OAKLAND, Calif. — Fred VanVleet was asked if he feels more Canadian after doing his best imitation of a hockey player on Friday night.
"If that’s what being Canadian is," the Toronto Raptors point guard said with a grin, "I’m not sure I want it."
Regardless, many Raptors fans will be calling VanVleet an honorary Canadian today after taking one for the team in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
VanVleet lost part of a tooth when an inadvertent elbow from Shaun Livingston caught him flush in the face early in the fourth quarter after a Toronto foul under the basket. He was bleeding profusely under his right eye and part of a tooth ended up on the court.
After getting seven stitches and clearing concussion protocol, VanVleet returned to the bench and watched the Raptors finish off a 105-92 win, putting Toronto one victory away from an NBA title.
"I don’t play hockey I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys and what they do, but losing a tooth is not fun," VanVleet said. "The stitches I can deal with. I was more upset that i had the remnants of my teeth floating around in my mouth as I was laying there on the ground."
The undrafted VanVleet, who has become a fan favourite in Toronto for his gritty play and underdog journey to the NBA Finals, continued to play well on Friday.
After struggling badly in the second round, VanVleet has stepped up in a big way at both ends of the floor. The six-footer was a plus-12 in 29 minutes of Game 4, finishing with eight points, six assists and four rebounds.
VanVleet, who also needed stitches near his eye after taking an elbow to the face in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against Milwaukee, smiled for reporters afterward to show he didn’t lose his entire tooth.
"I didn’t lose it, but it did some damage," VanVleet said. "Hopefully by the next time you guys see me, I’ll have it fixed. I took a nice shot there and unfortunately it took me out of the game. I just tried to hurry up and get it stitched up and be back on bench with the guys. They took care of business."
Raptors centre Marc Gasol acknowledged VanVleet will have a different look during the next two off days.
"He doesn’t look too good right now. We probably won’t see him smile much the next couple of days," Gasol said.
"But I don’t think any of us have smiled yet. We’re all happy but no one is satisfied yet."