Category Archives: Nick Nurse

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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.


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