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:
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.”
The woman who accused Luke Walton of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in 2017 has officially dropped her lawsuit against the NBA coach, TMZ Sports has learned.
Unclear if Walton and Tennant struck a settlement — but it’s not uncommon in situations like this.
We might eventually learn details of a settlement. But with Tennant not cooperating with the NBA investigation and now dropping her lawsuit, Walton will likely get to continue his coaching career without this hanging over him.
It’s often difficult for victims of sexual abuse to prove the crime occurred. Likewise, it’s often difficult for wrongfully accused people to prove their innocence. Tennant’s main allegation occurred in a hotel room with only she and Walton present.
Hopefully, justice prevailed here.
Blake Griffin inadvertently hits referee in face (video)
But Griffin saved his most devastating work for referee Scott Twardoski.
Griffin extended his arm and whacked Twardoski in the face, flooring the official. Play stopped for Twardoski to recover. The replay doesn’t do the contact justice. Twardoski was moving quickly up the floor when he ran straight into Griffin’s hand.
At least it wasn’t as bad as this legendary Carlos Boozer moment:
Out of game, shoeless LeBron James waves towel on court near play (video)
LeBron James wasn’t about that NBA-rulebook life last night.
Not only did he get away with a comically blatant travel, he – ostensibly out of the game – later wandered onto the court during play. He got pretty close to the action, waving his towel in celebration of consecutive Kyle Kuzma blocks.
And LeBron was wearing only socks on his feet. He had already given his shoes away to young fans – with 4:20 left! Sure, the Lakers were up 19 on the Jazz, but that’s a lot of time remaining. What a kind and totally disrespectful gesture, a real do-it-all move.
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Lakers make a defensive statement in back-to-back road wins in Denver, Utah. After winning 10 games in a row against the softest part of their schedule, the calendar flipping to December was supposed to start a real test for the Lakers. No more playing hard for 24 minutes and getting a victory, no more sloppy quarters leading to a comeback win — the Dallas Mavericks made that clear on Sunday.
Los Angeles answered that with back-to-back road wins where their defense — led by Anthony Davis — shut down the Nuggets and Jazz. Through the two games, the Lakers allowed less than a point per possession (96.5 defensive net rating total), including holding Donovan Mitchell and Utah to 96 points (and a 97 net rating) on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz shot just 41 percent as a team for the game.
Mitchell, who has played at an All-Star level this season, scored 29 but on 11-of-24 shooting — the Laker defense made him work for his buckets. (Bojan Bogdanovic had another strong game for the Jazz with six threes, he has been the Utah summer signing that has worked out well.)
Los Angeles led struggling Utah by 18 at the half and cruised to a 121-96 win. In what looked like a scheduled loss before the season — the second night of a back-to-back at altitude against a good team — never felt in doubt as Davis had 26 points and LeBron James 20 and 12 assists.
The only drama was that LeBron got away with a blatant and hilarious travel and double dribble in the first quarter, one the officials somehow missed.
“It was the worst thing, probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my career,” James said after the game… “I didn’t realize I did it until halftime. One of my coaches showed me.”
Coming into the season there were questions about how good the Lakers’ defense was going to be, with coach Frank Vogel wanting to play two bigs and more of a drop-back style of defense. That’s the style Vogel used with success back in Indiana (with peak Roy Hibbert protecting the paint) and has become in vogue again in the NBA. That includes in Utah, where Rudy Gobert has won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards because he owns the paint but also because of his length and mobility tp contest and cause problems out on the perimeter.
Davis has done exactly that for the Lakers this season.
It was most evident late in the game against Denver Tuesday. On one fourth quarter play big man Nikola Jokic tried to back down Davis, put on a move and score in the post and AD just stuff blocked him. A couple of possessions later, Davis got switched onto quick guard Jamal Murray on consecutive plays and forced him into a couple of bad shots that missed.
Stretches like that are the reason the Lakers’ have the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA this season — and it is their defense that has them looking like legit title contenders. Davis is at the heart of it, although both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have used their mobility to be surprisingly good defenders who can contest at the arc and get back to protect the rim.
Davis’ performance has the Lakers already campaigning for him to win Defensive Player of the Year (and some in the Lakers’ media core seem eager to promote that idea). We’re just a quarter of the way into the season, and this award is one that has to be earned over a much longer stretch of ground. There are no actual frontrunners yet, and players like Gobert, the Bucks’ Greek Freak, and Boston’s Marcus Smart — among others — will be in the middle of any conversation down the line.
But make no mistake, the Lakers defense and Davis are for real. They made a statement about that the past couple of nights — and showed why their defense could carry them to a parade in June.
Any drama came in the third quarter when Antetokounmpo tried to back down Griffin on the left block, Detroits Bruce Brown came over to double and fouled the Greek Freak, who fell to the floor. Then Griffin stepped over him.
Khris Middleton ran over to get in Griffin’s face about the disrespect and then… well, a lot of words were exchanged. Nothing else. The officials reviewed the play, and both Brown and Middleton ended up getting technical fouls.
That’s the most drama there was in Detroit Wednesday. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points and the Bucks won by 24, extending their win streak to 13.
3) Houston “leaning toward” protesting loss to Spurs over missed James Harden dunk call.That will fail, too. Let’s start with the obvious: The referees missed the call on James Harden’s fourth-quarter dunk against the Spurs Tuesday night. The basket should have counted, and after the game the officials admitted they missed the call.
First things first: The idea put forward that the league would step in and overturn the game outcome and just hand the Rockets a win was — to use the word of some around the league (not directly involved in the case) — “absurd.” The league would never do that. Let us never speak of that idiocy again.
The Rockets’ protest — if they actually file it — is a longshot. The bar is incredibly high. A successful protest requires proof of a misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Meaning, just saying the crew got the call wrong is not enough. Houston’s protest would hinge on the idea that coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t given a fair chance to protest the call because of how the referee crew handled the situation. The lead official said after the game D’Antoni didn’t call for a coach’s challenge within 30 seconds, as the rule demands, so there could be no challenge to the call.
Problem w/ officials contention last night that Rockets could not challenge because missed their 30-sec window is that after about 5 seconds, officials met w/ each other. Might have provided additional time but replay cut away so I could not watch, time that. NBA surely will.
The Rockets have a point here. We can be honest and say the referee crew should have handled this better.
However, remember the bar for a protest is the misapplication of a rule that seriously inhibited Houston’s chance to win a game. Back in 2008, the league ordered the Hawks and Heat to replay the final 51.9 seconds of a game because the scorer’s table incorrectly said Shaq had fouled out of the game and forced him to sit when in reality he had just five fouls. That scorers’ table error could have changed the end of a game. In the Rockets case, the referees missed a call but proving the referees misapplied the challenge rule and that’s why the Rockets lost (in a game with nearly 8 minutes left) is a tough sell.
We’ll see if Houston goes through and files this, or if all the bluster is just a PR move to keep an angry Harden happy and show they have his back.