With SGA back in the GTA, Raptors fans can savour a rare hoops moment of watching a Canadian superstar

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The SGA experience rolls into town Friday night, a long-awaited and much-anticipated return for Hamilton native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

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With his arrival, fans of the Raptors will finally have something to celebrate amid an extended stretch of losing and misery for Toronto’s depleted side.

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At least for one night, talk of an eight-game losing streak, a stretch that includes three home defeats by a combined margin of 85 points, dissecting a deficient group or even wondering when Toronto will ever win again this season are rendered insignificant.

SGA has risen to the ranks of NBA elite.

Any top-five list features SGA, who occupies a status reserved for the likes of Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and when fully healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid.

SGA and his OKC Thunder visit Toronto once a season.

This isn’t SGA’s first time back to the GTA, but it certainly carries the most fanfare.

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A big reason why Canada is making its return to the Olympic stage for the first time this summer since 2000 is SGA, who was instrumental in helping the men’s program win a bronze medal at last year’s FIBA World Cup.

Canada faces a daunting task to reach the podium in Paris, but as long as SGA is healthy there’s always a chance.

He’s that good.

With the Thunder, SGA has been better than good, a legitimate MVP candidate.

The word great is often mentioned when sizing up his game and the improvement Gilgeous-Alexander has made the past few years.

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Simply put, he’s a superstar minus all the trappings, ego, agenda and noise one normally associates with today’s NBA player.

Voting for any award, let alone MVP, is purely subjective.

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What’s indisputable is any starting five would have SGA.

“What he’s done in his career to this point and what he’s done for our team this season doesn’t need to be validated by an award,” OKC head coach Mark Daigneault told reporters. “It stands on its own two feet. If he wins it, great, and that’s downstream of our team and him.

“But if he doesn’t win it, it doesn’t take anything away from the impact that he’s had or the player he’s turned himself into.”

In Wednesday’s win over Utah, SGA netted 31 as he recorded his 50th 30-point game of the season, becoming the 13th player in NBA history to reach the scoring feat.

With 14 games remaining in the regular season, there’s a chance Gilgeous-Alexander can vault into an exclusive club.

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In NBA history, four players — Wilt Chamberlain, Nate (Tiny) Archibald, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan have posted 60 30-point games.

Jordan was the most recent player to hit the target in 1987.

Achievements aside, SGA is the face of a Thunder team competing for top spot in the West with Denver and Minnesota in a tightly contested race.

Jokic is the face of the reigning champion Nuggets, while Anthony Edwards has emerged as a young stud with the T’Wolves.

Edwards is a high flyer known for his above-the-rim highlights.

While he does not lack athleticism, SGA has an overall game with a unique ability to see plays before anyone else similar to the Joker.

“You’ve seen other individual players rise alongside him, which is what I think great players do,” added Daigneault.

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“Not only do they make other people better, but they allow other people to be better with the space they create both interpersonally with the team and with how they play.”

When the Raptors were in OKC early last month, the Thunder overcame a 23-point deficit to win in double OT.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who failed to score at least 30 points for the first time in 10 games, made a game-tying three-pointer in the first extra period.

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He then blocked a Gary Trent Jr. attempt just before the buzzer that would have given the Raptors the win, illustrating an added dimension to SGA’s game.

“The last two seasons he’s taken a major jump as a defender,” Daigneault said earlier this week. “He has continually honed his efficiency.

“Year over year, he just becomes more and more efficient. As the usage goes up, or as the points per game go up, the efficiency doesn’t drop. That’s very impressive. He’s not just collecting numbers.”

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Keep in mind OKC is a young team that missed out on the playoffs last season.

Still, the deeper a run this spring the more fans will get to see SGA.

At least for one night, fans in the GTA will get to see him in action.

Fellow Canadian Lu Dort of Montreal is also on the Thunder roster, a key member of the Canadian national side who brings a defensive mindset and toughness.

The Raptors feature Canadian national team members Kelly Olynyk and RJ Barrett.

Sadly and tragically, the Barrett family is mourning the passing of their youngest son, Nathan.

The funeral was held Thursday.

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Members of the basketball community, including Sacramento Kings assistant Jay Triano, were able to either attend Wednesday’s wake or be present at the funeral to offer their support.

Another was Steve Nash, who was Rowan Barrett’s teammate at the Sydney Games on a Canadian team coached by Triano.

Nash is RJ Barrett’s godfather.

Rowan Barrett serves as GM of the Paris-bound men’s team.

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