The Vegas NBA Summer League got off to an electric start in its first weekend with top 3 picks Lonzo Ball and Jason Tatum facing off. The result was the first advance sellout of about 18,000 in the history of the Vegas Summer League, the majority of fans there to see the start of Lonzo Ball’s MVP summer league performance.
While Lonzo may have stolen the show over the 11-day event, a number of Canadians suited up for various teams with far less hype and the common goal of parlaying a good showing into a training camp invite. The one exception to that group was Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies 2nd round pick. Frequently referred to as a “tweener” during his college years, his athleticism stood out in Vegas and was rewarded with a three-year rookie contract. Brooks’ defence though is one area that will need to be improved in order to receive meaningful minutes in the NBA. The opportunistic Brooks averaged 1.5 steals per game in addition to his 12.2 points in Vegas, but on at least a couple of occasions he gambled for steals late in close games where the unsuccessful attempts resulted in open shots.
The surprise among the group was Naz Mitrou-Long. Seemingly buried behind lottery pick De’Aaron Fox and last year’s winner of the NCAA’s most outstanding player award, Frank Mason, Mitrou-Long caught a break with Mason getting hurt and Fox resting. Although he was rarely the primary ball handler in his college days, Naz didn’t look out of place
and seemed to improve with each opportunity.
Although his team was knocked out of the tournament by a Dallas team featuring tested NBA talent and lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr, Naz held his own with the likes of Yogi Ferrell and Nicolas Brussino who shot a combined 0-14. Over his 4 games, he averaged a respectable 9.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2 assists. At the very least, the undrafted guard went from off the radar among NBA candidates to one who will at least get further chances if not at a training camp this fall.
Kevin Pangos was back for a third chance in summer league. He has shown great progress since his first chance in 2015 left even his dad, former York Lions women’s basketball coach Bill Pangos, disappointed with his play. Pangos came out of the gate very strong, in contests that went down to the end with Memphis and Miami. Against the Grizzlies, Kevin tied thegame with 19 seconds left in a well-rounded performance that included 8 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds and largely outshined Memphis’ NBA-experienced point guard Wade Baldwin. Although his numbers weren’t as impressive against the Heat, he was again a key figure down the stretch with 3 rebounds in the last 3+ minutes. His seven turnovers in
the game can be in part credited though to the lack of familiarity within the team.
While Mitrou-Long had the benefit of playing with the Kings young frontcourt of Labissiere and Papagiannis that received rather significant minutes late last season, Pangos played with a roster largely of journeymen and fringe prospects yet to crack an NBA rotation. After his solid performance, Pangos received praise from Washington’s senior VP of basketball ops Tommy Sheppard who said that he “expects him to be in the NBA, if not next season, soon”.
Other Canadians to suit up in the Vegas summer league included Spurs property Olivier Hanlan, Mychael Mulder for the Raptors, Kyle Wiltjer for the Clippers (acquired in the Chris Paul deal), Dylan Ennis and Brady Heslip.
Ennis had the “heat check” game of the tournament, connecting on 8-of-11 3-pointers (which was a Vegas league record) among his 35 points against the Clippers. His 20 points in the second quarter was one short of his entire output for the five games prior with the Warriors.
Wiltjer on the other hand received rather limited minutes throughout and was waived soon after. Mulder looked very tentative in his (very) limited minutes. Hanlan was solid in Pangos-like fashion and still has his rights held by the Spurs. Heslip had little opportunity to show that he’s more than a 3-point shooter with the Bulls summer league team.
All in all, while this group likely has no future NBA stars among them it is yet more proof that Canada has an abundance of depth for future international tournaments, especially at the guard position unlike in past years. The experience these players continue to gain at events like this will only help their case when they are considered for spots with the Canadian national team.
Welcome to the Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park
“In Jurassic Park, Raptor fans wait until after dark. Even if the cold might eat them!”
Fans find a way.
An ace serve or two away from being as legendary as Wimbledon’s ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ outside the Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors Maple Leaf Square’s “Jurassic Park” may just be the ticket for this sold out crowd.
Raptor Klaw, Kawhi Leonard ruled the earth last night. He and the T-Dot at the final tick beat the Sixers in The Six, as his shot bobbled like a beach ball on the surface of a swimming pool before making the biggest splash of these postseason playoffs. Taking longer to fall than Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top in ‘Inception’. But this was no dream.
And if you thought the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto erupted last night, then outside in Maple Leaf Square it was like the volcanoes that killed the dinosaurs after that big ball dropped. An Armageddon even Bruce Willis couldn’t save like he wish he could his career.
Welcome to Jurassic World.
With all due respect to the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin, or pick your poison whoever is your flash card pick of the bench mob pack, but the Jurassic Park crowd fenced in outside of Scotia is the teams spiritual sixth man, spark plug. As electric as the paddock like perimeter fence surrounding them feels with this buzz over basketball (and national sport hockey come Leaf picking season), this crowd can’t be contained.
Forget rain or shine. You see the slickers. These faithful fans will pitch a spot waiting for game time like the ball to drop in Times Square for New Year in New York, sleeping bag lining up all day in their hordes huddled for warmth. These beautiful fans will brave the harshest, most frigid temperatures to be the coldest fans in the game in more ways than one. Part of the ‘We The North’ community in the 6 that the Basketball God’s look down on with pride, whilst other armchair fans watch this game for the throne from home. Or leave early like those suit and tie corporate seats trying to catch that last red eye Matt Bonner home.
Can you imagine of they called game early before Kawhi last night?
I could imagine Drake taking in the CN Tower looking up views of the Jurassic though, like it was all the basketball God’s plan.
Well those in the park for recreation stayed until the beautiful end to a game Butler almost delivered bitter. And you could could phantom cam see every emotion in slow motion last night as Leonard’s buzzer beating ball toyed with the rim like three dots on messenger, or Damien Lillard even further downtown in Oklahoma City.
This is the spirit of the stadium and the soul of the squad, expanding the capacity arena and the Canadian ballclubs worldwide fanbase watching on their own Jumbotrons.
And the Toronto Raptors are going to need all the north they can get if they’re going to stop the Bucks in Milwaukee.
But this club has the claws to do it. And if you don’t think they can win in Wisconsin on their own road to being the first franchise outside of the United States to be NBA finalists and who knows what next against the Warriors(?), then just watch this Canadian cornerstone from the Jurassic era.
Extinct in six? Nah! Get ready to hear the North roar.
A tale of two magnificent game sevens
As the Klaw was falling out of bounds as the buzzer blared and blazed red, the Spalding hit the rim and bounced back up. Kawhi Leonard, crouched at the baseline like Tiger Woods mastering Augusta, with his M.J. clutch tongue out and that thousand yard stare for a picture that was about to say that many words just watched. The ball hit the rim again as super sub Jordan Lloyd in street clothes with his arm around Kawhi excitedly watched in anticipation at all this air time that seemed to last longer than Winters in The Six. It looked like Summer in this city would drop before this simmering ball. It hit the rim again. To Leonard’s left Philly Sixer, Joel Embiid, almost smiling watched all this process with Game 7 and the Eastern Conference semi-finalists and who will play the Bucks in the final on the line like this ball in the seconds after time expired. It hit the rim again.
And again and again…
…and then it dropped.
Sunday was such a fun day for sports fans. In the same 24 hours where the Premiership came down to the last game as the valiant reds of Liverpool lost the race to the champion Manchester City by two points (sound familiar?) in the afternoon, the NBA had one hell of a double header to close out God’s day which is usually a lazy one with a blessed gift from the hoop heavens.
Two game sevens in one night? This must be fantasy Basketball.
But it all came down to this.
First up the Pepsi Center in Nevada cracked open the last game between the two wild cards come good of the host Denver Nuggets looking to stone-cut their way to success and the visiting Portland looking to blaze a trail out of Rip City, following their first round downpour from way downtown against the OKC Thunder. But in the first half it looked like the Dame Time watch of Lillard had stopped as this team down by as many as 17 looked as cold as that teenage age. It looked like The Joker Jokic with 29 and 13 and his golden Nuggets held all the cards.
That was until the second half turned into C.J. time.
That’s when the other half of the best backcourt in the league (sorry Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards. Get well soon John Wall. Show us what you still got next season) came alive in the crunch time like snap, crackle and pop. CJ McCollum definitely finished his breakfast on Sunday morning as he had an extra bowl this afternoon and finished with 37 points. Stopping on a dime and turning into a mid-range killer as his previously burnt our Blazers got that fire back and a 100-96 close victory in a to the wire and free throw line conclusion like chess tense. All checked for their first trip to the Wild West finals since the year 2000. The time Bonzi and the boys met Shaq and Kobe and that infamous, iconic alley-oop with arms up and mouths open.
But this time they will meet another dynasty champion…the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Durant. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green and Steph Curry with the shot. One more before the Silicon Valley of San Francisco.
“Kick them off he court again boy”!
But that wasn’t the only thriller this night as we in the north were treated to more hardwood
In the end after two tales of epic four quarters there was no time for overtimes. As this 92-90 game came down to the closing clutch and two free agents to be who didn’t know whether they would be playing on Wednesday in Milwaukee, or fishing back home. Let alone what jerseys they’d be wearing next season, come Summer. Jimmy Butler thought he had it with a hard fought lay-up as did a jumping and clapping Embiid in premature celebration. But then the usual calm and composed assassin of Kawhi Leonard with 41 looked to claw away at all that, as he emphatically ran to the corner of downtown like your first night out of youth and launched what would have been a Hail Mary prayer if you didn’t believe just how brilliant this guy is. Craning the gooseneck and then watched as another Toronto Star took that renaissance painting iconic photo.
And judging from the usual calm and composed Kawhi’s screaming reaction as what looked like the whole of Toronto hug mobbed him you can guess the outcome with an electric Jurassic Park as wild as real raptors alive outside that no perimeter fence could contain. Forget the next few months and whether he will trade this cold front and touch of frost for a sunny day in L.A., right now Leonard has a real chance of making hoops history as Canada could well become the first franchise outside of the United States to become National Basketball Association champions. And those ready for that laughing GIF in response that was a lifetime ago. Look at his face last night. Whose laughing now? They said he’d never leave San Antonio and looked what happened there. The opposite could here.
But with both games done and dusted, taking it to the brackets the most impressive thing on both fronts yesterday was the professionalism. Whether it be the respect and heart emoji exchange between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers on Twitter. Or Marc Gasol consoling and embracing an emotional and tearful Joel Embiid (absolutely heartbreaking and healing to watch) postgame in Toronto and undoubtedly telling him how much of a warrior he is. In a time where fans troll, reduce and erase superstars and teams into memes as soon as they are eliminated (James Harden? The MVP? Really? Like we could do better against the Dubs…or anyone) it’s real and refreshing.
And that is why we play…and watch.