OAKLAND, Calif. — A two-time NBA most valuable player was full of praise for an undrafted point guard at the conclusion of the NBA Finals.
Leave it to Stephen Curry to sum up what Fred VanVleet means to the Toronto Raptors.
"He's a gamer," the Golden State Warriors star said after VanVleet's clutch performance in the Raptors' championship-clinching 114-110 win in Game 6 on Thursday night.
"He hit some big shots. Not just in the face of pressure, he hit a lot of daggers (and) never seemed to panic when the ball was in his hands. And even tonight he hit like three of them that kept the momentum on their side. So obviously saw a lot of bodies on defence, but he was one that took the challenge.
"And obviously he's a champion now. So, well deserved."
VanVleet's 22-point performance in Game 6 — highlighted by a trio of clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter — capped an unforgettable post-season. After a huge downturn in his play in the second round (he hit just three shots from the field in seven games against the Philadelphia 76ers), VanVleet experienced true joy on and off the court.
After his son Fred Jr., was born on May 20 (in between games during the Eastern Conference final), VanVleet elevated his game in a big way — though he has been playing down that angle regularly.
When asked if his son was MVP of the playoffs, VanVleet said, "If that's what you want, man, write whatever story you want. I don't even give a damn. Just unbelievably blessed. Obviously I take family very seriously and hold it dear to my heart, so it came at a great time. And there's a lot of other things that go into that."
Playing with a bandage under his eye after getting stitches when he took a hard elbow that also knocked out part of a tooth in Game 4 of the Finals, VanVleet nailed a three that put Toronto ahead for good — 104-101 — with 3:46 left on Thursday.
VanVleet also delivered a hard-nosed defensive effort, spending much of his time guarding Curry, who was held to 21 points on six-of-17 shooting.
Long after the final buzzer had sounded, VanVleet was at the podium for his news conference when Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry decided to take on a new role.
Lowry took a seat beside reporters and asked for the microphone.
"Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors," Lowry said, identifying his workplace like all the reporters do. "Fred, how does it feel to be a world champion?"
"Um, it's unbelievable, man," the 25-year-old native of Rockford, Ill., replied.
"It's unbelievable to have guys like Kyle Lowry on your team who step up and go for 15 in the first quarter. But he should have had 50," VanVleet added with a smile.
"But he slowed down, so I just wanted to come out there in the second half and bail him out and just try to help him for his legacy. They killed my man (with criticism) all the time in the playoffs. He gets more slandered than anybody I ever seen in the league. And so to have him be able to hold that trophy up tonight, that's what means the most for us."
The Canadian Press