Pascal Siakam bursts into spotlight after unlikely journey to NBA Finals

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TORONTO – About six years ago, Pascal Siakam received a basketball scholarship to New Mexico State.

His brother laughed at him.

“I said, ‘You? Basketball?,” said James Siakam, who played at Vanderbilt. “I don’t believe it.'”

Thursday, Siakam scored 32 points to lead the Raptors over the Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

That’s a long way from his own family doubting his ability to secure a scholarship from a mid-major team.

“At that time I didn’t even know if I really dreamed of being at this level,” Siakam said. “I couldn’t even think about this moment because it wasn’t reachable for me.”

Thursday night, when he starred in the Finals opener, might have been the first time casual fans heard of him. This season, when he became overwhelming favorite to win Most Improved Player, might have been the first time moderately enthusiastic fans heard of him. Draft night 2016, when the Raptors surprisingly picked him in the first round, might have been the first time even hard core fans heard of him.

But Siakam isn’t an overnight success. He has been plugging away for years, putting in work to rise from his native Cameroon to prep school in Texas to New Mexico State to Toronto.

He has been doing it with a heavy heart since 2014, when his father – who urged him to take basketball seriously – died in a car crash.

What would he think of how far Siakam has come?

“It’s a question that I ask myself every single day,” Siakam said. “I know I wish I had the answer. I know people always usually tell me, ‘I know he’s proud of you.’ I kind of want to hear it from his mouth.”

Siakam continues to provide reasons to be proud.

His 32 points  are the most in a player’s first NBA Finals game since Kevin Durant scored 36 in 2012.

But Durant had already established himself as a superstar by then. Siakam hasn’t even been an All-Star.

This was Siakam’s breakout game.

Among players without an All-Star or all-league selection under their belt, nobody has ever scored more points in his first Finals game. Jason Terry also scored 32 for the 2006 Mavericks.

Here are the highest-scoring first NBA Finals games by players who weren’t yet All-Stars or all-leaguers:

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Siakam played an efficient and excellent all-around game, shooting 14-for-17 and adding eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. He was everywhere – often leaving the Warriors in his dust in transition.

Siakam scored nine fastbreak points. For perspective, LeBron James led the league with 5.3 fastbreak points per game in the regular season.

“His motor is pretty much nonstop,” Stephen Curry said. “So even if you feel like you’re in transition, you’re running shoulder to shoulder with him, he has another gear he can get to.”

Siakam even repeatedly attacked Draymond Green, an elite defender.

“I got to take him out of the series and that’s on me,” Green said.

Then, Green exited the interview room, looked to his left and saw Siakam coming in. Green went right toward the exit.

The Warriors aren’t backing down. But Siakam’s incredible Finals debut signals a new challenge for this Golden State dynasty.

Kawhi Leonard to give away 1 million backpacks to kids in Southern California

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Kawhi Leonard is back in his home area of Southern California, and now that he’s a member of the Los Angeles Clippers he’s decided to get into the swing of charitable giving.

Leonard recently decided to team up with the Clippers organization to give out one million backpacks to children in need as a way to relieve some of the pressure from low-income families as students head back to school in the fall.

The Clippers and the NBA star worked with Baby2Baby, an organization that provides for low-income children from ages 0 to 12 for basic necessities. This week, Leonard started giving away backpacks to the Moreno Valley Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Inglewood Unified school districts. Leonard went to school in the Moreno Valley system as a kid.

Via the OC Register and Twitter:

“Going to the NBA, this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to give back to my community,” said Leonard, who started his day in Moreno Valley, where he brought backpacks to Cloverdale Elementary, his old school. “That’s why I’m so happy to be back home.”

“With the Clippers, just want you to know we got you guys’ back, as long as you work hard and have a goal set,” said Leonard, who Tuesday was working to fulfill one of his own.

“That’s a goal of mine for this year, being great on and off the court,” he said. “And I felt like this was a great way to start.”

This is an extremely cool and directly effective way to give back to the community. Helping disadvantaged kids in need directly has a ripple effect on their lives, and anything players like Leonard can do to help is a huge win for the children in these districts.

Clippers reportedly add Tyronn Lue to coaching staff

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Tyronn Lue will be coaching in Los Angeles this upcoming season, but it won’t be for the Lakers.

News broke on Tuesday that Lue had accepted a job on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers. Lue is yet another big-name addition to a squad that already added players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this offseason.

Lue was a championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and he has an innate understanding about how to deal with star players in the NBA.

Via Twitter:

It’s also important to understand what kind of culture Rivers, Steve Ballmer, and the rest of the Clippers front office is trying to build in Los Angeles. In addition to their proposed new stadium in Inglewood, the Clippers are trying to take over L.A. one big-name at a time. That includes everyone from players to coaches, even ones who won championships as the head honcho.

There’s no doubt that Los Angeles is striving for the Finals this season, and adding a guy like Lue to the bench is yet another reiteration of that fact.

Rumor: Stephen A. Smith is coming to ESPN’s NBA broadcasts

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National NBA broadcasts are about to get a little bit different this upcoming season.

We already got word that Michelle Beadle would not be on NBA Countdown on ESPN for the 2019-20 NBA calendar year. In her place will be Rachel Nichols, a favorite of most thanks to her work on The Jump, and Maria Taylor. And apparently ESPN’s studio show is about to get an analyst boost as well.

According to the big lead, Stephen A. Smith will be added to the analyst panel for ESPN studio show, likely on Wednesday nights. The bombastic First Take host will give his NBA takes either to the delight or dismay of fans nationwide.

Via The Big Lead:

Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.

Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.

People lost their collective minds on Twitter this summer when it was announced that ESPN had given another huge contract to Stephen A. to continue to do… whatever Stephen A. does. Namely, yell and act incredulous in a way so insincere it’s hard to believe anyone is entertained by it, much less could take it at face value.

No doubt Smith will fill the role, aesthetically, that Charles Barkley does for TNT. He’ll talk in big, wild soundbites that get Twitter all riled up, thereby allowing some VP at the network to pitch his superiors about “leverage” and “engagement” from Smith’s appearances.

Good luck to everyone watching the NBA on national TV this year. Maybe locate where the mute button is on your remote now so you know where it is come autumn.

Gordon Hayward says he’s feeling confident in his ankle for next season

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Gordon Hayward still wasn’t particularly good last season. He never really looked all that comfortable playing with the Boston Celtics, and Brad Stevens’ insistence on playing him led to some reported rifts in the Boston locker room.

But Hayward is expected to come back at full strength this year, and it could be just in time for him to shine in light of Kyrie Irving‘s departure to the Brooklyn Nets.

His severely dislocated left ankle is now long behind him, and it appears that Hayward has been putting in the work necessary this summer. Speaking to Mass Live, Hayward said that he is starting to get more confident in his game.

Via Mass Live:

“Reps is what gives you confidence, so being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle’s feeling, or having to be cautious with it, has been really good, especially for my confidence,” Hayward said. “I think last year was a lot of hoping and not really knowing what was going to happen just because I didn’t have the reps… going into a summer training as hard as I want to, it’s a lot better for my confidence this year and expectations-wise as well.”

A healthy Hayward would really change the dynamic of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference this year. Losing Irving is huge, but Boston is going to have a real depth of talent on its hands if it can add Hayward to other wing talent Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart.

It seems cliche to point out at this point, but people have slept on how good Hayward was on both sides of the ball during his time with the Utah Jazz. He’s a complete player at the small forward position when healthy, and bringing back his superstar firepower could ease the pain of losing Irving to Brooklyn.