Raptors confident Pascal Siakam will bounce back after tough Game 1

NBA reporter
Yahoo Canada Sports

MILWAUKEE — Despite keeping it close against the Milwaukee Bucks, none of the Toronto Raptors outside of Kyle Lowry played particularly well in Game 1.

Pascal Siakam was no different in that regard. He shot 6-of-20 from the field, only got to the line twice, and finished with 15 points. And while Lowry stepped up with 30 points to fill in as the secondary scorer behind the unflappable Kawhi Leonard, that responsibility will remain with Siakam moving forward.

After studying the tape, Siakam wasn’t too concerned. There were a few regrettable decisions, but the main issue was that Siakam was just misfiring on shots that he would normally make. Siakam hit 41.6 percent out of the corners during the regular season, but was 0-of-7 on those looks in Game 1. A couple of those drop, and Siakam would be right at his playoff average of 20.3 points per game.

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“It’s not like I was missing wing threes - I was missing corner threes, the shot that I take every single day. I’m going to shoot those same shots and I bet you the results will be different,” the 25-year-old told reporters at shootaround before Game 2.

The second half was particularly painful for Siakam outside of a fortuitous buzzer-beater from 30-feet out. He opened the third quarter with an airball, bricked a wide-open look off a feed from Lowry in the left pocket, was left all alone in the right corner after Serge Ibaka found him away from a crowd, and finally, he bricked an easy look off a kickout from Leonard in the fourth that would have tied the game with four minutes left.

However, it’s not as if Siakam was the only one who left points on the table. Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Ibaka, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet all missed very makable shots that could have changed the result. Outside of Lowry and Leonard, who hit 12-of-24 to keep the team afloat, the rest of the Raptors shot a combined 1-of-23 in the second half of Game 1.

And since so many players were struggling with their shots, it was easy for the Bucks to collapse the paint and hold Leonard to just two points in the fourth quarter of a very tight game. To his credit, Siakam was at least willing to keep shooting through the struggles instead of making the problem worse by passing up shots.

“If you play with Kawhi, people are going to try and take his shots away, and that means people are going to be open. And when you’re open, you gotta shoot them. I think that game, we didn’t make a lot as a team. Kyle (Lowry) made a lot of threes and stuff, but I think as a team collectively we didn’t make as much as we needed to, and they were open shots for the most part,” Siakam said.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse saw it somewhat differently. Siakam did miss a few makable shots within the offense, but Nurse also found a few instances where Siakam drove into multiple bodies and got denied. Siakam had his shot blocked five times, with many of those leading to run outs the other way, and that needs to change. Nurse noted that it’s a credit to Siakam’s improvement that he’s attracting so much defensive attention, but the next step in his development will be to leverage his playmaking to beat double teams.

As the floor general, Lowry put it on himself to get Siakam some easier looks. Lowry combed through the film and found a couple of openings to feed Siakam in the open floor, but he also conceded that the Raptors need to get Siakam into more advantageous spots in the halfcourt. Siakam is capable of getting a good look in isolation against everyone in this series outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it’s just a matter of getting him into his spots where he can be at his best.

“He’s so talented, we feel like he can score against anybody, he’s always got a mismatch but it’s about getting easy looks for him,” Lowry said of Siakam.

News and notes

No-win scenario: As with any coach, Nurse caught heat after the Raptors dropped Game 1. Typically, the criticism for Nurse has been that he left his bench in too long, but this time he was knocked for not playing them enough and overtaxing his starters. “Nobody is ever happy, and neither are we. The narratives are just narratives to me - they’re just a pile of words,” Nurse said.

High spirits: Kyle Lowry continues to sport a restorative mitten on his left hand after suffering a dislocated finger against Philadelphia, but it clearly hasn’t bothered him in the slightest. Lowry had his best game of the playoffs with 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting - including 7-of-9 from deep - in Game 1, and was so hot that Green joked that the rest of the team needed to follow suit and pop some digits to get their shots back.

Changes: Marc Gasol used to be ahead of the curve when he entered the league a decade ago as a versatile center who could stretch it out to the elbows, but even he’s playing catch-up in an NBA obsessed up with the three-point shot. Gasol took seven threes in Game 1, which is out of character for him, but his opposite in Brook Lopez happily launched 11. The game is clearly trending away from Gasol’s preferred style, but he’s trying to make his peace with it: “If you want your game to change, then you need to be a game-changer and impose your will,” he said.

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