Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (2024)


The Canadian Press - May 24, 2024 / 8:16 pm | Story: 489187

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (1)

Photo: The Canadian Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Luka Doncic searched to find space as the clock ticked down, using a screen to draw Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert out to the top of the key and a crossover dribble to set up his step-back 3-pointer.

With a swish and a shout, Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are headed home with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Doncic hit the winner with 3 seconds left and posted his fifth triple-double of the playoffs to lead the Mavericks to a 109-108 victory over the Timberwolves on Friday night.

“I was just trying to get to my spot and step back. I’m confident in that shot,” Doncic said.

Doncic had 32 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for his eighth triple-double in 42 career postseason games for the Mavericks, who erased an 18-point deficit that stood late in the second quarter and were still down 16 midway through the third.

“As you’ve seen with Luka, he loves that stage. He doesn’t run from it," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. "I thought he was great the whole game, keeping guys together, his energy.”

Naz Reid went 7 for 9 from 3-point range for 23 points, but his last try at the buzzer rimmed in and out to send the Wolves to Dallas for Game 3 on Sunday in a big hole after another off night by stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

“First to four. Nothing’s won,” Doncic said. “You’ve just got to think about next game — not in the future, just this game.”

Kyrie Irving had 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a corner 3-pointer with 1:05 left that pulled the Mavericks within two. Then the Wolves sandwiched turnovers around a short miss by Doncic. Edwards threw the ball out of bounds off a drive with 13 seconds left, setting up Doncic's winner.

He took the inbounds pass and dribbled to set up a screen by Dereck Lively II that triggered a switch by the Wolves, with NBA All-Defensive second team pick Jaden McDaniels dropping with Lively’s roll and Gobert staying out on the top of the key.

“I can’t move fast, but I can move faster than him,” said Doncic, who flexed his arms and yelled at Gobert, who fouled him hard at one point in the first half to draw a stare from the five-time All-NBA pick.

The lead for either side was three points or less from 10:50 remaining to 1:29 until Edwards — who had 21 points but is shooting 11 for 33 in the series — sank two free throws for a 108-103 edge. That came right after Irving missed both foul shots that had the crowd howling for the promotion that awards fans a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.

Mike Conley scored 18 points and Gobert had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, who needed Reid — the NBA Sixth Man of the Year — more than ever. His top-of-the-key swish at the end of the third quarter gave the Wolves an 86-79 cushion just after the Mavericks closed the gap hard with a 21-7 spurt — mostly while Conley rested — over a 6:36 stretch.

“We’re just beating ourselves a lot of the times, making simple, mental errors,” said Towns, who had 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting. “Our defense that’s held us together all year, sometimes it just falters in the wrong times. If you mix that in with the offense that we’re just not producing right now, it’s tough.”

Doncic, who flourished in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to finish with 33 points, has been fighting through what the Mavericks have listed on the league’s official injury report as a sprained right knee and left ankle soreness.

When he was subbed out late in the first quarter, Doncic jogged straight to the locker room before returning to the bench prior to his next shift. After running the floor for a fast-break layup late in the second quarter, Doncic was laboring and limping on the way back. He shot 5 for 14 before halftime.

The beauty of the 25-year-old Slovenian superstar’s game is that he hardly needs a full-strength spring in his step to dominate. Doncic had Minnesota’s league-leading defense looking out of sorts on so many possessions with his laser-like passing, often setting up their high-leaping centers Daniel Gafford (16 points) and Lively (14 points) with slick lobs for easy dunks.

The Mavericks shot 60.5% from the floor (23 for 38) in the second half.

“Luka was definitely involved in a lot of that. He makes a lot of great reads out of the pick-and-roll. We tried to show him different looks,” Edwards said. "He kept making the right reads. It’s all him. We’ve just got to figure him out. But we’ll figure it out.”



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The Canadian Press - May 24, 2024 / 3:25 pm | Story: 489140

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (3)

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers remain hopeful that All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton will play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals after listing him as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Haliburton, who led the NBA in assists this season and has been the catalyst for Indiana's deepest playoff run in a decade, left in the third quarter of a Game 2 loss at Boston with a sore left hamstring. He did not return.

The Celtics lead the series 2-0 with the next two games, Saturday and Monday, being played in Indianapolis, where the Pacers are a perfect 6-0 this postseason.

Boston, which has won five straight playoff games overall and is 4-0 on the road in the playoffs, again will be without center Kristaps Porzingis. The one-time All-Star has not played since April 29 because of a strained right calf.

Boston also could be without backup center Luke Kornet. He is listed as doubtful after spraining his left wrist Thursday night. The Celtics will need two more wins to reach their second NBA Finals in three years.



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The Canadian Press - May 24, 2024 / 10:54 am | Story: 489077

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (4)

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers can read the numbers.

They're down 2-0 in another best-of-seven series and are heading home, where they are a perfect 6-0 during this season's playoff run. They need a win in Saturday's pivotal Game 3 to get back in this series, just as they did last week against New York. And, yes, they're facing the top-seeded Boston Celtics, who are a perfect 4-0 on the road this postseason.

The bleakest part of this equation for Indiana is the possibility of losing All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton. The league's assist champ departed in the third quarter of a Game 2 loss after re-injuring his left hamstring. He did not return.

Yet this Pacers team, largely composed of playoff newcomers or newcomers to high-profile postseason roles, has not blinked when others wrote them off — and they do not intend to start now with so much at stake this weekend.

“Our fans give us so much energy,” said Indiana forward Pascal Siakam, a midseason acquisition from Toronto where he won an NBA title. “Obviously, for me, I'm experiencing for the first time the energy and they're so passionate about our team. We can't wait to go out there Saturday and just the energy they're going to bring to support us.”

Haliburton's status could change everything. The Pacers listed him as questionable on Friday's injury report. While the injury could dampen the mood in Indy, it won't change the fact this will be the city's biggest weekend in years.

The 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, the world’s largest single-day sporting event expected to draw a crowd of nearly 300,000, is sandwiched in between Saturday's Game 3 and Monday's Game 4.

Should rain force the race's first postponement since 1997, it would be rescheduled for Monday — creating a wildly rare Pacers and racers Memorial Day doubleheader.

The conflagration of a show built for speed, like the Pacers, isn't lost on these guys, most of whom are sharing Indy's May stage with the IndyCar stars and the Colts, who have been holding offseason workouts in town. The only missing feature is Caitlin Clark, who is on a West Coast trip with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

But make no mistake: The Pacers are eager to shake things up every bit as much as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing — with or without Haliburton.

“Like I said, losing sucks,” Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard said after playing four games in seven days in three cities. “It was a long road trip. I think it will be nice for all of us to get back in our own beds. We’re excited to play in front of our fans, and it’s going to be a big weekend with the race in there. So we can’t wait to get back on our home court.”

The Celtics, meanwhile, come to town with a different kind of advantage.

They won twice at Miami in the first round before returning home to close out the Heat in five games. Then in the conference semifinals, they won twice at Cleveland before eliminating the Cavaliers in five games. If they win the next two, Boston will be back in the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, courtesy of a conference finals sweep.

Clearly, the math works — even if Boston doesn't expect things to go quite so smoothly.

“They were down 2-0 in a series that went to Game 7. They do a great job defending their home court,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “So it’s going to take a lot more to get the job done. I know they’re going to respond, so it’s up to us to do the same.”

Boston has other issues to sort out, too.

While Jaylen Brown matched his playoff career high with 40 points in Game 2 after being left off the All-NBA teams, Jayson Tatum struggled to get going early.

The Celtics also lost backup center Luke Kornet with a sprained left wrist Thursday. He's listed as doubtful and center Kristaps Porzingis, who has not played since April 29, has been ruled out again Saturday.

Without Kornet and Porzingis, Mazzulla went with a smaller lineup that included former Pacers forward Oshae Brissett. The stats showed Mazzulla's move slowed down Haliburton and the league’s highest-octane offense.

“The individual defense was good,” Mazzulla said. “We were able to get in line with them going out to shooters and, we talked about this, a little bit better communication. I thought we had a little bit more patience (defensively).”

Could it work again in Indianapolis?

Part of the answer will be determined by Haliburton's status. The rest may be determined by what kind of game-day strategy they employ to overcome a hobbled Haliburton.

“When your franchise guy goes down, obviously it’s tough,” Pacers guard T.J. McConnell said. “But that’s a time for everyone to step up and take a bigger role. We’ve done a good job of that when he has been out. Obviously, it hurts when he goes down, but it's one of those things where it’s the next man up mentality and, obviously, we’ll see.”



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The Canadian Press - May 24, 2024 / 9:40 am | Story: 489065

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (5)

Photo: The Canadian Press

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Before starting his summer break, Donovan Mitchell let the Cavaliers know he's happy in Cleveland and excited about the future.

With a new coach.

While Mitchell didn't speak publicly about J.B. Bickerstaff or their relationship, the All-Star guard's input likely informed and shaped the team's decision to make a coaching change despite the Cavs advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

A day after Bickerstaff was fired despite winning 99 games the past two seasons and helping the Cavs return to relevance following LeBron James' departure, president of basketball operations Koby Altman tried to explain the rationale behind the somewhat shocking dismissal.

Bickerstaff didn't do anything wrong. He just reached his limit and expiration date with a team reshaped by Mitchell's arrival in a 2022 trade from Utah.

During a 35-minute media availability on Friday, Altman praised Bickerstaff's “undeniable” success, but said the Cavs feel they're positioned to add a leader who can get them closer to winning a championship.

“Someone with a new approach, someone with a different voice, a fresh set of eyes to help us move forward,” Altman said. "We’ve accomplished a lot in the last few years, getting to a conference semifinal and we don’t want to be complacent.

“We feel we’re not far off.”

Of course, much of that hinges on Mitchell, who can sign a four-year, $200 million contract extension with the Cavs this summer. Altman met with the 27-year-old following Cleveland's loss to Boston in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Mitchell, who struggled with a left knee injury over the final two months of the regular season, sat out the final two games in the series against the Celtics with a calf strain.

Altman said the feedback he got from Mitchell during his exit interview was encouraging.

“This is a player that has had two of the best years of his career here, has had a lot of success here, understands the infrastructure,” Altman said. “I think he has a lot of trust in what we’re doing and understands that our goal is to win a championship.

“From his own words, he says he’s happy here. He likes it here. And so he’s always been very genuine. He’s always been very intentional. He’s been a great teammate. We have to take all that at face value and say, OK, we feel good about where we are with Donovan. Obviously, things could change.”

Altman denied Mitchell's contract or views impacted the decision on Bickerstaff.

The ground has already begun to shift in Cleveland. The decision to move on from Bickerstaff is a bold one and not without risk.

While he had his flaws — rotations, adjustments, third-quarter collapses and post All-Star break slumps among them — Bickerstaff took a 22-win team in 2021 to the cusp of a conference title in three years.

And this season, he kept Cleveland among the East's leaders despite a litany of injuries.

Mitchell played in just 55 regular-season games and guard Darius Garland (57) and forward Evan Mobley (50) were also limited by injuries.

Center Jarrett Allen missed the final nine games of the postseason with an injury Altman described as a “pierced” rib suffered in the opening round against Orlando. For weeks, the Cavs said only Allen was dealing with a painful bruise.

Bickerstaff seemed to get the most out of what he had. Still, Altman, chairman Dan Gilbert and others in the front office felt as if there's more untapped potential in a roster with its share of shortcomings.

The Mitchell-Garland and Allen-Mobley pairings remain works in progress, but Altman, citing statistics, pushed back at the notion they should be dissolved.

Altman also believes Cleveland's core four — Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Allen — has yet to reach its potential, pointing to Milwaukee, Boston and Denver as examples of teams needing time to build before winning titles.

The coach had to go, but the Cavs may otherwise stay mainly intact.

“I don’t see big major sweeping changes,” Altman said. "More data speaks to (how) this works than it doesn’t. You can’t win 99 games over the regular season, make it to a conference semi and be like, this doesn’t work. This is just Year 2 of this iteration, of this core being together.

“I have a lot of excitement for the future for this group and belief in this group.”

Altman and his staff will use the holiday weekend to decompress before reconvening and beginning their first search for a new coach in five years.

He intimated he doesn't have a list of candidates yet, though outside names are already being floated, with Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson, New Orleans assistant James Borrego and Frank Vogel, who was fired after one season in Phoenix, among those mentioned most.

Ideally, the Cavs would like to have a new coach in place by the draft on June 26. Altman said there is no timeline to find Bickerstaff's successor, but that there is a mandate to make the correct choice.

“Absolutely have to find the right leader,” he said. “There’s pressure in everything we do, so I get the importance of this. There was nothing that J.B. did categorically wrong. To say that now we have to get this right.”



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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 9:44 pm | Story: 489019

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (6)

Photo: The Canadian Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Marina Mabrey had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds to help the Chicago Sky beat the New York Liberty 90-81 on Thursday night.

Angel Reese added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Sky, who got a win for first-year head coach Teresa Weatherspoon in her return to New York. Weatherspoon starred as a player for the Liberty in the WNBA’s early days. She helped New York reach the finals in three of the league’s first four years.

She was greeted with a loud ovation when she was introduced pregame. The Liberty played a tribute to her at the end of the first quarter.

New York led 68-67 early in the fourth quarter before Mabrey and Reese spurred a 19-7 run to give Chicago an 86-75 lead. Reese then had a three-point play with 2:18 left that put the game away.

Sabrina Ionescu scored 19 points while Breanna Stewart added 18 points and 10 rebounds for New York, which was off to its best start since the 2007 season.

SUN 83, LYNX 82, OT

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — DeWanna Bonner made two free throws with 7.4 seconds left in overtime and Connecticut ran their season-opening winning streak to four games, overcoming an early 13-point deficit to beat Minnesota.

Bonner finished with 20 points. Brionna Jones added 19 and Alyssa Thomas had 18 for Connecticut, the only undefeated team in the WNBA.

Napheesa Collier had 31 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota. Courtney Williams scored 19 points, Kayla McBride had 13 and Alanna Smith 10.

Rachel Banham pulled the Sun even at 79 with a 3-pointer from the left wing with 40 seconds to play. After Collier made 1 of 2 free throws for Minnesota, Thomas hit a runner in the lane to give Connecticut an 81-80 lead with 17 seconds left. Four seconds later, McBride answered with a jumper from the elbow.

After Collier fouled Bonner on a shot attempt, Bonner hit the deciding free throws with 7.4 seconds remaining. McBride then missed a potential winning shot, with Bonner grabbing the rebound to secure the victory.


PHOENIX (AP) — Kahleah Copper and Diana Taurasi scored 20 points each and Phoenix beat Washington.

Natasha Cloud added 14 points and 10 assists and Sophie Cunningham scored 13 for the Mercury.

Ariel Atkins had 16 points to lead Washington, which has lost five consecutive games to open the season for this first time since the 2007 team started 0-8. Julie Vanloo scored 13 and Shakira Austin and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 11 points apiece.

After Austin hit two free throws that gave Washington a 46-45 lead with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter, Taurasi was fouled as she made a layup and hit the free throw before she hit a 3-pointer to spark a 15-0 Phoenix run.

Cloud found Natasha Mack for a short jumper, made 4 of 4 from the free-throw line and then set up a 3-pointer by Cunningham that capped the run and gave the Mercury a 60-46 lead.

Walker-Kimbrough hit a 3-pointer to end the Mystics’ scoring drought of five-plus minutes. It was Washington’s first field goal since Stefanie Dolson hit a 3-pointer 14 seconds into the second half.

Brittney Griner (foot) did not play for the Mercury.

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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 7:47 pm | Story: 489016

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (7)

Photo: The Canadian Press

BOSTON (AP) — Jaylen Brown was a big enough problem for the Indiana Pacers even before an All-NBA snub that may have given him an added desire to show how much he can do for the Boston Celtics.

“I think he cares about it in a way that motivates him, and I think he doesn’t really care about it at all,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said after watching Brown match his playoff career high of 40 points in Boston’s 126-110 victory over Indiana in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night.

“He understands that winning is the most important thing,” Mazzulla said. “He just cares about the right stuff.”

Two nights after his game-saving 3-pointer and one day after he was left out of the voting for the league’s top 15 players, Brown scored 10 points during a 20-0 Boston run that turned a first-quarter deficit into a second-quarter lead that the Celtics never relinquished.

Asked if the All-NBA snub motivated him, Brown said, “I wouldn’t say that.” Asked to elaborate, he said colorfully: “We’re two games from the finals. I don’t got time to (care).”

Jayson Tatum and Derrick White scored 23 points apiece and Jrue Holiday had 15 points and 10 assists for the top-seeded Celtics, who lost Game 2 in both of their previous series this postseason.

Pascal Siakam scored 28 points for Indiana, which heads home for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday nights in an arena where they have won 11 straight games — including six in the playoffs — since March 18. Tyrese Haliburton, who had 25 points and 10 assists in the series opener, had 10 points and eight assists Thursday before leaving the game in the third.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said Haliburton injured his left hamstring — the same injury that kept him out of 10 games in January.

“We need Ty, but ‘next man’ mentality," Siakam said. "We’ve got to play together. This team got where we’re at by playing together. ... It’s on us to continue.”

One game after the Celtics jumped to a 12-0 lead and Indiana spent the rest of the first half clawing its way back, the lead changed hands 10 times in the opening quarter, with the Pacers holding a 27-22 edge with 1:14 left.

Then Boston scored the next 20 points.

Indiana missed nine straight shots and committed four turnovers during the drought that lasted more than six minutes. Brown scored 10 on his own during the run and had 24 at the half; he opened the third quarter with two quick baskets to give the Celtics a 61-52 lead.

But Siakam also came out hot in the second half, hitting four baskets in the first four minutes – a pair of 2s and a pair of 3s – to make it a two-point game. Boston pulled away again – this time for good, scoring 16 of the next 21 points.

Indiana never got within single digits again.

Brown scored 26 points Tuesday night, when the Celtics won thanks to some unforced errors by the Pacers — especially Haliburton — down the stretch. On Wednesday, Brown was left off the All-NBA teams; last year’s selection to the second team qualified him for a five-year supermax extension that made him the highest-paid player in the NBA.

“I mean, he has it going,” Holiday said. “Y’all see what I see. Great player. Great leader. But wants to win. And takes thinks into his own hands. So I’m glad to have him on my side. I ride with him. The way JB’s been playing, man, it’s outstanding.”



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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 7:23 pm | Story: 489013

BOSTON (AP) — The Pacers left the opener of their Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Celtics lamenting a rash of late turnovers that spoiled one of their best performances this postseason.

Indiana walked off the court following a 126-110 Game 2 loss Thursday night with its top star banged up, and the Pacers looking back on a six-minute stretch that left with a second straight 2-0 series deficit.

All-Star Tyrese Haliburton scored 10 points and played just eight minutes in the second half before leaving the game because of a sore left hamstring. He sat out the entire fourth quarter.

Haliburton also suffered what Pacers coach Rick Carlisle described as a chest injury that occurred during a first-half collision with Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

“We’ll know more tomorrow and then probably more Saturday,” Carlisle said.

Haliburton didn’t speak with reporters postgame but could be seen limping as he walked out of the arena.

He finished with 10 points in 28 minutes but had just two points after halftime. His status for Game 3 when the series shifts to Indiana on Saturday night is to be determined.

Carlisle said the hamstring injury was the same one Haliburton injured during a Jan. 8 regular-season win over the Celtics. He missed 10 of the next 11 games. Video Thursday showed him wincing in pain after stumbling while defending Jayson Tatum.

“Sore. Aggravated. I don’t have much detail other than it’s sore,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said the chest injury occurred during a play in the second quarter when he we went up for a rebound and collided by Brown.

“Jaylen Brown looked like he almost went through him to get the ball,” the coach said.

Pacers teammate Pascal Siakam picked up the scoring load as best he could after Haliburton exited, going 13 of 17 from the field and finishing with 28 points before being pulled early in the fourth with Boston in control.

It wasn’t nearly enough to slow down a Celtics team that used two big runs to blow the game open.

Indiana’s other three starters – Aaron Nesmith, Myles Turner and Andrew Nembhard – combined to go 12 of 26 from the field.

“They played a little bit better for more stretches than we did,” Siakam said. “Our energy wasn’t were it was supposed to be. ... We have look ourselves in the mirror and move on.”

The Pacers only solace is that they haven’t lost on their Gainbridge Fieldhouse home court since March 18, a run of 11 straight wins, including 6-0 this postseason.

Siakam said they were prepared to respond even if Haliburton is unavailable for Game 3.

“We need Ty, but next man mentality. We’ve got to play together,” he said. “This team got where we’re at by playing together. ... It’s on us to continue to play and bring that energy.”



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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 3:08 pm | Story: 488966

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (9)

Photo: The Canadian Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kyrie Irving injected a burst of energy into the Dallas Mavericks to begin the Western Conference finals with a furious flurry of drives to the basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In the second half, as his shots stopped falling, this matured and refreshed version of Irving that's been fueling Luka Doncic and the Mavericks kicked in with an all-around effort to lead the Game 1 victory.

With an NBA championship and 87 career playoff games on his resume, Irving has the experience in this part of the postseason that nobody on either side in this series can match.

“I’ve been to the mountaintop. I’ve succeeded and I’ve also failed, so I look at this moment as an opportunity to help other guys really settle in and be aware of what comes with this,” Irving said.

The first overall pick in the 2011 draft played in three consecutive NBA finals for Cleveland from 2015-17, but those teams ran through LeBron James. Irving was just 24 when the Cavaliers won it all in 2016. The controversies, injuries and trades that have painted the story of his career since then have begun to peel away this spring with each postseason win by the Mavericks.

“It’s just a new chapter of my life. I was a young man, and I think that people were holding on to my words and actions that I did then, but now being 32 years old, I’ve crossed over that mountain a little bit and been able to figure out that basketball’s a sport I was meant to play,” Irving said. “In order to do that I’ve got to make other guys better, too. I can’t just be out there scoring and worrying about me.”

Irving scored 24 of his 30 points in the first half of the 108-105 victory on Wednesday night. He made 11 of 14 shots, including five layups and four floaters from between 5 and 10 feet as the Mavericks successfully drew NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert out of his rim protection zone and consistently lost their defenders on pick-and-rolls.

“I’ve been here before, so just a little bit more poise on my end and just being able to start the game with the confidence and that aggression,” said Irving, who was also a significant contributor to the team-effort defense on Anthony Edwards that limited the second-team All-NBA pick to 19 points and only four shot attempts from inside the arc.

The 22-year-old Edwards, whose youthful confidence and exceptional athleticism have helped propel him into the mix of the league's biggest stars, created a bit of a stir in his live postgame interview on TNT after Minnesota beat Denver to advance by declaring, “I've got Kyrie."

Considering their disparate performances in Game 1, the natural narrative was that Edwards foolishly poked the bear with such bold talk. But Irving wasn't having it.

“That no-fear mentality that he has is why I respect him as a competitor and why I respect him as a person," Irving said. “When we’re on that court, I know he’s going to give it his all. I’m going to give it my all, and at the end of the game, you know it’s all love, but when we’re inside those lines, he knows what it is and I know what it is.”

Edwards said after the game he was exhausted, an unsurprising admission considering how many defenders Dallas — like Denver in the round before — sent at him whenever he made a move toward the basket. Chasing Irving around on defense is a challenge, too.

“We’re not going to stop him,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Just make it tough on him.”

Edwards and fellow Wolves guards Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker shot a combined 9 for 29 from the floor, including 6 for 26 from 3-point range. A whopping 49 of Minnesota's 89 attempts were from deep, the team's 2023-24 high over both the regular season or playoffs.

The Wolves weren't as worried about the greater reliance on the outside shot so much as they were with their first-half effort on defense and their late-game execution on offense. Coach Chris Finch and his staff pulled no punches in an intense video session on Thursday in the completion of the wakeup call for Game 2 at Target Center on Friday night.

“I told the guys, ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in your effort. Your performance, your attitude, your application and attention to detail just wasn’t there,’” Finch said. “The Western Conference finals started. Not sure if they got the memo. But they got it this afternoon.”

The 62-38 scoring advantage the Mavericks enjoyed in the paint was still stinging.

“We’re the No. 1 defensive team in the league so the amount of points we allowed, 108, is too much for that team,” Wolves backup center Naz Reid said. “I just think we didn’t bring it defensively."



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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 2:35 pm | Story: 488957

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (10)

Photo: The Canadian Press

Vince Carter's highlight-reel dunks for the Toronto Raptors in the early 2000s inspired a generation of Canadian basketball players.

Hamilton's Kia Nurse is hoping that a new WNBA franchise awarded to Toronto, set to debut in the league's 2026 season, will have the same impact on Canadian girls and women as Carter did more than 20 years ago.

Nurse spoke about the new team's possible impact after her Los Angeles Sparks finished up practice on Thursday, hours after the Toronto expansion was made official.

"Carter put basketball on the map in a very hockey-based country, we are now seeing how that has reaped benefits for our generation," Nurse said in a video conference with reporters. "Now we have all these players who are not only just playing at the highest level, but are playing in successful roles on successful teams at the highest level.

"To be able to have that for young women, I think is going to be something that's truly special."

Kilmer Sports Ventures paid US$115 million for the WNBA team. The as-yet unnamed team will play out of the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum, an arena in downtown Toronto at Exhibition Place, and will have the ability to move up to the 19,800-seat Scotiabank Arena on occasion.

KSV CEO and owner Larry Tanenbaum and newly minted team president Teresa Resch both said at a news conference on Thursday that the club will also play regular-season games in Montreal and Vancouver.

Nurse said the Raptors have created the blueprint for representing Canada with pre-season games in Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton.

"I think this organization with the WNBA Toronto team will do the same thing, and be able to branch out and allow Canadians across the country to cheer for them, but also to be able to see them in person," she said. "It's so important to have those role models, and to have those role models within the building that you can be able to see is going to be really important."

Nurse was traded to Los Angeles in the off-season and has averaged 16.3 points, two assists, and 1.7 rebounds in three games for the Sparks so far this year. She had nine points, three rebounds and two assists in L.A.'s 84-79 win over the Seattle Storm on May 4 in a pre-season game at Edmonton's Rogers Place.

The sold-out exhibition was the second-ever pre-season WNBA showcase in Canada after Toronto's Scotiabank Arena held a game in 2023.

"If you can see it, then you can be it," said Nurse on the importance of having professional women's basketball in Canada. "I think that's a big piece of it, is having those role models.

"I think we'll see the reaction of it right away in terms of the support and the fan base and the excitement and the community work that I know the (Toronto WNBA) organization will do."

Canadian Basketball Hall of Famer Tammy Sutton-Brown spoke at the WNBA Toronto announcement news conference. The 12-year WNBA veteran from Markham, Ont., said that she's excited for Canadian children to have more female basketball players as their idols.

"There was no WNBA when I was playing growing up, and so my role models were Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. Those are my role models because that's who I saw on television," said Sutton-Brown. "So I smile every time these next generation of kids come in, the rookie class comes in, and they've grown up with the W and their role models are Dawn Staley, Sue Bird, Sheryl Swoopes, because they grew up watching the W and so I'm really excited for the future."

Besides Nurse, there are three other Canadians in the WNBA this season — Aaliyah Edwards of Kingston, Ont. (Washington Mystics), Bridget Carleton of Chatham, Ont. (Minnesota Lynx), and Laeticia Amihere of Milton, Ont. (Atlanta Dream). Sutton-Brown hopes that the WNBA's foray into Canada will increase that number even more.

"This team in Toronto will make a difference," said Sutton-Brown. "I think adding a few other cities as well over the next few years will open up additional roster spots.

"Right now we have four Canadians playing in the W. Hopefully in the next few years, we'll double that number."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.

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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 10:21 am | Story: 488906

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Photo: The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The arrival of a professional women's basketball team to the Toronto sports landscape creates new opportunities to capitalize on long pent-up demand from local fans, say experts who study the business of sports.

The WNBA announced Thursday that Toronto's new team — the first in Canada — will tip off in 2026, playing its home games at the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place.

The yet-to-be-named team is owned by Larry Tanenbaum's Kilmer Sports Ventures, which paid US$115 million for the expansion franchise.

Tandy Thomas, a marketing professor at Queen's University's Smith School of Business, said the team's establishment comes at a "critical moment in history" for the growth of women's sports.

She said Canadian audiences have proven they're interested in watching women's sports. The Professional Women's Hockey League broke attendance records six times in its inaugural season, including sold-out crowds for games held at the largest arenas in Toronto and Montreal.

Fans have also cheered on the Canadian women's soccer team in large numbers, with a TV audience of 4.4 million watching it win the gold medal game at the last Summer Olympics.

Combine that with the growing popularity of the WNBA south of the border, where the mania surrounding rookie Caitlyn Clark has helped fill arenas this year, and it could be a perfect recipe.

"We're really seeing that people want this. There is no longer this idea of 'Oh, people aren't interested in women's sports, we're not going to put the money into it.' That is absolutely not the case," said Thomas.

"We're really seeing these sports get the attention and the investment that they deserve."

A report released last month by Canadian Women & Sport found two in three Canadians between the ages of 13 and 65 — approximately 17 million people — consider themselves to be fans of women's sports.

Last year's version of that report said the Canadian professional women’s sport market is "significantly underdeveloped" compared with its potential, with an estimated value of $150 million to $200 million.

It also cited data showing a 90 per cent increase in average WNBA regular season viewership globally from 2020 to 2022.

"We know that there's fandom to support this marketplace," said Cheri Bradish, who leads Toronto Metropolitan University's Future of Sport Lab, and is co-director of a CWS research committee.

"There's this ripe appetite for women's sports. We know that. The valuation of these teams continues to increase."

The WNBA has already dipped its toes in Canadian waters. Toronto hosted a sold-out pre-season game at Scotiabank Arena in 2023 and Edmonton's Rogers Place followed suit earlier this month.

When it comes to building its fan base as an expansion franchise, Toronto's WNBA startup will have a "leg up" over the Raptors when they broke into the NBA in 1995, said Bradish.

"When the Raptors first came to Toronto ... there was such a concern, even just, 'Do Canadians and Torontonians know what basketball is?'' We're far beyond that," she said.

"So they're coming in at a different level, they're coming in at a mature marketplace. It's already very aware of the women's basketball market."

The team will have the ability to move to Scotiabank Arena on occasion and will also make stops in both Montreal and Vancouver for home games in an effort to boost its national appeal.

While Toronto boasts a somewhat crowded market of professional sports teams, Thomas said the WNBA will likely find its footing by offering more affordable ticket options than squads like the Raptors or Maple Leafs.

"Toronto has a lot of great sports teams and a lot of them are really hard to get tickets to," she said.

"For many families, it might be maybe once a year they can afford to go and see a game. This will not be the case with these women's teams that are moving into the market."

Thomas added the smaller stadium atmosphere of most home games will help create a more "intimate" and "accessible" experience.

"What's absolutely imperative is getting that connection to the local communities," she said.

"Those seats are going to be filled by parents bringing their young kids to see those games."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.

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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 8:01 am | Story: 488878

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (12)

Photo: The Canadian Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — J.B. Bickerstaff won and still lost his job.

He dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers through some turbulent seasons, getting them back to the playoffs and deeper into the postseason than they've been without LeBron James on the roster in more than 30 years.

It wasn't enough.

Bickerstaff was fired as Cleveland's coach Thursday despite the Cavs improving in each of his four seasons and overcoming numerous injuries this year to make it to the second round of the playoffs.

His dismissal came a week after the Cavs were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals while playing the final two games without All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell or center Jarrett Allen.

Bickerstaff was successful, but other issues apparently led Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and president of basketball operations Koby Altman to make a move that at face value might seem extreme or even unfair.

The coaching change could trigger a summer shift for the Cavs, who are hoping to sign Mitchell to a long-term contract extension and could make major moves while being tied to whatever James ultimately decides to do.

James, who can opt out of his contract with the Lakers, attended Cleveland's final home playoff game, raising speculation about him making another homecoming and playing a third stint with the Cavs — maybe a final career act.

That's down the road.

In the short term, the Cavs have begun their search for a replacement for Bickerstaff.

“J.B. is a well-respected NBA coach and an incredible human being,” Altman said in a statement. "Over the past four years, he helped establish a culture that progressively drove players to become the best versions of themselves. Decisions like these are never easy, particularly when you look back at where this franchise rebuild started under his leadership.

“The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships."

Altman will hold a media availability on Friday.

The Cavs are expected to interview candidates with NBA head coaching experience and perhaps some high-caliber assistants. They have to hope it goes better than their last search, when they hired Michigan's John Beilein, who resigned at the All-Star break in 2019 and Bickerstaff took over.

While Bickerstaff was credited with building a strong culture, he had his flaws.

He struggled with in-game adjustments. His offense was often stagnant and there's a strong belief there should have been more development in guard Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who along with Mitchell and Allen give the Cavs one of the league's best young core of players.

But Bickerstaff helped the team navigate around numerous injuries. Garland (broken jaw) and Mobley (knee surgery) missed six weeks and Cleveland went 18-2 without them. And despite not having Mitchell and Allen, who suffered a rib injury in the opening round, the Cavs pushed the Celtics before losing the series in five games.

Bickerstaff's firing was met with some shock around the league, considering what he accomplished.

“I thought J.B. Bickerstaff did an amazing job,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston. "That was a complete culture makeover there. He was inventive. They started playing big 4 1/2 years ago. A lot of people were going, ‘Huh? How is this ever going to work?’

“They had (Lauri) Markkanen playing three. And the other two big guys. But, then they became a top 3 or 4 defensive team in the league. This past season, their injuries were constant. And they were constantly adjusting. ... So I have great respect for him.”

In his first full season, Bickerstaff, who was under contract through 2026, went just 22-50 with one of the league's youngest rosters. They jumped to 44 wins in his second year before losing in the play-in tournament game while showing major strides.

After acquiring Mitchell via trade in 2022, the Cavs went 51-31 last season and had home-court advantage in the first round before getting knocked out in five games by the New York Knicks. The early exit put added pressure on Bickerstaff to do more this season.

The 45-year-old Bickerstaff went 170-159 in the regular season and 6-11 in the playoffs with Cleveland, which defeated Orlando in seven games before losing to Boston. Their series win over the Magic was the franchise's first without James on its roster since 1993.

The Cavs went 48-34 this season — and stayed among the top teams in the Eastern Conference — amid a rash of major injuries that forced Bickerstaff to juggle his lineup on an almost daily basis and throughout the postseason.

Gilbert may be looking for a stronger voice and perhaps a coach to satisfy Mitchell, a six-time All-Star who is under contract through the 2026 season and eligible to sign a deal worth roughly $200 million this summer.

Mitchell has given no indication he wants out of Cleveland.


AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.


This story has been corrected to show that the Cavaliers went 48-34, not 51-31, this season. They went 51-31 in 2022-23.



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The Canadian Press - May 23, 2024 / 2:07 am | Story: 488846

Mavs have early control over Wolves in Western Conference finals with mature, savvy effort by Irving - Basketball (13)

Photo: The Canadian Press

Toronto has been awarded the WNBA’s first franchise outside the United States, with the expansion team set to begin play in 2026.

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is paying $115 million for the team. Tanenbaum also is the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto sports giant that also owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors, along with Toronto's MLS and Canadian Football League franchises.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press ahead of the official announcement Thursday. “It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too.”

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th franchise, with the expansion Golden State Valkyries to start play next year.

“Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports,” Tanenbaum told the AP. “The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. So, once again, I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history.”

Toronto will play in the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place, home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, and occasionally move to Scotiabank Arena, which seats nearly 20,000. Tanenbaum said the team will play some games in Vancouver and Montreal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the press conference in Toronto, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow.

“This landmark deal will give opportunities to our remarkable athletes across the country, and on the biggest stage,” Trudeau said. "I can’t wait to see our Canadian women win on the court.”

Kilmer Sports Ventures, created as a stand-alone company to operate the team, has committed to building a practice facility. But until that is ready, it will train at University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Tanenbaum said they’ll solicit public input for the name of the team.

“Women’s sports is good business,” Tanenbaum said. “Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement and it’s just the beginning. The investment that we’ll put into the franchise will also be no different than the other franchises.”

Engelbert said WNBA exhibition games in Canada the last two seasons showed the passion of the fans in the country for women’s basketball.

“When I was up for the preseason game, Kia (Nurse) and I did a youth clinic. The reaction from young girls to Kia and what she stands for, they so admire her,” Engelbert said.

Nurse is one of a handful of Canadian players playing in the WNBA, with more on the way.

“No doubt it’s helpful to have household names,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner expects the league to reach 16 teams by 2028.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest, and it got more tangible and serious from a fair amount of cities after the draft,” Engelbert said. “We are in a good position to get to 16 by certainly ’27-28.”



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