Much like the Warriors who have plenty of firepower and star-studded names, so do the Raptors. With 11 NBA All-Star appearances between three of their headlining attractions, it shouldn’t be a difficult task to identify who could rise up as the hero on a nightly basis. But just as the Warriors looked to the likes of Alfonzo McKinnie and Kevon Looney to propel them to the NBA Finals, Toronto also looked someone else’s way (other than the more familiar choices) to help them inch that much closer to a Finals appearance of their own.
It was none other than Fred VanVleet who helped spark a win on Thursday that gave his team a 3-2 Eastern Conference Finals lead, one win away from a date with destiny and a formidable end-of-season matchup with Golden State. The floor general’s 21-point offensive outpouring was a historic one, as he became the first player in Toronto Raptors franchise history to convert on seven shots from downtown off the bench in a playoff game.
#GLeagueAlum @FredVanVleet (7/9 3PM) becomes the FIRST player in @Raptors postseason history to hit 7 triples off the bench in a #NBAPlayoffs game! @GoShockers ↗️ @Raptors905 ↗️ @Raptors pic.twitter.com/8MuxYOWWmi
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) May 24, 2019
What do the clutch performances of McKinnie, Looney, and VanVleet have in common? They all stayed ripe and ready for their eventual time to shine, seeing action in the NBA G League in seasons prior.
While the Raptors are running and gunning toward an oh-so-coveted first championship, VanVleet is merely hungry for more, having already won a minor league title in 2017. He averaged 22 points and 11 assists in the NBA G League Finals, after logging 16.9 points and 7.6 assists per game through sixteen regular season contests.
Will VanVleet be raising another championship trophy in the near future? That remains to be seen, as the team still needs to reach the promise land of the NBA Finals first. That said, it’s worth noting that after leading two different NBA G League teams to title victories, head coach Nick Nurse values how playing in the minor league can help sharpen someone’s skills, and understands how that success could very well translate on the next level. This has proven to be the case for VanVleet, who has steadily risen to become a hero on various stages. He led Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013, the Raptors 905 to a title in 2017, and has helped get Toronto within one win of the NBA Finals.
If any of his previous stints can be considered foreshadowing, Coach Nurse likely won’t hesitate to call upon his fellow alum again soon enough.