NBA

Raptors' Cory Joseph, Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson put friendship on hold

Toronto Raptors' Cory Joseph and Cleveland Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson are setting aside a decade of friendship as their teams battle in the Eastern Conference final.

Pair demonstrate basketball's growth in Canada

Raptors Cory Joseph (6) drives past Cleveland's Tristan Thompson (13) during a game in February. The two Toronto-area friends have ceased communication as their teams battle in the NBA's East final. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson formed a close friendship over a decade of playing together.

But friendships don't exist on the Eastern Conference final court.

The two Canadians have put all communication on hold until the Toronto Raptors' conference final against Cleveland is finished.

"Right now he's the enemy," Thompson said earlier this week. "Ain't going to be too much brotherly love. We know we have to go at it."

Round 1 went to Thompson's Cavs, who clobbered Toronto 115-94 on Tuesday. Game 2 was Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Joseph and Thompson grew up playing together on the same AAU team, then attended Findlay Prep together in Nevada, and then moved on to the University of Texas. The longtime friends talk regularly, about their games, about their families. They last spoke right before the Raptors beat Miami in Game 7. Then all communication "went to garbage," Joseph said.

"I don't think I will be texting Cory for about week or so. Still love him though," Thompson said.

Joseph's response: Tristan who?

"No communication at all. I don't even know who Tristan is at this point," said the Raptors backup point guard.

Both agree these are heady days for Canadian basketball. The Raptors are one of just four NBA teams still playing, reaching the conference final for the first time in franchise history. And Joseph, from Pickering, Ont., and Thompson, from Brampton, Ont., play key roles on their respective teams.

'Great for Toronto'

"For Canada it's huge," Thompson said. "Basketball has definitely grown a lot, so for the Raptors to be able to make it to the Eastern Conference finals it popularizes the game more, people are starting to pay attention and want to watch.

"It's great for Toronto and the country as a whole."

Joseph and Thompson are part of Canada's basketball youth movement that grew up on a steady diet of high-flying Vince Carter highlights.

"Now it's going to be DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "I'm happy to be a part of seeing the growth of basketball in Canada.

"No disrespect to hockey, but it's always been hockey for young kids growing up, and now you see guys on the playground playing hoops, and being a purist, that's been great to see. So a kid like Tristan being successful, a kid like Wiggins being successful, our guy Cory Joseph being successful, it's unbelievable for the growth and the continuation of the growth of basketball in Canada."

The Raptors signed Joseph to a four-year, US$30 million contract last summer. Joseph — who'd pretend he was Carter while battling his brother Devoe on their driveway as kids — embraced the chance to play for his hometown team. He changed his jersey to No. 6 in honour of the Drake-coined nickname for Toronto.

The Toronto rapper has a line about Joseph in his diss track "Charged Up."

"We gon' make sure you get your bread, and you know the ropes," Drake raps, "I get a ring and I bring it home like I'm Cory Joe."

Joseph shrugs off recent struggles

When Joseph won an NBA title with the Spurs in 2014, he took the Larry O'Brien Trophy up the CN Tower.

The 24-year-old guard was instrumental getting Toronto past Indiana, but faded over the last couple of games against Miami in the second round. He went 0-for-8 from the field for one point in Game 7, then scored four points on 1-for-6 shooting Toronto's embarrassing Game 1 loss to Cleveland on Tuesday.

Joseph shrugged off his recent struggles at Thursday morning's shootaround, saying "We put ourselves in a great opportunity to be here, so you just gotta have fun."

Casey believes Joseph will turn things around.

"Cory is not playing instinctively, the way he normally plays. He's thinking way too much. He just has to go ahead and play," the coach said. "Cory is a young player.

"He's on target to being an excellent player in our program. We love him. He is just going through something which every player in this league goes through. He is still our player. We still believe in Cory and we believe he will play through it."

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