Getty

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

3 Comments

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.

Report: NBA sets dates for draft (Oct. 15), free agency (Oct. 18), next season (Dec. 1)

Nuggets forward Will Barton
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBA owners have decided to finish the season by holding games between July 31 and Oct. 12.

Now, the surrounding key dates are filling in.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA’s reported tentative plan to open next season on Christmas? It was apparently pretty tentative.

A Dec. 1 start to next season would mean an incredibly short break for teams that advance deep in the playoffs. But the NBA is already spending a lot of time not playing games and making money. There’s an urgency to getting revenue flowing.

There will also be a massive disparity in time off between the eight done teams and continuing teams. Who knows how that will affect next season? This is an unprecedented situation.

Which is a good reminder: Coronavirus can disrupt the best-laid plans.

NBA owners approve 22-team format for resuming season with only Trail Blazers opposing

Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen
Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We already knew many key details of the NBA’s plan for resuming the season:

  • Only the top 22 teams will continue.
  • Games will be held at Disney World in Orlando.
  • Each team will play eight more games (maybe with this schedule).
  • If the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team after those eight games, there will be a play-in series between the eighth- and ninth-place teams. To advance, the ninth-place team must win two games before the eighth-place team wins one.

Now, that plan is one step closer to becoming reality.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

It’s shocking the Trail Blazers, owned by Jody Allen, cast the protest vote. Portland – currently outside playoff position – will resume with a real chance to make the playoffs. What more did the Trail Blazers want?

Players must still approve the plan. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said they wouldn’t necessarily vote on it. Union leadership has worked closely with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, certainly agreeing on the system before having owners vote on it.

However, given the NBPA’s haphazard methods for polling the larger membership, I’m not sure how widespread support is. There is room for significant disagreement on how players – continuing vs. non-continuing – will have their salaries affected.

Still, I expect players approve the plan, maybe tomorrow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Everything is just too far down the road to turn back now. The financial incentives are too high not to keep trying to play. Silver has successfully rallied nearly everyone toward uniting.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Most of the remaining issues are minor details… like codifying a plan for health and safety.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Report: Knicks to interview former Knicks coach Mike Woodson

Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Knicks appear set on both hiring Tom Thibodeau and conducting a coaching search.

Mike Woodson, who coached New York from 2012-2014, will be part of the process.

Ian Begley of SNY:

New York also interviewed Woodson in 2018 before hiring David Fizdale. I understand why the Knicks can’t make up their mind on whether they want him as their coach.

Woodson won 58% of his games with New York, the third-best mark in franchise history (behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy). In 2012-13, Woodson did some really creative things with Carmelo Anthony at power forward and two-point guard lineups.

But by the end of that season, Woodson went away from what worked. His views became increasingly suspect the next season. When the Knicks fired him, it appeared to be time to move one.

Will New York return to Woodson? Probably not. The expectation remains Thibodeau will get this job. But Woodson will at least have an opportunity to make his case for a very-strange return.

When Charles Barkley tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to Auburn

Carolyn Herter/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dirk Nowitzki was not headed to an American college before the NBA. Like most of the best European players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, even going back to Tony Kukoc and others — he was taking a straight trip from his European team to the NBA.

That didn’t stop Charles Barkley from trying to get him to go to Auburn.

It wasn’t meant to be, but Saad Yousuf at the Athletic tells the story of Barkley trying.

The Auburn alum reflected on his first meeting with Nowitzki, in 1997 at a Nike exhibition game in Germany, in which the Big German put on an offensive clinic against a team featuring Barkley, Pippen, Michael Jordan and other NBA talents…

Barkley called Nike and made a strong push to get to Nowitzki through any channel, legal or not. “Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done,” Barkley recalled in 2012. “Just give him anything he wants; he’s got to go to Auburn.”

Barkley didn’t stop there, though. Nowitzki left such an impression on Auburn’s greatest hoops export that Barkley even talked to Cliff Ellis, Auburn’s coach at the time, to encourage the program to make a run at this relatively unknown teenager in Europe.

Ellis notes that in 1997 he couldn’t just jump on YouTube and find clips of a player, there wasn’t much film of European players. Still, the coach was willing to go on Barkley’s word and reached out.

Turns out Kentucky, Stanford and other colleges did as well, but to no avail. Nowitzki went straight into the 1988 NBA Draft, where the Bucks took him ninth overall then executed a draft-night trade sending the big German to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest is Hall of Fame history.

For Barkley, Ellis, and Auburn fans, it’s quite the “what if.” That was a 29-4 Auburn team in 1997-98 that was an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed led by a couple of future NBA players (Mamadou N’Diaye and Chris Porter). Add Nowitzki into that mix and… we will never know. But it could have been glorius.