Pascal Siakam delivers a stellar performance to keep the Raptors alive

Sports fanaticism is inherently reactionary, and in the NBA that reactionary dial is turned to 10. After all, no league moves faster, both in terms of how quickly players move up or down the ladder and also in terms of how the teams themselves are built and altered. Therefore, our ideas about players and teams tend to change from day to day.

That’s why it wasn’t that surprising to see the reaction to Pascual Siakamdisappointing performance of in Game 3 of the first-round series between the toronto raptors Y Philadelphia 76ers, where the Sixers pulled off a come-from-behind overtime victory to take a 3-0 lead in the series. Siakam was 6-of-16 for 12 points, taking only 5 shots in the entire second half and overtime, scoring 0 points in that time.

Raptors star Pascal Siakam bounced back in a big way from his disappointing Game 3, just as he has all season and really his entire NBA career.  (Getty)

Raptors star Pascal Siakam bounced back in a big way from his disappointing Game 3, just as he has all season and really his entire NBA career. (Getty)

It didn’t matter that Siakam was Toronto’s best player for the final two-thirds of the season, leading them to a No. 5 seed no one thought they had any business getting, playing at the All-NBA level. It didn’t matter that the Sixers’ entire game plan was to take Siakam out and block the paint, forcing him to shoot jumpers. It didn’t even matter that there’s plenty of precedent in the league for star players taking time to translate their performance from the regular season to the postseason, like a former Raptor. DeMar DeRozan is doing now for him Chicago Bulls.

All that mattered after Wednesday’s heartbreaking Game 3 loss was that Siakam had failed to take his game to the next level in the playoffs while his opponent, Joel Embid, made. And it seemed like that was enough of an indictment of his ability to run a playoff offense that everyone was ready to leave Pascal Siakam as the No. 1 option. Everyone except Pascal Siakam, that is.

Siakam bounced back, as he has all season and really his entire NBA career. The Cameroonian forward reminded everyone why he is an elite player in two ways, leading the Raptors to a 110-102 victory in a Game 4 elimination game to keep the Raptors’ season alive, dropping 34 points, 8 rebounds and 34 points, a career high in the playoffs. 5 assists.

He hit a 3-pointer to keep the defense honest, hit countless contested mid-range shots past one or two defenders, and relentlessly drove into the paint, reaching the rim at will and going to the free throw line. 15 times, the most of his playoff career, which shows the change in mentality and the higher level of aggression that he had.

“I think he was much more assertive and decisive tonight. Less looking around and more going,” Nick Nurse said of his star player performance.

“Resilience. He’s always been a resilient player. He’s always going to fight adversity,” Thad Young added of Siakam. “He knows his game. He knows who he is as a player. He knows how to bounce back and come back from not-so-great games. That It’s exactly what he did. He just went out there and did what Pascal does, play basketball and not worry about what people say or the last game. It’s about this game. It’s about moving on, and that’s what he did.” .

Additionally, Siakam could have had more than 5 assists if the Raptors had shot better than 8-34 from 3 (23.5 percent), with several shooters from above making (but missing) open shots due to the gravity Siakam created.

Perhaps even more impressive than his ability to run the offense without any space was Siakam’s defense, where he seamlessly alternated between speedy defenses like Tyrese Maxey Y james harden to keep Embiid out of deep post position. Best of all was his help defense, where Siakam was crucial for the Raptors to hold Embiid to 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 5 turnovers, playing free insurance while helping his man and using his speed and length. for double-team Embiid, making him increasingly uncomfortable and frustrated as the night wore on.

“I think we’re trying to make it difficult for him. Obviously, we know it’s a hard cover and it has to be a team effort,” Siakam said of Embiid’s defense. “And I think that’s sort of what we have to do to give ourselves a chance.”

“We want no one else to beat us. That’s kind of a mindset and then for me just seeing those reads, I feel like I can do those reads and whenever it’s my time to do it, I make sure I execute at a high level and I hope that he finds somebody to make the next move.”

Of course, it wasn’t just Siakam who stepped forward. After Fred VanVleet left the game in the second quarter with a left hip strain and Scottie Barnes struggled to score the ball at all times, it was the Siakam-OG Anunoby-Thad Young-Chris Boucher-Precious Achiuwa group that which opened the game for the Raptors early in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Sixers by 7 to take an 8-point lead before Trent came on for Boucher to close out the game. The bench was fantastic, outscoring the Sixers bench 33-24 (excluding garbage time) and making plays on both ends of the floor.

But more often than not in the NBA playoffs, star power prevails. And in Game 4, it was Siakam who had the last laugh, rebounding from one of the most disappointing performances of his career to deliver one of the best, proving a lot of people wrong. But for a guy who spent a lot of time completing his game and was confident it would translate to the playoffs, the most important thing is that he proved him right.

break it

If there’s a reason to think the Raptors could pull off the first 0-3 series comeback in NBA history, it’s not that Siakam is going to put the team on its back for three more games in a row. Instead, the only way the Raptors are going to do the impossible is if their defense continues to be as good as it was on Saturday afternoon, when they limited the Sixers to just 102 points on 42.5 percent shooting, which which forced them to release 15 turnovers. , allows 21 fast break points and gives up 13 offensive rebounds to the Raptors. Additionally, the Raptors won the free throw battle for the first time in the entire series, 35-25, allowing them to make several stops in a row and gain defensive momentum without allowing the Sixers to constantly stop the game by getting to the line.

OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Pascal Siakam have all been wonderful all series on the defensive end of the ball (Achiuwa should probably start games so he doesn’t have to play so many straight minutes late, but that’s another story). They have been versatile in the sense that they can stay in front of their man on the ball and have them hit tough shots. Y they can act as off-ball helpers, watching the play unfold in front of them and rotating, sometimes multiple times in a single play, to keep the ball off the rim.

More importantly in the context of a comeback, the Sixers were shaken up for the first time in the entire series. They were constantly bickering after defensive lapses and getting frustrated with the officiating as the game wore on and the Raptors opened up their lead. Nick Nurse often talks about breaking the spirit of the other team as the game goes on with the Raptors’ aggressive style of defense that forces turnovers and makes players uncomfortable and out of rhythm. While the Raptors haven’t necessarily broken anyone’s spirits, they certainly came close.

“We remain attached to the game plan. We had a great game plan. We just kept doing it over and over and it worked really well tonight,” Barnes said of the defense. “I’m just trying to get them to change a few things. Change your appearance. Don’t let people look easy. Defending at the hoop. We did what we had to do”.

Asked if the Raptors have a chance to come back in this series if the defense holds up, Barnes said: “Sure. Safely.”

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Siakam was obviously the better Raptor in Game 4, but they got key contributions on the entire roster, really for the first time in the entire series.

At the top of that list was Thad Young, who turned around and looked more agile than ever in this one, switching seamlessly on the defensive end, holding Embiid in the post and blocking him after missed shots, and rushing everywhere, coming up with 4 offensive rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in 29 minutes of action. He also helped out on Chris Boucher’s 4 cubes (they call it thagic johnson for a reason), and brought the Raptors an exceptional energy boost off the bench.

Gary Trent Jr.’s touchdown was also desperately needed, especially after his perimeter partner, VanVleet, left the game. He managed to keep the scoreboard moving throughout this one instead of allowing the Raptors to get into one of his recorded scoring slumps. He scored 24 points on 8-for-20 shooting, hit 3 3-pointers and got to the line 5 times. Most importantly, he created most of it himself, giving the Raptors an outlet and taking some pressure off Siakam as he dribbled on sidestep 3s and elbow jumps, punishing Embiid for staying below the rim and , finally, attracting him more. . He also played his best defense of his series, having 2 steals to shoot in transition but, more importantly, playing within the scheme and keeping up with Harden and Maxey, who combined to go 9-for-19 from the start. countryside.

news and notes

Fred VanVleet left the game in the second quarter with what the Raptors call a left hip strain. He didn’t come back. VanVleet was set to have an MRI on his hip Saturday night after the game concluded, so there should be updates in the next few days. However, Nurse said he spoke with coach Alex McKechnie after the game, who said VanVleet will need “some work” on his hip. On the plus side, Gary Trent Jr. was back to 100 percent after being sick the first two games and Scottie Barnes said his ankle didn’t bother him during the game.

Also, it was a good game to highlight, if you’re into that sort of thing. Thad Young did this:

And Precious Achiuwa did this:

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