Pascal Siakam, who once studied to be a priest, answered Canadian prayers by leading the Toronto Raptors to a 118-109 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday in the first NBA Finals game played outside of the United States.
The turbo-charged Cameroonian had a near perfect night from the field, hitting on 14-of-17 shots for 32 points while pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out five assists to help Toronto stake a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Raptors had a country on the edge of their seat as they took on a Golden State juggernaut playing in their fifth consecutive Finals and chasing a third straight title.
If Canada had a case of the jitters with their only NBA team making their first Finals appearance, Siakam had none, particularly in the third quarter when he was perfect hitting on all six of his shots.
"It's amazing and it just proves that if you put the work in, man, and it's something that it's so cliche, but that's the story of my life," said Siakam, nicknamed Spicy P.
"Just going out there every single night, working hard to get to this level, and knowing that I have so much to learn and I have so much room to improve and grow.
"I think that's what make it's fun. And for me just kind of falling in love with the game and wanting to get better and wanting to learn."
Siakam was a skinny kid from a Cameroon Seminary studying to become Catholic priest when he caught the eye of former NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute and was chosen to attend a Basketball Without Borders camp.
The improbable journey continued with a basketball scholarship to New Mexico State University and then selection by the Raptors in the first round of the 2016 draft with the 27th pick.
Ask coaches or team mates about Siakam and the first thing they mention is his drive to become a better player, which is reflected in his being a finalist for this season's Most Improved Player award.
"Extremely hard-working like beyond -- I mean just super, super committed to finding a place in this league and improving his game," said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. "He believes in himself and he went to work at it."
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