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Fred VanVleet’s Game 6 encapsulates depth of Raptors in NBA Finals

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Fred VanVleet outscored Stephen Curry in the closing game of an NBA Finals series. Let that sink in for a moment.

Curry, the face of the Golden State Warriors franchise and an internationally renowned 2-time MVP was out-dueled by an undrafted guard from Wichita State. This is a man who went on a tear in Game 4 after getting almost no sleep the night before thanks to the birth of his son. He was unpredictable, but resilient. VanVleet was exactly what Toronto needed.

VanVleet scored 22 points, going 5-of-11 from 3-point range on Thursday night as the Toronto Raptors beat the Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. VanVleet stepped up when Toronto needed him most, hitting clutch buckets including a 26-foot step back 3-pointer with 3:46 to go and the game tied, 101-101.

The Raptors never trailed again after that bucket, and VanVleet’s shot was an encapsulation example of why Toronto was able to stop the Warriors dynasty in its tracks. In each game in this series, it was the effort of lesser publicized players in — addition to Kawhi Leonard — that helped them beat Curry and his band of All-Stars. It was the perfect ending to a fairy tale season for Toronto.

A month ago, the Raptors were down by a margin of 2-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard was the only player performing up to the task, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and his No. 1-seeded Bucks looked like they were headed to the NBA Finals to take on the Warriors.

But Nick Nurse got the rest of his team in shape, and the supporting cast in Ontario finally started firing on all cylinders. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and VanVleet all started having big games. Just about everyone worked themselves out of their funk save for Danny Green.

These Finals were more than about one player. It was about Leonard being the Finals MVP, yes. But the Raptors adapted to Golden State’s defensive plan by finding a way for a new player to contribute more than his value on paper each and every night.

In Game 1 it was Siakam going for 32 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.

In Game 3 it was about Green finally coming alive, scoring 18 points, all on 3-pointers.

In Game 5 it was about Serge Ibaka scoring 20 points in 22 minutes, going 9-of-12 from the field.

In this way, VanVleet’s performance on Thursday night fits perfectly into the story of the NBA Finals for the Raptors.

Leonard solidified himself as one of the best players on the planet, and perhaps reframed how we feel about his debacle with the San Antonio Spurs last season. But with VanVleet coming out hot and shooting well from beyond the arc — really from a Game 3 on — he added detail and texture to the narrative of one of the most interesting championship runs in recent NBA memory.

On Thursday, it took a team in the truest sense to beat a superteam, and that’s exactly what happened. The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA Champions thanks in no small part to Fred VanVleet.

Watch Trae Young drop 31 at Drew League, lose to Montrezl Harrell who has 46

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The Drew League in Los Angeles is one of the premiere — for my money the best — summer pro-am basketball league in America. There is some serious talent getting run on that court.

But drop in NBA talent and it’s another level.

That’s what happened Saturday in Los Angeles. Atlanta’s Trae Young showed up, went head-to-head with the reigning Drew League MVP Frank “Nitty” Session (who has embarrassed guys like Denzel Valentine in Drew games), and dropped 31.

But Young’s team lost because Clippers’ stud  Montrezl Harrell dropped 46.

You can see the highlights above thanks to BallisLife.

 

Manny Pacquiao says he has thought about buying part of NBA team when he retires

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At age 40, Manny Pacquiao is not retiring. Even if you and some boxing pundits think he should. Tonight (Saturday) he fights Keith Thurman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and is expected to pull down about a cool $26 million for his trouble. If you’re getting paid like that, why retire exactly? He has said he wants to fight another five years or so.

After that, he’d like to buy part of an NBA team.

That’s what he told TMZ in a pre-fight interview.

He said he has thought about buying a piece of an NBA team after he retires. Pacquiao, a basketball nut who uses the sport as part of his training, owns an entire semi-pro league — the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League — in the Philippines (one of the most basketball-crazy nations on earth). Pacquiao said he thinks his experience with that league would help him as an NBA owner, that some of the skills will translate, which is likely true. Pacquiao said it’s about finding the right opportunity.

Forbes estimates that Pacquiao will have earned, after Saturday’s fight, more than $500 million in his career. Various websites estimate his net worth in the $200 million range. He’s got the money to jump in as a part owner.

In an NBA that loves personalities and characters — and one always trying to gain more traction in Asian markets — don’t be shocked if this happens someday.

Once Pacquiao retires.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.