How the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam sheds playoff pressure like opposing defenders
For all his frenetic play — the spin moves around the basket to create space where it seems none exists, to the grab-it-and-go rebounding style that adds a much-needed dimension to the Toronto Raptors offence — the mind of Pascal Siakam remains calm and analytical.In this breakout season, the 25-year-old third-year forward has emerged as a true force throughout the NBA because he’s always been able to figure things out and meet whatever challenge he sees. The mental acuity, handling different defences and more attention from opponents than he has ever had to deal with, has never been more on display than in the NBA Finals that resumed with Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night.
The Golden State Warriors have fed him a steady diet of different defences — different-sized defenders some nights and multiple defenders on others — and for the most part Siakam has figured them out. He perhaps caught the Warriors a bit off guard with a wonderful 32-point game to open the series, and they responded by paying him particular attention in Game 2, when he went only 5-for-18 from the floor and scored just 12 points. But in series-shifting games in Oakland last week, Siakam went off: 18 points one night and 19 in the next game, shooting almost 50 per cent from the floor despite seeing almost constant double-teams.
“He was pretty rattled early, and that’s part of what you do to double-team guys, is to try to rattle them in general,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Siakam after his Game 4 gem. “So for him to hang in there and keep finding some moments to play was good. I think he made a bunch of free throws tonight, too, didn’t he? Seven-for-eight from the line.” Siakam’s play has improved at every level this season. He’s a better shooter than he’s ever been simply because he’s worked tirelessly on it. He’s a better ball-handler than he’s been in the past, and his decision-making with the ball has been exemplary all season. That he has continued unabated on the game’s biggest stage and in the most intense moments is a testament to Siakam’s personality as much as it is to his physical abilities.
“I’m not looking at (the Warriors and how they play him). I’m looking at myself and just finding ways to get better,” he said. “Obviously I’ve never been at this level, but I’m learning every day and just going through the playoffs and all the ups and downs and it’s making me a better player. “I think I’ve always thought that I had the ability to be at this level. Maybe like not a lot of draft boards or whatever had that, but I always felt like I had the capacity to be here and I’ve always believed and worked to give it my all.
“Obviously I’m blessed to be at this level now, so I’m just blessed to be here and continue to work hard and be the best I can be.” The intricacies of Siakam’s game are eye-opening to teammates and coaches. He’s going 100 miles an hour and at times can look out of control, like he’s not sure exactly what he’s going to do. But when it comes to finishing a play, he’s got everything in the right place. His mind always catches up to his body. “I always say when he’s playing good, he has great composure. He gets in there, he gets to two feet, he gets on balance, he’ll wait for the angle or he’ll pump-fake or whatever,” Nurse said.
There is still much for Siakam to improve in his game — the Warriors have harassed him into a couple of untimely turnovers, and they were likely to foist all-defensive team forward Draymond Green on him more often. But having already dealt with the defence of Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the last two rounds of the playoffs, it’s not going to rattle Siakam.
He’ll do his stuff and figure it out as the game goes along. As he has all season.
“(It’s) just kind of like understanding the big stage and not being down on myself a lot, or just understanding that there’s going to be good games, there’s going to be bad games, but just continue to have the same energy and control the things that I can control,” he said.
Main pic/Pascal Siakam/www.raptorsrepublic