High School men’s basketball team to a 27-1 record and a Division II state championship in his junior season. They still remember when he scored a career-high 50 points in just two and a half quarters in his senior season.

Martha Thomas remembers that game like it was yesterday. She was sitting in the stands, watching her son make jumper after jumper. Two minutes into the game, Matt had 12 points. By halftime, everyone in the gym knew he was headed towards a career night. Head coach Craig Kowal found Martha in the stands at halftime. “I think your record is getting broken tonight,” Craig said.

Martha could only shake her head and laugh. Growing up, she played high school basketball at Wahlert High School in Dubuque, Iowa. Back then, the game was six-on-six basketball. Each team had three designated offensive players. The three defensive players could not cross the half court line. Martha once scored 48 points in a game, a family record that had held up for decades, until tonight.

Martha knew this day was inevitable. At the age of five, Matt was already running around in the backyard roleplaying as a future sports star. Martha scoured garage sales looking for anything her son could use as a costume. “If I found a blanket,” Martha says. “He would turn it into a cape.” In his backyard, Matt scored game-winning touchdowns, hit walk-off home runs and hit buzzer-beating 3s.

By the time he was eight, Matt left baseball and football behind and focused on basketball. Martha laid some concrete in the backyard so her son could have a proper basketball court to shoot hoops. Matt spent countless hours honing his jumper. By the time he turned nine, he had a request for his mom. He wanted to practise shooting 3s, but the court wasn’t big enough. So Martha brought the contractors back to lay down an additional three feet of cement so Matt could have a 3-point line.

The responsibility of managing Matt’s passion for basketball fell squarely on Martha’s shoulders. During Matt’s childhood, his father Greg — who dealt with alcohol and drug abuse issues — committed suicide at the age of 45. Tony, the eldest of the three siblings, was in seventh grade. Matt was in fifth grade. Josie was in second grade.

Martha felt alone, especially when it came to making decisions about her kids, but she knew it was important to make sure their life wasn’t interrupted. “You have three of them going in different directions,” Martha says. “And you wanted to keep life as normal as possible.” So Josie kept going to ballet classes, Tony wouldn’t miss any football practices, and Matt could continue traveling to different states for AAU games.

Martha always put her children first, in hopes they would have the best available path towards whatever they wanted to pursue. Now, inside the Onalaska High School gym against Tomah, Matt is making 3-pointers look like layups. Thirty five points. Forty points. Forty five. Forty six. Forty seven. “Take him out,” Martha yells jokingly. Craig looks at Martha in the stands again. This time, he can only shake his head and laugh. The record is really falling.

Matt finishes with 50 points on 21-for-30 shooting with six 3-pointers, leaving the game for good in the middle of the third quarter in a blowout win. Martha embraces her son afterwards but reminds him that back when she played, there wasn’t a 3-point line, so the record probably still technically belongs to mom.

“Keep working buddy,” she tells Matt.

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Champions NBA il y a seulement quelques mois, les Raptors ont perdu plusieurs pièces maîtresses de leur effectif. Que ce soit par le biais de départs ou de blessures, le cinq majeur de Nick Nurse a subi de nombreuses retouches depuis les dernières Finales.

Kawhi Leonard parti aux Clippers, Serge Ibaka et Kyle Lowry à l’infirmerie, Marc Gasol et Pascal Siakam figurent parmi les derniers survivants du titre à porter le maillot de Toronto. Mais c’est bien ce dernier qui permet à son équipe de présenter un joli bilan de 8 victoires pour 3 défaites.

Inconnu du grand public il y a encore deux saisons, Siakam avait pleinement exposé son talent lors du dernier exercice. L’ailier fort y avait alors compilé 16.9 points, 6.9 rebonds et 3.1 passes de moyenne, et constituait l’un des principaux soldats de Kawhi Leonard.

Un titre de Most Improved Player plus tard, « Spicy P » confirme les espoirs placés en lui durant l’intersaison avec des statistiques de 27.2 points, 9.2 rebonds et 3.8 passes. Pour l’heure, sa progression au scoring se révèle même historique.

Siakam inscrit ainsi en moyenne 19.9 points de plus qu’il y a deux saisons. Une hausse des plus significatives, jamais observée dans l’histoire de la NBA. Dale Ellis, détenteur actuel du record, avait de son côté affiché un progrès de 18.8 points entre les saisons 1985-1986 et 1987-1988.

Le Camerounais devra donc présenter au minimum une moyenne de 26.2 points par match à l’issue de la saison régulière pour accrocher cette marque historique. Une telle performance semble tout à fait envisageable au vu de son début de saison tonitruant.

Une nouvelle statistique, s’il en fallait une, qui vient illustrer les progrès réalisés par Pascal Siakam depuis son arrivée dans la ligue, et qui en font désormais le franchise player des Raptors.

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Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night – a game the Toronto Raptors waltzed through – there was a lot to like, but a lot to be concerned about. As the second half started, we learned that both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka would return to the game.

Ibaka looked to endure a nasty sprained ankle after landing awkwardly on OG Anunoby’s heel, while Lowry suffered an injury to his thumb – though, luckily, it wasn’t related to the previous injury when trying to steal the ball in the first quarter. The hole left by both players in the second half was noticeable, but the Raptors managed to win the game comfortably.

However, both Lowry and Ibaka could miss considerable time for the Raptors, and their absence will no doubt be felt. Lowry was on a dazzling run to start the season, averaging 21.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in his first eight games, shooting 43-percent from three. He was hot.

Now, the Toronto Raptors are without their starting point guard, the secret to their sustained success for the past six years. Without him, the offense could look noticeably different. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the NBA, averaging 1.12 points per possession, and his ability to dissect a defense is unparalleled. He cannot be replaced, but someone is going to have to step up.

That man is, most likely, Norman Powell – who was originally penciled in by many to be the defacto shooting guard alongside Kyle Lowry this season. Instead, the spot went to Fred VanVleet.

Powell was resigned to a role off the bench, as the seventh man in the Raptors rotation. Considering how impressive he was last season, expectations were high heading into the year. For the most part, it’s been a rather mediocre start for Powell. He’s averaged a career-high 8.8 points per game, along with 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game, but shooting a dismal 29-percent from three. Powell just hasn’t been at the races.

Luckily, his most recent game for the Raptors happened to be his best of the season. Against the Pelicans, Powell was a team-high plus-28, while putting up 18 points, four rebounds, and one steal on 60-percent shooting from the field and 50-percent from three.

Powell played the remainder of the game with the starters and looked comfortable in doing so. Now, it seems as if Powell will be pushed into the starting lineup to facilitate a hole. It’s uncertain how long Lowry will be out, but according to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, he will miss at least two weeks.

That means that we’ll likely be seeing a Powell/VanVleet starting backcourt for the next two weeks and beyond. That also means that Norman Powell is going to have to step up. Hopefully, his performance against the Pelicans is an indication of what to expect, but even a watered-down version of that will do.

He currently has a usage-percentage of 16-percent, the lowest mark of his career, and the Raptors may look to use him more frequently as a ball-handler in the starting lineup, though Pascal Siakam and VanVleet will likely take the bulk of the responsibility over the next few weeks.

It still presents a significant opportunity for Powell, a strong performance over the next few weeks could reevaluate Nick Nurse’s plans to start VanVleet alongside Lowry moving forward – but for now, getting back into his groove is important to the Raptors success.

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After playing in the NBA Summer League and preseason with the Houston Rockets, rookie guard Shamorie Ponds is reportedly joining the Toronto Raptors on a two-way deal.

Ponds averaged 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.6 steals in 35.1 minutes per game at St. John’s University last season. The 6-foot-1 guard shot 52.1% from the field and 35.3% from three-point range.

After going undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft in June, Ponds agreed to join the Rockets as an undrafted free agent. However, after observing players in training camp and the preseason, Houston gave its only two two-way contracts to guards Chris Clemons and Michael Frazier. A player on a two-way contract is primarily a G League player, but he can spend up to 45 days with his affiliate NBA team.

Ponds averaged 7.2 points (30.2 percent shooting) in 20.1 minutes per game in Summer League play with the Rockets, followed by 2.3 points in 6.7 minutes per game during the preseason.

NBA teams can have up to 20 players in training camp, but can only carry a maximum of 15 players under standard contracts and two Two-Way players. Thus, cuts were made this week across the league.

With the decisions to give the two-way contracts to Clemons and Frazier, the Rockets’ final roster appears complete heading into Thursday’s regular season opener versus Milwaukee.

The Rockets can also designate up to four “affiliate players” that were cut during training camp, like Ponds, to send to their G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. However, if those players are given a standard NBA contract or two-way contract from another team — as Ponds was with the defending NBA champion Raptors — that deal wins out, since it is a superior opportunity for the player.

Remaining candidates for the “affiliate” designation include recent cuts Ray Spalding, Matur Maker, and William McDowell-White.

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In the early 1990s, Malcolm Miller knocked on the door of my consciousness by placing into my English Department mailbox at Salem State an unsolicited self-published volume of poetry. The book, bound by staples, its card-stock cover an unpromising gray, contained within its 72 pages a scrawled note suggesting that I send back five dollars if I liked the writing. I was a snob about “vanity” publishing and gave the poems barely a cursory look.

But I mailed Malcolm Miller the five dollars and stuck the book on a shelf; some months later another arrived and I sent five more. Then another. In this fashion I accumulated a store of his 5 ½ by 8 ½ volumes.

Two decades passed. I taught writing courses, composition, fiction, occasionally poetry. I helped with the writers’ series, edited the faculty journal, worked with the honors program. Then one fine day another book arrived with the usual request, along with a note that, because he was nearing eighty, “this might be my last.” (In fact, he would continue into 2013, the poems now handwritten, not typed. His press run? Just fifteen, produced by Deschamps Printing Co. in Salem, close to his apartment.)

This time, I read the work.

To my surprise and pleasure, I discovered much to admire. Self-published or not, he was the real thing—his poems were original, iconoclastic, sometimes as spare as Stephen Crane’s, sometimes as oracular as Whitman’s, sometimes as wry as Billy Collins’. I’d still never laid eyes on him, though his public housing project apartment was but half a mile from campus. I wrote back, asking if he would talk to my poetry undergraduates.

Not interested.

Would he consider reading at the University?

No dice. He was “not able to meet in social groups anymore,” he wrote. He was, he continued, “hermit, anchorite, almost leper.”

In 2013, my final year as professor, I was advisory editor of Soundings East, the national literary magazine published at Salem State. I showed Miller’s work to the staff, and the board, no easy jury to please, leapt at the chance to print his poems (nine in the end) and make Salem’s eccentric, reclusive writer the issue’s featured poet.
Malcolm Miller

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That September, carrying ten complimentary copies, I pressed his buzzer at 9 Pioneer Terrace. The man who eventually opened the building’s door, tall, bald, frail and aged, needed to rest, sitting and breathing hard, halfway up to the second floor landing. During the following months, we became acquainted. He gave me more books, including one of his three “legitimately published” works, the coffee-table sized Emperor of Massachusetts (1970), a work illustrated with vibrant full-color art.

A year later on September 5th, after he didn’t open his door to Meals-on Wheels, he was found on the floor of his apartment. He was 83.

He’d been long estranged from his family, and without telling me, he’d listed me as one of his two emergency contacts. His doing so enabled me to enter his apartment before the city cleared away his few worn-out possessions. What writings I found lying there I rescued: more poetry books , the typescripts for a novel, a half-dozen plays, some prose scraps.

On November 19, his ashes were interred in Salem’s Greenlawn cemetery. Graveside stood eleven mourners, many writers themselves, reciting his poems.

He’d also given me permission and blessing to keep his writing alive. And now in retirement I am reading the fifty-eight (!) gray-covered poetry books, selecting and digitizing the strongest pieces with an eye on getting them to you.

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TORONTO — After the 2018 NBA Finals ended, Golden State Warriors reserve guard Patrick McCaw sat in the visiting locker room in Cleveland sobbing uncontrollably. While his teammates celebrated their sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was being comforted by then-Warriors performance therapist Chelsea Lane.

McCaw had been through a challenging season. He also felt this would be his last game as a Warrior.

“There were just so many different emotions and thoughts going through my head, and I really couldn’t explain it,” McCaw told The Undefeated. “But I couldn’t do anything but cry because I know what I’ve been through and what I faced and how hard it was for me to deal with that. I had a potentially career-ending injury that luckily, by the grace of God, it didn’t happen.”

As for his belief that it would be his last game as a Warrior, that did come to fruition. And now he’ll get to face his former teammates in the 2019 NBA Finals, starting on Thursday, as a member of the Toronto Raptors. It will be his first time facing the Warriors this season.

But when the series shifts to Oakland for Game 3, don’t expect McCaw to receive his 2018 championship ring like JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Nick Young and Omri Casspi did before home games this season.

“I don’t think so, no. Probably after the Finals or off to the side. Probably after,” McCaw told The Undefeated. “Yeah, it is kind of a little too much to do it now. I think they talked to my parents about sending it, but this was when I was still trying to figure if I was going to some other team. We’ll see.”

It will also be interesting to see what reception McCaw will get from his former Warriors teammates and fans after his mysterious departure from the franchise with which he won two championships in his first two NBA seasons.

The 38th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, McCaw averaged only 4.0 points per game in 128 regular-season appearances with the Warriors from 2016-18. The defensive-minded shooting guard said it was “definitely hard” as he struggled for playing time behind All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and veteran guard Shaun Livingston.

To make matters worse, McCaw suffered a lumbar bone bruise after a bad fall when then-Sacramento Kings forward Vince Carter fouled him on a layup attempt on March 31, 2018. The 6-foot-7, 185-pound guard eventually recovered to rejoin the Warriors during the playoffs last season, but by that time, McCaw said he had come to the realization he wanted more.

“I could say it was playing time, but I think it was just me being emotional as a kid,” said McCaw, 23. “I just wanted more. Not necessarily more playing time, but more opportunity for myself. I’m not discrediting the Warriors and what they chose to do. I just think being a young kid, you see all the younger guys competing and doing their thing and you feel like, ‘OK, I’m just that kid, or I could be doing exactly what he’s doing.’ ”

The Warriors offered the restricted free agent a two-year, $4 million contract before this season, but training camp, the season opener and the ring ceremony all passed without a resolution. McCaw’s agents Marlon Harrison and Bill Duffy encouraged him to take the Warriors’ deal, sources said, but McCaw stood firm on waiting for his next opportunity despite seriously considering taking the Warriors’ offer several times. (BDA Sports, where Duffy and Harrison work, no longer represents McCaw.)

“Maybe I could just go back and finish, just go back for a year, see what happens, see where it took me,” McCaw said. “I just felt like once it got past preseason, I was just adamant about not going back. I was just stuck right there. That’s when I was like, ‘I’m just not going.’ I made it this far and I missed preseason, I missed the season opener, I missed getting the rings. I’ve made it this far just based off of what I chose to do.

“And I believed in what I wanted to accomplish, and I just felt like we’re just going to ride it out and see how long it takes to October to November to December.”

McCaw finally signed a $3 million offer sheet with the Cavaliers on Dec. 28, and the Warriors declined to match it.

“We appreciate the time he spent with our organization,” Myers told The Undefeated. “He was a good teammate and helped us toward our goal while he was here.”

Ultimately, the Warriors wished him the best on his NBA journey.

“Pat has all the intangibles to be a really good player in this league,” Livingston told The Undefeated. “He was in a position where he wanted to realize his potential and didn’t think he could’ve done it here. I wish he could’ve stayed another year, but a player has to do what’s best for him. I still got love for Pat.”

McCaw played in only three games in Cleveland before the Cavs waived him on Jan. 7. While there was a perception that the Cavs did McCaw a favor by signing him so he could get out of Golden State, the St. Louis native said that was false.

“I didn’t like how the media picked it up and ran with it, because I knew going in, signing it, that they could release me if they didn’t really like what they saw after the week,” McCaw said. “I didn’t like how the media portrayed it, like we had something lined up already. Yeah, that wasn’t the case at all.”

On Jan. 10, the Raptors signed McCaw to a minimum contract for the remainder of the season. McCaw averaged 2.7 points and 13.2 minutes in 26 games with the Raptors during the regular season. Although he was also inactive seven times and did not play by coach’s decision five times, McCaw said he is happy with his decision to sign with Toronto.

“I appreciate my teammates, the coaches, the organization, just for embracing me for the rest of this season. Who knows what’ll happen come summer, but I’ve enjoyed my time here and it’s been great,” McCaw said.

McCaw scored two points in seven appearances for Toronto during the first two rounds of the postseason. Then he missed the first five games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks for personal reasons. McCaw told The Undefeated he was absent because his older brother, Jeffrey McCaw, had died.

McCaw preferred not to offer details about the tragedy but said his brother meant “everything to me.”

“Growing up as a kid, that’s who I wanted to be,” McCaw said. “My whole life, I was just looking up to that person. To lose him without saying goodbye was one of the toughest things. There’s just so much left unsaid that I wish I could tell him right now. But he’s in a better place now, and everything I do now is for him and my family.”

McCaw did not play in Game 6 of the East finals, but he was on hand as Kawhi Leonard led the franchise to its first-ever NBA Finals.

McCaw believes the Raptors can win the title over his former team.

“It’s going to be crazy, just the first game lining up against them,” McCaw said. “I haven’t played against them all season. I haven’t been there with them since we won in Cleveland. The last time I saw them, I was playing with the Warriors. The first game? A lot of emotions. I’m ready for it. I’m excited. …

“We got a shot. They have to come here first. That’s a big advantage. My first two years, [the Warriors] always had home-court [advantage], if I’m not mistaken. That is definitely an advantage for [Toronto].”

McCaw could become the third player in NBA history to play in a Finals one season, then return to the Finals in the other conference the following season, according to Elias. Steve Mix played for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1982 Finals and for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 Finals. And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr played for the Chicago Bulls in the 1998 Finals and the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Finals.

McCaw said he talks regularly to Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook and Damian Jones. But he is bracing for a tough reaction from Warriors fans, who also took exception to a social media posting McCaw made Saturday night in which he boasted about making it to three straight Finals.

“I don’t know if they’re going to be booing me or what,” McCaw said. “But I’m excited to go back, for real. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited to see what happens in that type of atmosphere. I know what to expect from the fans.

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TORONTO (AP) — Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and center Serge Ibaka will be out indefinitely after injuries against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Lowry fractured his left thumb during the first quarter of Friday night’s 122-104 victory. The team said Saturday he will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Ibaka sprained his right ankle and will undergo additional imaging in Los Angeles, where Toronto plays the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers and former teammate Kawhi Leonard on Monday.

Lowry is averaging 21.8 points and 6.5 assists. Ibaka is averaging 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Lowry went to the bench after he was hurt but returned a few minutes later. He made two 3-pointers in the second quarter before subbing out midway through the period and retreating to the locker room.

He said after the game the injury is unrelated to the surgery he had in July to repair ligaments in the same thumb.

Ibaka was in a walking boot after the game. He was injured when he contested a layup by Brandon Ingram with about a minute remaining in the second quarter. Ibaka lay on the floor, writhing in pain as play continued, before a Toronto foul allowed two teammates to help him limp off the floor.

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Toronto Raptors forward Stanley Johnson is expected to sit for about two weeks with a left groin stress reaction, according to The Athletic’s Blake Murphy.

Murphy reports that the injury is considered slight, but has been lingering for a little while.

Earlier Monday, the Raptors announced Johnson would miss their game against the Charlotte Hornets due to the injury.

The 23-year-old has played in five games this season, and is averaging 1.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.2 steals, while shooting 33.3 per cent from the field. He was signed to a two-year deal by the Raptors in the off-season.

In a corresponding move, Oshae Brissett was recalled from the G League’s Raptors 905.

In two games this season, he is averaging 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The Mississauga, Ont., was signed to a two-way contract after being passed over in the 2019 NBA Draft.

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TORONTO — Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Serge Ibaka dribbled into the paint and encountered a wall of opposition bigs. His back to the basket and a double-team coming, Ibaka made the smart play and pivoted to fire a firm, on-target pass to an open Fred VanVleet right in front of the Toronto Raptors‘ bench.

Thing is, VanVleet was so open because he wasn’t in the game. He’d checked out 30 seconds earlier, but had yet to put on his red warmups or take his seat on the bench, instead standing right in front of it just inches off the court.

These things happen when you haven’t played in a while, as was the case for Ibaka, who was making his first appearance since Nov. 10 when he sprained his right ankle. And the fact the Toronto Raptors were molly-whopping the Utah Jazz by nearly three converted touchdowns meant everyone could have a good laugh about it.

And, beyond that, the fact the Raptors went 8-2 in Ibaka’s absence — including rousing victories over the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers — gives the entire team plenty of reason to be enjoying itself. Toronto’s been playing exceptionally well in spite of missing its backup centre and starting point guard. And now, with Ibaka back in the fold and Kyle Lowry likely following sometime this week, the Raptors are positioned to get even better.

“Everyone’s playing good basketball at the moment,” said Pascal Siakam, who dropped the quietest 35 you’ll ever see on the Jazz. “You’ve just got to be proud of what we’ve been able to do so far with those guys out. And now, having Serge back and Kyle coming back — it’s going to be fun.”

Ibaka’s injury was so dispiriting because it came at a time when he was playing some of the finest basketball of his Raptors tenure. Finally settled into his bench role behind starting centre Marc Gasol, Ibaka was finding ways to impact games in a significant way with insignificant minutes.

Coming off a playoff run to which he contributed some truly crucial performances — along with some notable duds, it must be said — Ibaka was putting up 14 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 23 minutes a night over the first eight games of the season. That’s essentially what he averaged while starting and playing 30-plus minutes per game earlier in his career.

And Raptors fans obviously noticed. Amid Sunday’s barn-storming first quarter, in which the Raptors shot 60 per cent and opened up a 17-point lead, the biggest ovation came when Ibaka checked into the game with 90 seconds left in the period.

Playing his first shift in nearly a month, Ibaka looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nearly a month. He bricked his three first-half attempts, looked out of sorts defensively and lacked the usual vigour he brings to the game. He was finding his sea legs, essentially. And, if anything, the blowout nature of Sunday’s game created perfect conditions for Ibaka to spend a little time shaking off the rust.

He started looking more and more like himself toward the end of the shift, altering shots on the defensive end — where the Raptors held the Jazz to 28 per cent shooting in the first half — while making shrewd decisions offensively, keeping the ball moving and disregarding opportunities for himself to feed more open teammates.

That was the case midway through the second quarter, when Ibaka passed up a chance to go to work on Rudy Gobert outside the paint, instead flipping the ball to Terence Davis and taking Mike Conley out with a screen while his teammate drilled a three. And moments later, when he had an opening to shoot from beyond the arc with Joe Ingles closing out, Ibaka opted instead to throw a little bounce pass to an unguarded Siakam in the corner for another three.

Forced to re-enter earlier than expected in the third quarter when Gasol picked up a fourth foul, Ibaka continued to make winning plays. After a hook attempt over Gobert rimmed out, Ibaka pounced on his own rebound and quickly found an open VanVleet in the corner — this time, actually on the floor — for a three. A possession later, Ibaka finally got on the board via a pick-and-pop with Davis that looked just as fluid as the ones he runs with Lowry.

It was off to the races from there. A catch-and-shoot three came quickly. Then, feeding off his own momentum, Ibaka finished an and-one in the paint over Gobert, coming away pumping his fists and yelling like he has so many times before. It was ultimately a 13-point second half for the 10-year vet.

“What makes Serge special is that when he really gets his motor cooking, he’s a really intimidating factor in a game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I mean, we don’t lose those games very often. When he’s cooking and going, he becomes a great presence on defence. And his offence has been really, really solid this year.”

Ibaka’s return creates reverberations down the roster, of course. The minutes he’s gaining have to come at someone’s expense, and Sunday that someone was Chris Boucher. A source of energy, activity on the offensive glass and fighting-above-his-weight rim protection throughout Ibaka’s absence, Boucher had carved out a steady little role for himself off the bench. And the more he played, the more he found a groove, putting up double-doubles in three of his past six games entering Sunday.

TORONTO — Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Serge Ibaka dribbled into the paint and encountered a wall of opposition bigs. His back to the basket and a double-team coming, Ibaka made the smart play and pivoted to fire a firm, on-target pass to an open Fred VanVleet right in front of the Toronto Raptors‘ bench.

Thing is, VanVleet was so open because he wasn’t in the game. He’d checked out 30 seconds earlier, but had yet to put on his red warmups or take his seat on the bench, instead standing right in front of it just inches off the court.

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These things happen when you haven’t played in a while, as was the case for Ibaka, who was making his first appearance since Nov. 10 when he sprained his right ankle. And the fact the Toronto Raptors were molly-whopping the Utah Jazz by nearly three converted touchdowns meant everyone could have a good laugh about it.

And, beyond that, the fact the Raptors went 8-2 in Ibaka’s absence — including rousing victories over the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers — gives the entire team plenty of reason to be enjoying itself. Toronto’s been playing exceptionally well in spite of missing its backup centre and starting point guard. And now, with Ibaka back in the fold and Kyle Lowry likely following sometime this week, the Raptors are positioned to get even better.

“Everyone’s playing good basketball at the moment,” said Pascal Siakam, who dropped the quietest 35 you’ll ever see on the Jazz. “You’ve just got to be proud of what we’ve been able to do so far with those guys out. And now, having Serge back and Kyle coming back — it’s going to be fun.”

Ibaka’s injury was so dispiriting because it came at a time when he was playing some of the finest basketball of his Raptors tenure. Finally settled into his bench role behind starting centre Marc Gasol, Ibaka was finding ways to impact games in a significant way with insignificant minutes.

Coming off a playoff run to which he contributed some truly crucial performances — along with some notable duds, it must be said — Ibaka was putting up 14 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 23 minutes a night over the first eight games of the season. That’s essentially what he averaged while starting and playing 30-plus minutes per game earlier in his career.

And Raptors fans obviously noticed. Amid Sunday’s barn-storming first quarter, in which the Raptors shot 60 per cent and opened up a 17-point lead, the biggest ovation came when Ibaka checked into the game with 90 seconds left in the period.
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Playing his first shift in nearly a month, Ibaka looked like a guy who hadn’t played in nearly a month. He bricked his three first-half attempts, looked out of sorts defensively and lacked the usual vigour he brings to the game. He was finding his sea legs, essentially. And, if anything, the blowout nature of Sunday’s game created perfect conditions for Ibaka to spend a little time shaking off the rust.

He started looking more and more like himself toward the end of the shift, altering shots on the defensive end — where the Raptors held the Jazz to 28 per cent shooting in the first half — while making shrewd decisions offensively, keeping the ball moving and disregarding opportunities for himself to feed more open teammates.

That was the case midway through the second quarter, when Ibaka passed up a chance to go to work on Rudy Gobert outside the paint, instead flipping the ball to Terence Davis and taking Mike Conley out with a screen while his teammate drilled a three. And moments later, when he had an opening to shoot from beyond the arc with Joe Ingles closing out, Ibaka opted instead to throw a little bounce pass to an unguarded Siakam in the corner for another three.

Forced to re-enter earlier than expected in the third quarter when Gasol picked up a fourth foul, Ibaka continued to make winning plays. After a hook attempt over Gobert rimmed out, Ibaka pounced on his own rebound and quickly found an open VanVleet in the corner — this time, actually on the floor — for a three. A possession later, Ibaka finally got on the board via a pick-and-pop with Davis that looked just as fluid as the ones he runs with Lowry.

It was off to the races from there. A catch-and-shoot three came quickly. Then, feeding off his own momentum, Ibaka finished an and-one in the paint over Gobert, coming away pumping his fists and yelling like he has so many times before. It was ultimately a 13-point second half for the 10-year vet.

“What makes Serge special is that when he really gets his motor cooking, he’s a really intimidating factor in a game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I mean, we don’t lose those games very often. When he’s cooking and going, he becomes a great presence on defence. And his offence has been really, really solid this year.”

Ibaka’s return creates reverberations down the roster, of course. The minutes he’s gaining have to come at someone’s expense, and Sunday that someone was Chris Boucher. A source of energy, activity on the offensive glass and fighting-above-his-weight rim protection throughout Ibaka’s absence, Boucher had carved out a steady little role for himself off the bench. And the more he played, the more he found a groove, putting up double-doubles in three of his past six games entering Sunday.

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But Ibaka will receive that playing time now, while Boucher drops back to the third centre spot on Toronto’s depth chart. Could Boucher still factor in playing off of Gasol or Ibaka as a four in bigger lineups? Sure. We’ve seen it in spells this season, mostly with Gasol. But those runs of play haven’t gone particularly well, as the Raptors have played to a minus-8.9 net rating in 44 minutes (spread across 11 games) with Boucher and Gasol on the floor.

Boucher playing with Ibaka has been a better combination, as the Raptors posted an 18.4 net rating over 21 minutes with the duo much earlier this season. Of course, both those samples are rather small, and aren’t necessarily predictive of anything. That’s just how it’s gone so far. But it certainly sounds like we’re more likely to see a Boucher-Ibaka pairing than a Boucher-Gasol one in the coming weeks.

“Can we play Serge and Chris together? Probably,” Nurse said prior to Sunday’s game. “We just have to take a look. But I’m playing them. Chris has deserved and earned minutes.”

There are certainly worse dilemmas than struggling to find minutes for your third capable, floor-stretching big. That was the case Sunday, as Boucher didn’t get off the bench until the fourth quarter when the game was long-ago decided. Nurse will surely look to get him some run earlier on in games going forward, particularly against bigger opponents.

Plus, it’s professional sports. Things happen. The Raptors will need Boucher to play significant minutes at some point again this season. We just don’t yet know when. And, for now, it can’t hurt to give Ibaka as much floor time as possible to regain his feel and conditioning.

Because it takes some time to work out kinks. Ibaka’s fourth-quarter pass to a teammate on the bench would be one example. Not that VanVleet was unhappy to be on the receiving end of it.

“I like the fact that he’s passing to me,” VanVleet said afterward, smirking. “That’s progress. I’ll take it.”