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Saturday Sports: Toronto Raptors, Women's World Cup



Revile the reptile. The Toronto Raptors are just a win away from a world championship over one of the world's greatest franchises. And in hockey, the St. Louis Blues could also put away the Boston Bruins. In Paris, it's le football season, eh? The Women's World Cup kicked off yesterday. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, which is going away later this year, but you'll still be with us, right, Howard?

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: I'm still with you, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you. Good to talk to you, my friend. Listen - oh, wait, I got another one, OK?

BRYANT: No. Please. Don't do it.

SIMON: No, no. Hey, Howard - cut his mic. Here we go. Hence forth, the North.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: How's that?

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: A little better?

BRYANT: We - I think we, the north, just works. And it's been working really, really well...

SIMON: Been working well for them. OK.

BRYANT: ...For the Toronto Raptors right now.

SIMON: The Raptors drubbed - drubbed the Dubs, if you please - 105-92 last night. It's not just that they were three games - up three games to one. They've looked in command in almost every quarter of the series, haven't they?

BRYANT: Well, they have. And once again, as we say all the time, is that the NBA is the best player wins the sport. And right now, Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the planet. And let's also just not forget that the Warriors are playing very shorthanded. They didn't have Kevon Looney for the - for Game 3. They - obviously, Kevin Durant hasn't played in the entire series. You didn't have Klay Thompson in Game 3.

And so on top of everything else that's taken place with them as a team and going to the finals five straight seasons and trying to win three straight championships - to be the first team to do that, you know, in years anyway - and I think that this is a - it's an amazing, amazing run for them. But the pressure is also very difficult for them, too.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: It's a hard conversation to have because you wish that you would have both teams playing at full strength, but you got to deal with what's in front of you. And the Toronto Raptors - never been in the finals - and they are playing great basketball right now.

SIMON: I got to ask. Look; a co-owner of the Warriors, an investment billionaire named Mark Stevens - and I have read he has given lots of money to many good causes - felt that his courtside seat entitled him the other night to shove and swear at Toronto's Kyle Lowry. This is the kind of fan that gives fans a bad name.

BRYANT: Yeah, most certainly. And he's not a fan. He's a co-owner. So he's not just a fan. He's...

SIMON: Right.

BRYANT: ...Somebody who's got a financial stake in the game. It was an ugly incident. It was completely unnecessary. It would be very surprising to me if the NBA doesn't come down on him to the point where he's not - where he's forced to sell his shares. I think that this is one of those examples, too, where you're going to find out the power of the players in terms of how much they're going to take from fans and especially co-owners because let's not forget, this has been a theme throughout the NBA season...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Where fan abuse has become something that is - just, you know, where the players have decided that, hey, we're not going to take this anymore. We're not zoo animals, OK? You're here to watch...


BRYANT: ...The game, but you also have to respect us.

SIMON: NHL finals - next game is tomorrow. The St. Louis Blues up 3-2 over the Boston Bruins. Why and how?

BRYANT: Well, No. 1, because they're a very, very tough team. And that's the - this is funny. We talk about hockey in the 2000s, but this looks like hockey in the 1970s. I thought I was watching the...

SIMON: Yeah.


SIMON: Yeah, Blues and Bruins, yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly. I thought I was watching the Bruins and the Flyers from '74. The Blues are a brutal, brutal, tough hockey team, and they are just physic - you know, they're very physical. They're crushing the Bruins. In terms of hits, there's been suspensions in this playoff. But the bottom line - you know, the Bruins are complaining about the referees. But the bottom line is that the Blues have just been - they've outlasted everybody. They just continue to be a really tough hockey team. And they're one game away from doing something that franchise has never done, which is win the Stanley Cup.

SIMON: Yeah. Women's World Cup started yesterday. The U.S. plays its first match Tuesday against Thailand. Who looks good? I am told - aha - Les Bleus.

BRYANT: Well, they're the hosts, so they always look good. But obviously, the defending champions are the United States. You've got a great group going on. You've got Japan and England in the same group. And Japan and the United States have played back-to-back finals. So I think that, obviously, the United States are the favorites. You've got Germany, England and Japan. Japan's not as good as they were the last couple of World Cups. But at the same time, I'm looking at the United States. They're the - to me, they're the team to beat.

SIMON: French Open starts today. No names that I recognized; you would, my friend.

BRYANT: Well, the big star - or not the star - the infamous star of this entire tournament has been the weather because it has been very, very difficult to try to get these matches in. And by the end of this tournament, I think people are going to look at this tournament, and they're going to say we're going to remember this one for the rain instead of the players.

SIMON: Yeah.


SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.