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Holly MacKenzie

Around the NBA: From Toronto to the Bay, it was a big week for Canadians in the NBA



Jan 3, 2022

The Golden State Warriors continue to sit atop the NBA leaderboard and Andrew Wiggins continues to add to his best season as a pro. Wiggins returned from the NBA’s health and safety protocols to score 21 points and grab eight rebounds in a rare 89-86 loss against the Denver Nuggets. He followed that up with a 25-point performance in a 123-116 road win against the Utah Jazz.

In addition to helping the Warriors keep the pace as the team awaits Klay Thompson’s return to the court following ACL surgery, Wiggins also appears to be having more fun than ever before on the basketball court. From assisting Steph Curry’s record-setting three-pointer a few weeks ago, to having all of his Warriors teammates serving as his own hype men, it has been a great season for the former first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

The 26-year-old Toronto native is shooting a career-best 48.7 percent from the floor this year, including 43.4 percent from beyond the arc (also a career-best). Joining the Warriors and an offence constantly in motion has allowed Wiggins to expand his game more than ever before. Thanks to a win against the Phoenix Suns on Christmas day, the Warriors are now in sole possession of the best record in the NBA at 28-7.

While Wiggins is putting up numbers for Golden State, no one had a bigger individual performance this week than Chris Boucher in Toronto. Though an undermanned Raptors squad ultimately fell 114-109 to the Philadelphia 76ers, Boucher had an absolute monster game, finishing with 28 points and 19 rebounds in 38 minutes.

“It’s been a minute,” Boucher said. “It just made me realize what I really can do. It definitely felt good.”

The Raptors big man also added two blocked shots and two steals in a game where he made 10-of-14 field goal attempts, including 5-of-7 three-pointers as he did his best to help an undermanned Raptors squad push Philadelphia to the limit.

“Biggest thing was he was ready to take the challenge,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “He was ready to fight, he hurt [Philadelphia].”

Also in Toronto, Khem Birch made his return to the court after being sidelined for more than a month with knee swelling. Birch made his return on New Year’s Eve, logging 19 minutes and finishing with six points and five rebounds as the Raptors defeated a depleted Los Angeles Clippers team, 116-108.

In a match-up featuring two of the best young Canadian stars, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder to a 95-80 victory against RJ Barrett and the Knicks. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 points to lead OKC, while Barrett had a game-high 26 points as he did his best to steer a Knicks team that was without leading scorer Julius Randle who is in health and safety protocols.

In Memphis, Brandon Clarke had 17 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots to help the Grizzlies take down the San Antonio Spurs 118-105. The Grizzlies won despite having six players out of action due to health and safety protocols, including Canadian Dillon Brooks.

After the game, Clarke showed up to his press conference dressed appropriately to ring in the new year.

In other NBA Canada adjacent news, Xavier Sneed became the fourth CEBL player to sign an NBA contract with the news that the Grizzlies would be signing him to a 10-day contract. After spending last season with the Niagara River Lions, Sneed played with Charlotte Hornets G League affiliate Greensboro Swarm. He joins CEBL alums Javin DeLaurier, Cat Barber and Xavier Moon in signing an NBA contract this season.

“We are extremely proud of Xavier for accomplishing his childhood dream of signing an NBA contract,” said Antwi Autahene, Head of Basketball Operations, Niagara River Lions. “We are thankful to his entire family, and his agent Gary Durrant for trusting in the Niagara River Lions organization to help develop his game. Our measure of success is to always give opportunities that help advance players to the next level, and Xavier is a strong example of that.”

Canadian Nik Stauskas is also back in the league after inking a 10-day contract with the Miami Heat. Stauskas signed with the Heat after playing with the Denver Nuggets G League affiliate Grand Rapids Gold this season.

And finally, for a little excitement to kick off 2022, here is Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray completing a windmill during a workout as he continues to rehab from ACL surgery. There is no timetable for his return, but from the looks of this clip, rehab is going well.