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Pascal Siakam
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Basketball Daily Dose

Pascal Siakam shines as Raptors take Game 1

by Raphielle Johnson

Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals was the first Finals game played outside of the United States, and the Eastern Conference champion Toronto Raptors were ready for the occasion. But instead of Kawhi Leonard, the one member of the Raptors rotation who’s won an NBA title, leading the way it was Pascal Siakam who did the honors. Playing in his first NBA Finals game, the third-year forward lit up Golden State for 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting from the field while also accounting for eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks, one steal and two 3-pointers in 40 minutes. 

In total the Raptors had five double-digit scorers, and as a result Toronto took a 1-0 series lead with its 118-109 victory. Below is a look at Thursday’s Game 1, a couple early injury notes for Game 2 and an interesting turn of events in Houston. 

Kawhi Leonard given multiple defensive assignments 

Leonard once again didn’t appear to be at full strength, at times laboring with his movements around the court. But he still managed to play 43 minutes, scoring 23 points (5-of-14 FGs, 10-of-12 FTs) with eight rebounds, five assists, one steal and three 3-pointers. Golden State’s defensive strategy when Leonard used ball screens was consistent throughout, as they doubled in an attempt to get the ball out of Kawhi’s hands. That approach worked at times, but during the first there were also occasions in which the Warriors’ rotations off of the ball left Raptors shooters (most notably Marc Gasol) wide open on the perimeter. 

Since scoring 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting in Toronto’s Game 2 loss to Milwaukee the All-Star forward has failed to shoot at least 50% from the field in five consecutive games. But the Raptors have won all five games, with Leonard’s teammates picking up the slack. On Thursday it was Siakam and Marc Gasol doing the honors, with the latter scoring 20 points (6-of-10 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs) while also tallying seven rebounds, two steals, one assist, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 30 minutes played. Siakam was bound to have scoring opportunities as Golden State’s defense was geared towards stopping Leonard, and he took full advantage. Golden State not having Kevin Durant is an issue when it comes to defending Siakam, especially with Andre Iguodala appearing to injure his left leg during the fourth quarter. 

But back to Leonard for a minute. Defensively Nick Nurse gave Leonard the task of defending Draymond Green at times Thursday, so as to keep his All-Star from spending too much time chasing around Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as they work off of screens in order to find quality looks. Green can certainly be a tough cover given his ability as a passer, but Leonard isn’t being asked to as much defensively as he would if Durant were healthy enough to play. 

Fred VanVleet continues to produce, and Danny Green gets going 

While Kyle Lowry struggled with his shot for much of the night, shooting 2-of-9 from the field and finishing with seven points, nine assists, six rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer, Toronto received solid performances from both Fred VanVleet and Danny Green. VanVleet, who struggled in the early rounds of the playoffs, has been much better since the birth of his son. Thursday night he played 33 minutes, scoring 15 points (5-of-8 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) with two assists, one rebound and one three-pointer. After a stretch of 14 consecutive playoff games in which he failed to score in double figures VanVleet has scored 13 or more in each of the Raptors’ last four outings, averaging 15.8 points, 2.8 assists and 3.8 three-pointers per during this stretch. 

VanVleet was Toronto’s top bench contributor, as Serge Ibaka posted a line of five points, three rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot in 17 minutes. Patrick McCaw, seeing his first action since Game 6 of the Philadelphia series, accounted for three points, one assist and one three-pointer in seven minutes, and Norman Powell (two points, one rebound) played just five minutes. 

As for Green, he entered Game 1 having missed his last ten three-point attempts. The veteran guard snapped that streak on his first attempt Thursday, and he would finish the game with 11 points (4-of-9 FGs), two rebounds, two blocks, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes played. Green said ahead of the Finals that he would continue to put up shots despite his recent struggles, and he was true to his word. 

Jordan Bell makes his second straight start at center and DeMarcus Cousins returns 

Jordan Bell, whose spot in the rotation tended to fluctuate for much of the regular season, did not appear in a game during the Houston series until Game 6. In that appearance the second-year power forward out of Oregon played 11 minutes, tallying four points, two rebounds, two blocks and one assist as the Warriors closed out the Rockets. He kept his place in the rotation during the Portland series, and ahead of the NBA Finals coach Steve Kerr was complimentary of Bell’s recent play. That was enough to get him another start in the middle, but the production wasn’t there. In 12 minutes Bell scored two points to go along with three rebounds and one assist, and Kevon Looney would ultimately play the lion’s share of the minutes in the middle. 

Looney played 28 minutes, scoring nine points (4-of-5 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs) with three rebounds, one assist and one steal. During the postseason he’s averaging 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game, shooting 72.5% from the field. DeMarcus Cousins, seeing his first action since Game 2 of the first round due to a torn left quadriceps muscle, played eight minutes Thursday and finished with a line of three points, two assists and two steals. Cousins missed both of his field goal attempts, going 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, and he looked a bit rusty during his time on the court (which isn’t a surprise). Coming off the bench isn’t the norm for Cousins either, as this was his first appearance as a reserve since April 5, 2013. 

Curry, Thompson and Green led the way offensively for Golden State 

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were the lone Warriors to score in double figures, with Curry scoring a game-high 34 points to lead the way. Curry made all 14 of his free throw attempts, shooting 8-of-18 from the field and supplementing his point total with five rebounds, five assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 40 minutes played. Green would also play 40 minutes, posting a 10/10/10 triple-double. But he shot just 2-of-9 from the field, and while he did have a steal Green also committed a team-high six turnovers on the night. Thompson shot 8-of-17 from the field in his 39 minutes, finishing with 21 points, five rebounds, one assist and three 3-pointers. 

The aforementioned Iguodala accounted for six points, seven assists, six rebounds and one blocked shot in his 29 minutes on the court, with this being his first action since Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Iguodala missed game four due to a strained calf, and he appeared to injure his left leg with just under two minutes remaining in the game. He said afterwards that he would be fine, and with Game 2 scheduled for Sunday night he’ll have two days to recover. Iguodala played 34.5 minutes per game during the Houston series, getting into the thirties in minutes played even before Kevin Durant went down with his calf injury, and he played 31 minutes in each of the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. 

Among the reserves only Looney and Shaun Livingston, who finished with six points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot in 18 minutes, reached double digits in minutes played. Cousins, Jonas Jerebko (six points, one rebounds, two 3-pointers) and Alfonzo McKinnie (six points, one assist and two 3-pointers) played eight minutes apiece, and Quinn Cook (six points, one assist and one three-pointer) nine. 

OG Anunoby may be able to return for Game 2, but Kevin Durant is unlikely to 

Raptors forward OG Anunoby (appendectomy) continues to work towards a return to the lineup, but he was not in uniform Thursday night despite his status being upgraded to questionable. There’s a chance that he’ll be able to return Sunday, which would give Toronto another wing with the athleticism and length needed to chip in defensively. As for Warriors forward Kevin Durant, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to play in Game 2 as he has still yet to practice with the team. With the Warriors playing as well as they did after Durant injured his calf during the second round, there have been some who openly questioned if Golden State needed him in order to win the title. Given what Pascal Siakam was able to do, that chatter (which was ridiculous) should come to a halt. 

The sooner the Warriors can get Durant back the better, but given the lack of on-court work it’s unknown when he’ll be able to return. Can Golden State will without Durant? Sure. But the task is far more difficult without him, especially when it comes to accounting for both Leonard and Siakam defensively. 

Mike D’Antoni, Rockets don’t come to an agreement on an extension 

Houston’s season came to an end a couple weeks ago, as they were eliminated by the Warriors in six games. This week it was reported that the Rockets are open to consider trades for just about any player on the roster, with MVP candidate James Harden likely being excluded from this chatter, and on Thursday coach Mike D’Antoni broke off talks of a contract extension with the team. D’Antoni has one year remaining on his deal, but with it being reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the extension would be performance-based as opposed to the more traditional setup contract talks were broken off. 

In addition to the trade reports and D’Antoni’s contract status, Houston has also parted ways with assistants Jeff Bzdelik, whose return from retirement sparked an improvement in the Rockets’ play on the defensive end, Roy Rogers and Irving Roland since the end of their season. Houston’s roster could potentially look a lot different come the start of training camp, from D’Antoni’s staff to the players themselves. 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.