Category Archives: NBA Finals

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Toronto Raptors Spirit Will Live On Amidst Parade Chaos

TORONTO– It was supposed to be a day of celebration. The Toronto Raptors were coming home to party with their fans, in the franchise’s inaugural championship parade. A historical moment that the Raptors fan base had been waiting for since the organization’s first game in 1995.

The parade featured all of these realities. While lengthy in time, the crowd was energetic and jubilant. Thousands congregated at Nathan Philips Square to be a part of this commemoration that hasn’t happened in Toronto for 26 years. Lifelong Raptors fans, like myself, hugged the street lines of Lakeshore Boulevard or University Avenue. To get a glimpse of the basketball heroes that brought a city and country together.

An unforgettable moment turned dark in a heartbeat. The raucous enthusiasm switched to intense fear and uncertainty. People scattered from Nathan Philips Square to take cover. Sounds of gunshots were heard throughout the crowd.

This was not supposed to happen. Images of violence and horror did not fit the canvas of love and positive spirit that was felt throughout the city. But the show would go on. Amidst the chaos of the tragic events, the first responders acted quickly to diffuse the situation. And the ceremony would continue on as planned. No act of evil was going to interfere with the zestful spirit of celebrating an NBA Championship. That is the Raptors way; a testament to a franchise that has been waiting decades for glory.
From the moment the buzzer sounded in Game 6, signifying the Toronto Raptors were going to be NBA Champions, I knew I wanted to be a part of the championship parade festivities. In my lifetime, I have never seen a major Toronto sports franchise win a championship. Let alone be relevant in their respective leagues. My Dad, whom I watched the Raptors’ 114-110 Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors with, has seen seven in his life.

The Raptors were once irrelevant and doomed to fail. I was often jeered by my peers for saying I was a Raptors fan. Until they underwent a significant branding transformation. Or when they brought superstar talent, like general manager Masai Ujiri or Kawhi Leonard, to the organization.

The movement reached an all-time high with memorable moments like Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. And exploded when the Raptors complete team effort stymied a Golden State Warriors squad that had won three NBA championships in the last four years.

When Kyle Lowry raised the Larry O’Brien trophy, it was more than just the Raptors winning an NBA Championship. It was the years of heartbreak that Raptors fans had to endure. Canada was becoming a basketball country before our very eyes. And the proof was in the thousands that stormed out to the streets of Toronto, to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime frenzy that many reckoned to be impossible.
Unforgettable Moment Witnessing Toronto Raptors Procession
I got to University Avenue just past nine in the morning. Nathan Philips Square was filled to the brim and many more were lining up on the streets where the parade would pass by. I was lucky enough to get a spot right near the front, to witness the procession proceed through.

It would take four hours before the parade arrived. All throughout the wait, the crowd got to witness the newly-anointed “Plant Guy,” someone with “chips and dip”, and cheer “Let’s Go Raptors” at the top of their lungs. Red and purple smoke blazed the scene when the Raptors championship buses slowly came through to meet the rowdy fans. First, it was Grand Marshal and Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia, waving his white towel. Then, the sound management of Masai Ujiri and rookie head coach Nick Nurse.

It culminated with the players, those who sacrificed their body and mind to put forward an inspiring product of basketball. Kyle Lowry with his Damon Stoudemire jersey holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Danny Green conducting a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant. Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet smoking cigars. Drake observing the crowd in disbelief and awe. Kawhi holding up his second NBA Finals MVP. And finishing with Pascal Siakam, spraying the crowd with beer and champagne.

It was a painting out of a fantasy novel. There were those who had recently become fans of basketball. And others like myself, who have followed the Toronto Raptors all throughout the team’s peaks and troughs. A father who brought his young children said it was one of the “greatest moments of his life.”

A scene like this could not get more perfect.
To avoid the commotion of fans trying to watch the rally at Nathan Philips Square, I went inside the nearby Sheraton Hotel. I was gassed and desired to view the commemorative speeches in a calmer atmosphere.

Energy and excitement turned into utter chaos. People stormed through the hotel at a lightning pace. Fear and worry was visible on every single one of their faces.

“Get down,” people were exclaiming.

I was in the hotel’s restaurant and was moved to the backroom exit to take cover. No one had any idea what was going on. The minutes in that room, entrenched with worried individuals, felt like hours. There were tears streaming down people’s faces. Mothers were screaming to make sure their kids were safe. Something terrible had clearly happened.

Updates soon came in on social media. There was a shooting in Nathan Philips Square. The ceremony had been paused. A scene of jubilation became one of tremendous anxiety. Would more violence occur or was this just a one-time incident?

What would subsequently transpire demonstrated proper action in the face of tragedy. With gunfire breaking out, one reaction may have been to suspend the ceremony entirely. Or remove the political dignitaries and Raptors personnel from the stage. But this would ultimately stoke more fear within the crowd that was on the precipice of stampeding out of the square.

Matt Devlin, the Raptors play-by-play announcer and the emcee for the ceremony, displayed tremendous calm in a treacherous situation. He told the crowd to “stay together” and remain calm during this emergency.

“This is about love, it’s about rejoicing,” Devlin told an estimated one million people gathered city hall’s public square. 
The Toronto Raptors Spirit Lives On
The situation was dealt with immediately by first responders. The ceremony marched on. The crowd at Nathan Philips Square returned to its lively exuberance. The players would get the opportunity to thank the fans for their support all throughout this historic run. And Kawhi Leonard would get the last laugh, mimicking the awkward chuckle at his Toronto Raptors introduction that sent social media awry.

A vigorous celebration would unfortunately forever be marred by a senseless act of violence. Four individuals would be sent to hospital with serious, non-life threatening injuries. A day that will change these Raptors fans’ lives forever for all the wrong reasons.

The true heroes were the first responders. As well as those involved in making the decision to keep the ceremony going, quashing the fear of individuals in the area. No violent act was going to prevent the city of Toronto and the country of Canada from showing their love towards the Toronto Raptors. The accomplishment that this team achieved transcended the meaning of sports.

Canada isn’t perfect, neither is Toronto. But communities from coast to coast could escape their present challenges to unite in their spirit and passion for the Toronto Raptors and basketball.

“Man, it was a great experience. Everybody off the court was great,” said Kawhi Leonard during the parade. “The fans, just meeting people in Canada. It’s been fun.”

Everyone present at the parade will never be the same. Toronto showed great resiliency. And the Raptors are now forever etched into the Canadian identity.The post Toronto Raptors Spirit Will Live On Amidst Parade Chaos appeared first on Last Word on Sports.

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Fred VanVleet: The Unexpected Playoff Hero

Entering the NBA Playoffs, Fred VanVleet would not have popped into your mind as a player to turn into a postseason hero. For the season, the Toronto Raptors backup point guard averaged only 11 points per game, on 41 percent shooting from the field.

But suddenly, when premier performance was required in big games, VanVleet stepped up. Shots that were hitting the rim were going in from beyond the arc. Off the bench, VanVleet is the catalyst of a supporting cast that has played a pivotal role in getting the Raptors to the franchise’s first NBA Finals.

Even in defeat against the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, VanVleet remains positive. He knows what his team must do in order to steal a game in Oakland.

“You can’t start slow against this team,” said VanVleet after the Raptors 109-104 defeat in Game 2. “We got to be better to start the third and we know that,
and that’s something that we’ll focus on and look at the tape and see how we can be better next game.”
VanVleet Credits Birth of Son for Offensive Resurgence
Fred VanVleet’s personal motto is “Bet on Yourself.” This phrase inspires the point guard whenever he steps out on the court. It got him through college playing for the Wichita State Shockers. And it enabled perseverance when the 25-year-old was undrafted in 2016.

Entering this year’s NBA Playoffs, VanVleet was struggling. In the Philadelphia 76ers series, VanVleet and the entire secondary cast of players could not provide the consistent scoring to support Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Averaging only seven points per game in the postseason, something needed to change.

After the Raptors tenacious Game 3 double-overtime victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, Fred heard the news that his long-time girlfriend, Shontai Neal, was giving birth to their son Fred Jr. Rushing back to Illinois, the Raptors backup point guard was able to be with Shontai, cradling baby Fred Jr. in his arms. He was joyous. Overwhelmed with happiness. And ready to get back to playing great basketball.

In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet had a career playoff-high 21 points as the Raptors stole the game on the road in Milwaukee. The finals-clinching Game 6 saw the point guard generate 14 points off the bench. It’s a whole new Fred VanVleet on the court. Gone is the tentative point guard who couldn’t hit shots. The new Fred is setting up the offense, draining shots and playing aggressive defense. Credit the birth of his son for providing this inspiration.

“I’m getting better looks, more open looks, and as you make them, your teammates start to look for you more and more and the game kind of opens up all at once,” stated VanVleet. 
VanVleet Critical for Raptors Defending the Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have won three of the past four championships. Steph Curry, one of the all-time premier shooters, has been integral in leading the charge from beyond the arc. But one player has been able to effectively stymie Steph. Fred VanVleet.

In the Raptors 118-109 Game 1 victory, VanVleet held Steph to just one field goal when he was defending him. This went on for 33 possessions. VanVleet has displayed the capacity to navigate screens effectively while chasing down Curry whenever he doesn’t have the ball.

“You just got to try to be as physical as you can, slow him down and keep the contest,” says VanVleet on how to defend Curry. “A guy like that, who is a really good shooter against contest, you can’t really give him free looks and let him feel free and easy.”

As the series shifts to the Bay Area, the Raptors have a plethora of areas to work on. Hitting open shots is one. Preventing the open space for ball movement is another. But the scrappy Fred VanVleet is used to performing on the big stage. When he is on the floor for the Raptors, the team is a +76, compared to +39 overall. If the team needs an injection of energy and offense, Fred VanVleet is the player to call. And he will need to deliver if the Raptors have any hope of winning the NBA Championship.

“I’m not too worried about Freddie,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Freddie’s an ice water-in-his-veins-type-of-guy. He took a mid-major school to the Final Four. He took a mid-major school to 35-0.”

Maybe it’s a sign that Fred should have more kids. So his basketball play can be stellar on a consistent basis.

 The post Fred VanVleet: The Unexpected Playoff Hero appeared first on Last Word on Sports.

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Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam Inspired from Father’s Death

Pascal Siakam has waited his whole life for this opportunity. The young rising star for the Toronto Raptors is playing in his first NBA Finals, and rising to the big stage. Siakam put up 32 points and eight rebounds, carrying the Raptors to the franchise’s inaugural victory in the NBA Finals.

Amidst the excitement across Canada, the Raptors forward is playing for a greater purpose. For Siakam, every chance he gets to play basketball is an opportunity he does not take for granted.

“Every night that I go out there, I have a bigger purpose, and I play for something greater than just basketball,” said Siakam after the 118-109 Raptors victory over the Golden State Warriors. 
Siakam Battles Adversity of Father’s Death
Pascal Siakam was born in Cameroon. Youngest of four brothers, Siakam initially did not have an interest in basketball. He was poised to become a priest, cherry-picked from an early age to embrace the Catholic values of his family.

Pascal was particularly close to his Father, Tchamo, who worked at a local transit company. It was Tchamo who encouraged his son to go pursue his dreams of playing basketball in the United States. While playing at New Mexico State, Siakam would receive the unfortunate news of his Father’s passing in a car accident. A numbing reality for a youngster trying to play basketball while adjust to life away from his parents.

“It was definitely one of the toughest moments in my life, not being able
to go home for the funeral,” revealed Siakam.

While a breakable moment for some, Siakam used the death of his Father as motivation to become a perennial basketball star. The desire and drive to get better is what attracted Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri to draft Pascal with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

“Pascal wants to be a versatile player in this league who could do it all. He wants to be a star,” states Ujiri. 
Siakam Has Performed Strongly for Toronto Raptors
The 2018-19 NBA season has demonstrated Pascal Siakam’s transcendent rise in stardom. Not only is he a physical defender, but Siakam is able to utilize his size to attack the basket in the post with ease. For the season, Siakam averaged 16.9 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists with game, on 54.9 percent shooting.

While Kawhi Leonard has claimed the spotlight as the Raptors’ premier superstar, Siakam has epitomized playoff toughness and tenacity. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with Kawhi being targeted defensively, Siakam took control offensively, putting up 25 points and 11 rebounds. There was a stretch in Game 1 of the NBA Finals where the Siakam went 15-for-15 from the field. Nick Nurse was quick to praise his big man, who has been consistently improving since last summer.

“He’s worked his tail off,” said Nurse after Game 1. “His work ethic and his mindset just keeps building for him.
The Ceiling is High for Raptors Big Man
Adverse moments shape the makeup of an individual. For Pascal Siakam, it made him a tougher, grounded human being.

In NBA history, the Finals came up North to Canada. While Siakam is grateful for the fan support, his purpose of playing is far greater. There was a day where a young kid from Africa would never have thought to go professional and play in the NBA. With the Toronto Raptors up 1-0 in the NBA Finals, Siakam is focused on being a critical impetus to help his team win. At the same time, honouring his Father’s legacy and the country of Cameroon.

“I have a lot of support from my fellow Cameroonians and just Africa
in general,” says Siakam. “When my Dad died,  it was a turning point in my life, just going through that type of adversity. It definitely made me the
person I am today.”The post Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam Inspired from Father’s Death appeared first on Last Word on Sports.