Kawhi Leonard: 2019 NBA Champion & Finals MVP

Kawhi wins NBA Championship with Toronto

His hands are raised Heavenward, his eyes looking upward, his heart and soul certainly looking onward, all the while celebrating the moment inward,  Kawhi can now say “mission accomplished!”  How spiritual is that? Kawhi is the example of how we should be; our hands lifted up and our mouths filled with praise, celebrating the Victory.

Kawhi came to Toronto for one reason and one reason only — to win an NBA Title.  Done.    

Kawhi crushed and killed every living opponent that came a calling by playing lights out night in and night out. At times he played like a rabid wild animal, demanding the ball from friends and commanding the attention of his enemies. Most times he played consistently excellent and masterfully brilliant, dicing and slicing his way to nightly double doubles from game to game and from series to series as he led his new team to the NBA’s promised land.

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the last Game at Oracle Arena, sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada’s first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

Kawhi Leonard, who posted 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Finals MVP for the second time in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win that award while representing multiple teams. The all-star forward, who sealed the title with three free throws in a surreal closing second, previously won in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to the Raptors last summer

Now, Kawhi can demand whatever he wants from whomever he wants. And now he’s got his newly stocked resume to back up every commanded penny. From his four bounce buzzer beater against the Sixers to win Game 7 of that series to overcoming and overpowering and overtaking Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals to outperforming and overwhelmingly whupping the defending champs, Kawhi and the Raptors earned every bit of this championship. Every bit.

On the other hand, we must mention and acknowledge the wounded Warriors. The hobbled and humbled defending champions fought like cornered canines but in the end it wasn’t enough.  In the end, anything and everything the Warriors did or even tried to do wasn’t enough. Even the injured Klay Thompson running back out of the tunnel onto the playing floor to shoot his two free throws wasn’t enough.  The weary and well-worn Warriors were well on their way to defeat long before Klay went down,  for the SECOND time. Physically dent and emotionally spent, the W’s were tired and they were beat long before the final buzzer sounded. Curry was not himself and the team was reduced to a shell of their former championship form. But fight they did.

Here’s how ESPN Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne put it:

“This season has been a war of attrition and attention for the Warriors. At times, the team seemed to be dragging itself along — too talented and proud to surrender, but too tired and injured to mount the kind of fight it has become known for.  Five straight years of breathing the same air with the same group of human beings can wear on the most gentle soul. Five years of doing that under the spotlight that accompanies being the best team in the NBA is when pipes start bursting.”

But surely we digress. This is Kawhi’s time. This is Kawhi’s moment. So Congrats to the Raptors who ripped Kawhi from San Antonio. Congrats to first year Coach Nick Nurse who came from out of nowhere to do what previous and banished head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t do. Speaking of Coach Nick Nurse, what about him? He’s got a feel good, upsets, comebacks and turnarounds story all of his own as well.

“Coach Nick Nurse’s team Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.

‘He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.” Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in ‘00, then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.

The second G League crown got Nurse noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.” And the rest is history.

Finally, congratulations to this Raptors team that made it work. Kawhi’s teammates, from Pascal Siakam in Game 1 and certainly to Kyle Lowry Game 6 — with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet and Marc Gasol mixed in between — they all pitched in. And whenever they would and wherever they could, each did their part, and it amounted to a total team win.

So always remember, it’s “Team, team, team;” that’s what it always takes to pull off a quantum victory  like this.


Oh Cananda!

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

The Heart of a Champion: Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors Show Doggedness Without Durant

Steph Curry Scores 33 in 2nd Half
Steph Curry Scores 33 2nd half points after going scoreless for the first two quarters in an epic win over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semi-finals May 10, 2019

The Golden State Warriors just did it again. They beat the Houston Rockets to advance to the Western Conference Finals — again. That’s four times in the past five years. James Harden, Chris Paul, Coach D’Antoni and the rest of the Rockets did everything they possibly could to stop Steph and Klay and Igoudala, but all to no avail. The Warriors willed their way to a win on the road, in a hostile environment without their leading scorer (and best player) Kevin Durant.

It was a beauty to behold. It was improbable and next to impossible. But they did it, and they did it in incredible fashion. It took them everything they had, and just about every player they had as they employed their diversity. And Steph Cury had to overcome in game adversity as well. Steph, held to zero points in the first half, broke out for 33 points in the second frame and ripped the Rockets on their home court. Steph scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and 16 in the final five minutes. And it is worth noting that the ENTIRE Rockets team scored 16 points in the final five minutes of the game. Incredible.

Klay Thompson, the other half of the Warriors backcourt, was terrific throughout, finishing with 27 points while shooting 7-of-13 from 3-point range — including one that essentially sealed the win in the final minute. The Splash Brothers came through when it mattered most.

For their part, Houston was supposed to win at home, especially since Durant was injured and wasn’t even in the state of Texas for the game. Yet the Rockets state of play showed just how wounded they are. Yes they played hard, but it wasn’t enough. Yes they went toe to toe for three quarters, but they fell short, again. And yes they wanted to win, but why did they not have the will to win?

And that’s the difference between the Rockets and the Warriors, and between victims and victors and between chumps and champions. No offence to James Harden and Chris Paul; they are great future Hall of Fame players, but they lack the grit and the gumption to pull off and pull out a win when defeat is taunting them and they are face to face with the fear of failure.

The difference between these two groups is will. Will has power; that’s why we call it willpower. Dogged determination will move mountains and stops the mouths of lions. It speaks peace to the tempestuous storm, and settles the raging seas. It rebuilds ruined cities and restores the joy of our salvation. Will is akin to faith, and faith must be spoken, without hesitation or reservation.

Will is determination, and determination must be rooted in resolve. And nothing can uproot or dislodge or destroy a man or woman with a made up mind that knows they are destined to destroy the works of the devil. No hint of doubt or trace of fear should be found in a man or woman of destiny. The task may seem improbable or even be said to be impossible. But don’t delay or postpone or suspend your decision to believe God.

Say with me: “I will believe that what God has promised, He is able also to perform.”

Thou Shalt Console Thy Brother

alshon jeffrey drop

Alshon Jeffrey did not lose the game. His dropped pass near the 20 yard line in the waning moments of the Divisional Playoff game against New Orleans in the Super Dome certainly would have put the defending Super Bowl champions in position to score the winning touchdown, but it just didn’t happen this time.  Primed for another miraculous comeback victory, Nick Foles drove the Philadelphia Eagles into scoring range down just six points to the No. 1 seed Saints ahead of the two-minute warning.

Then, zap. The magic was gone. We all hoped that Saint Nick had one more trick up his sleeve and we all believed that he could pull just one more rabbit out of his hat, but his pass, which was right on target, was dropped by the Eagles best receiver.  “Foles zipped a pass to his top receiver, Alshon Jeffery. The ball slipped through the wideout’s hands and landed in the gut of Saints corner Marshon Lattimore. Drop. INT. Comeback bid evaporated.

The interception epitomized the Eagles’ offensive struggles the final 45 minutes of the 20-14 loss to the Saints. And Jeffrey felt like he had blown the game all by himself.

“I let my teammates down. I let the city of Philadelphia down. That’s on me. We’ll be back next year for sure,” Jeffery said in the locker room. “One play don’t define me. I mean, all of the greats, they have missed game-winning shots. … So it happens. It’s part of football. I just hated the way it happened in the playoffs and it was the final moment.”

It’s hard. I mean, it’s really hard because he’s so down,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson told reporters of his message to Jeffery. “But for me, it’s about staying positive. Listen, he’s made many, many big catches for us this season and he will continue to do that. He’s just got to keep his head up. Don’t let one play define you. It’s not who he is. He’s too good of a player. He’ll embrace it obviously and he’ll be better for it, but I told him to keep his head up and keep playing.”

The Eagles started the game scorching hot scoring back-to-back 75-plus-yard touchdown drives to open the game with a 14-0 lead to stun the Superdome fans. The Eagles gobbled up 151 yards and eight first downs in the opening quarter.

But then the momentum shifted and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints scored 20 unanswered points to overcome their biggest deficit ever in post season play. There were a lot of plays between the first quarter and the fourth quarter that got away from Eagles, and that’s why Alshon shouldn’t shoulder the weight of this loss on his own.

But back to the play that said it all for the Eagles. Nick didn’t play all that well, and the defense, while holding Brees to 20 points, gave up too many big plays.  And Alshon Jeffrey did not lose the game. No he did not. The moral of the story is this: “one play and one day does not define you.” No it does not. And those of us who understand life and living know that a legacy is not built or destroyed in a day. Your legacy is built on the test of your character over time.

Keep your chin up. Hold you head high, and be an encouragement to someone who may have failed today but has the promise of destiny tomorrow.  Because failures are not final, and God has a plan for you, and he plans on using the good and the bad, the happy and the sad of your life to make you better.

So always remember, after a tough loss, the first commandment with promise is “thou shalt encourage thy brother.”

Note to Jason Garret: Go For It!

Jason Garrett Jason Garret, the current (emphasis on “current”) coach of the Dallas Cowboys, decided to punt the ball back to the Texans in OT instead of going for it on 4th and 1. Seriously.  And it cost his team the game.  The lesson is crystal clear: there are times to play it safe and there are times to take a chance, or a risk, or more pointedly, a leap of faith.   The only problem is, you need to know in your knower which time is the right time, and which time is the wrong time, to go for it. But you absolutely have to know.

Winning is all about faith. It’s about believing in yourself and in your teammates and having the courage to move forward when the odds are against you.  To get touchdowns you first need to get first downs, and Dallas failed on both counts last night against the Texans. And it was a bad decision by the coach that lead to the latest Dallas debacle.  

Here’s how one sports writer put it:

“I’m going to say something that folks who cover the NFL haven’t have reason to say in a long time — Jerry Jones was right.

In overtime of Sunday night’s loss to the Texans, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett opted to punt on fourth-and-1 from Houston’s 42-yard line on the first possession of the extra frame. That needlessly cautious decision gave Houston the ball back, and they drove 72 yards down the field to kick the game-winning goal.

After the game, Jones called out his coach. ‘We were being outplayed. It’s time for risks at that particular time.’

He’s right.” Jerry Jones, for once, was absolutely right. This time. https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2018/10/8/17950526/cowboys-texans-fourth-down-punt-overtime-jerry-jones-criticism-jason-garrett-hot-seat

So let’s learn the lesson; when everything is on the line, don’t play it safe . . . GO FOR IT!

Who Dat? Drew Brees Makes History as the Perfect Professional QB

Drew Brees Sets Record
October 8, 2018: Drew Brees Sets All Time NFL Passing Record at 71, 968,

 Drew Brees just made history. Drew Brees just set a new NFL passing record. Tonight on Monday Night Football, Brees surpassed Peyton Manning to become the all-time passing leader in NFL history.  He threw to eight different receivers and amassed 250 in one half of football to set the new record. And he threw to a wide open Tre’Quan Smith for 62 yards to go over the top with 71,968 yards passing . . .  and counting. You go boy!

So here’s to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, and to all of those faithful Saints fans screaming and hollering and chanting “Who Dat” at the Super Dome. We’re all so happy for Drew, as is the rest of the watching football world. He’s worked so hard and he deserves so much; he’s won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009, he’s a perennial Pro Bowler, and he’s on his way to Canton Ohio (the Hall of Fame), certainly on the first ballot.  Brees is absolutely deserving of all the accolades we can heap upon him, because he’s the perfect professional.  

So how about you? Are you watching history or making history?  In other words, are you a professional or an amature?  Do you bring your “A” game every game, night in and night out, or do you make excuses or point fingers or take plays off during your contract year because you don’t want to hurt your chances of getting a max contract? 

Let’s take a page from Drew Brees’ playbook: play hard, play smart, and play to win, every game.  Above all, love your family, and put them first.  These are the traits of a true champion and a perfect professional.  Oh, and one more thing – don’t chase records – let the records chase you.

Aaron Rodgers Does It Again!

Aaron Rodgers. No. 12
Aaron Rodgers Leads Epic Comeback Against the Chicago Bears, 24-23, On Sunday Night, September 9, 2018

Aaron Rodgers did it again. 

That’s right folks, Aaron Rodgers, the king of comebacks, pulled off yet another one on national TV against the Packer’s bitter rival, the Chicago Bears.  No one thought he had it in ’em. No one thought it could happen. No one, except Aaron Rodgers.

Which leads us directly to our point.   You can make it! You can absolutely comeback from way back and win, even with a bum knee. It doesn’t matter how banged up or beat up you are, you can overcome any and every obstacle to reach the top.  But you must have faith. You must have hope. And you must believe that all things are possible to him that believeth. Doubt and fear are like oil and water; the just don’t mix. So when you’re feeling low and have nowhere to go, when your friends are few, and the finish fades from view, always remember Aaron Rodgers. He did it. Rodgers came from behind, AGAIN! And you can too.

Here’s how one sports writer put it:

“Aaron Rodgers can beat the Bears in the regular season. Aaron Rodgers can beat the Bears in the playoffs. And, as Sunday night proved, he can beat the Bears on one leg.

Rodgers rallied the Packers from a 20-0 second-half deficit less than an hour after being carted to the Lambeau Field locker room with an apparent knee injury. The two-time NFL MVP willed his team back from the dead, throwing three touchdown passes despite not being able to put much weight on his left leg in a 24-23 victory that will stand as one of the most memorable moments of his football career.

But for Chicago, it was just more of the same. Sunday’s win marked the sixth time Rodgers had engineered either a fourth-quarter comeback or a game-winning drive against the Bears. It was a familiar feeling 250 miles northeast of the Windy City, too. Rodgers has come back to beat the Detroit Lions an additional five times. Some of these epic comebacks have been for playoff spots. Others meant nothing more than pride. One doomed Detroit to the dumbest possible season.

So where does last night’s win rank on the scale of Rodgers comebacks against NFC North rivals (he’s 12-7 against the Vikings as a starter but none of those wins featured a game-winning fourth quarter drive)? It’s near the top with room to grow based on how the Packers play after Week 1.”  https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2018/9/11/17841522/aaron-rodgers-comeback-wins-bears-lions-ranking