Double trouble: Pair of Game 7s await to end Round 2

Jimmy Butler #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors compete for the ball in the first quarter of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center on May 9, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 12 May 2019
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Double trouble: Pair of Game 7s await to end Round 2

  • The Portland-Denver winner will visit top-seeded Golden State in Game 1 of the West finals Tuesday
  • The Philadelphia-Toronto winner goes to top-seeded Milwaukee for Game 1 of the East finals Wednesday

TORONTO: Kyle Lowry was talking in Toronto on Saturday, discussing any number of topics, offering eloquent answers to every question that came his way. His last sentence was all that really needed to be said.
“Nothing matters,” the Raptors guard said, “but Game 7.”
There may be nothing better in sports than a Game 7 — and the second round of these NBA playoffs ends Sunday with a pair of deciders: third-seeded Philadelphia at second-seeded Toronto in an Eastern Conference semifinal; third-seeded Portland at second-seeded Denver in a Western Conference semifinal.
The Portland-Denver winner will visit top-seeded Golden State in Game 1 of the West finals Tuesday. The Philadelphia-Toronto winner goes to top-seeded Milwaukee for Game 1 of the East finals Wednesday.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in a few Game 7s and they’re very unique,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They’re special. They are a life lesson, a life opportunity.”
There have been 133 Game 7s in NBA history — home teams have won 105, or 79%. Roughly one of every four Game 7s has been decided by three points or less; 56% have been decided by a single-digit margin. Blowouts are rare, with only 14 Game 7s getting decided by more than 20 points.
“It’s for our season, for all the marbles,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said.
Denver has already won a Game 7 this season, also at home, topping San Antonio in the first round. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double — 21 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists — in that game for the Nuggets, and coach Michael Malone is fond of saying his team has the best home-court advantage in the NBA.
But Jokic isn’t banking on home court being enough of an edge. He says it’s imperative to bring more energy Sunday — and adds there’s no reason to get nervous.
“I’ve played basketball for 15 years,” Jokic said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Why would I be nervous right now? ... You control the game. You’re the one who’s playing. As long as you’re giving 100 percent, you can’t be nervous because you’re focused on the plays and actions and whatever you’re doing on the floor. You don’t have time to be nervous.”

GAME 7 HISTORIES

PORTLAND VS. DENVER
Trail Blazers: 1-2 all-time, 0-2 on road
Nuggets: 2-2 all-time, 2-0 at home
Head-to-head in Game 7: First meeting
Notable: Portland hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2003, and that was Arvydas Sabonis’ last game in the NBA. Denver is aiming to become the fifth team in the current playoff format to win Game 7s in each of the first two playoff rounds joining Toronto in 2016, Boston in 2008, Phoenix in 2006 and Dallas in 2003.

PHILADELPHIA VS. TORONTO
76ers: 6-9 all-time, 1-8 on road
Raptors: 2-2 all-time, 2-1 at home
Head-to-head in Game 7: Philadelphia, 1-0 (88-87, 2001, East 2nd round, in Philadelphia)
Notable: Philly’s Jimmy Butler has never trailed in a Game 7 — his Chicago Bulls won at Brooklyn in 2013, a game the Nets never led. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard is 1-2 in his previous Game 7s, shooting 45 percent and averaging 15.7 points.

SUNDAY’S GAMES

TRAIL BLAZERS AT NUGGETS
Series tied 3-3. Game 7, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
NEED TO KNOW: A series that had a four-overtime game is going to go the distance, and that’s fitting. Portland’s two top scorers, Lillard and CJ McCollum, have combined for 311 points in the series. Denver’s two top scorers, Jokic and Jamal Murray, have combined for 309. Given how the star power seems to cancel out, expect Game 7 to be decided by a third option or role player who steps up.
INJURY WATCH: Rotations aren’t expected to change much, if at all, for either team going into Game 7.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Denver’s 3-point shooting. The Nuggets beat the Spurs in a Game 7 despite going 2 for 20 from beyond the arc. They can’t expect to do that again and beat the Blazers.
PRESSURE IS ON: Slightly more on Denver, simply because the Nuggets are home. Being on the road may actually keep Portland somewhat loose.

76ERS AT RAPTORS
Series tied 3-3. Game 7, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: Both teams have a five-point road win already in this series, and the other four games have all been double-digit victories by the home club. Having two days off between Game 6 and Game 7 probably was welcomed by everybody, particularly 76ers star Joel Embiid, who will likely need to play very big minutes Sunday. The 76ers have outscored the Raptors by 80 points in 192 minutes with Embiid on the floor in this series, and the Raptors have outscored the 76ers by 97 points in the 96 minutes that he’s been on the bench.
INJURY WATCH: All the usual names are expected to play.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The first few minutes. Nerves get amped up in Game 7 and the first team to settle into a rhythm will have a major edge. Toronto is 7-0 in the playoffs when leading at halftime, 0-4 when trailing at the break.
PRESSURE IS ON: Everybody, of course, but Philadelphia has only four players who know what Game 7 feels like. Toronto has nine Game 7 veterans.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
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Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)