Let’s hit the numbers first, because they really don’t make any sense.
Pascal Siakam scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting in his first NBA Finals game, a convincing 118-109 Raptors Game 1 win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. He became just the seventh player ever to score 30 points on 80 percent shooting in the Finals, and joined Larry Bird, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant as the only players in Finals history to record a stat line of at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and two threes made. Those numbers are flat-out ridiculous in and of themselves.
But Siakam’s thorough domination of the defending champions can’t be looked at as numbers on a box score. What he did was embarrass a Warriors defense that seemed to have no game plan for him. He was so good, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year had to give him props, then admit he had to be better.
“You know, you’ve got to take your hat off to him,” Draymond Green said. “He’s become ‘a guy.’ He put a lot of work in to get there, and I respect that. But like I said, I’ve gotta take him out of this series, and that’s on me.”
On a night where Kawhi Leonard wasn’t his superhuman self, Siakam was the best player on the floor. He got to his spots at will, never forcing anything. It was as if he was comfortable playing under the crushing pressure of a high-stakes game, as if it were himself in the gym, practicing every move he’d worked on to get to this point. At one point in the game, Siakam didn’t miss for 11 straight field goals.
Siakam’s performance was of the utmost importance because it forces the Warriors to shift their defensive game plan. All night, Golden State sent a double team to Leonard and had a third defender lurking in case he beat two. This is the ultimate sign of respect: admitting it’s impossible to stop him straight-up, so the team has to send the house.
Overloading on Leonard worked in this regard: he finished with 23 points on only 5-of-14 shooting from the field. But Leonard, much like he has at points in Toronto’s series victories against Philadelphia and Milwaukee, became a part-time decoy, enabling the other Raptors to rise the occasion.
Siakam’s offensive brilliance allowed that to happen. With Leonard unable to be the dominant scorer we’ve known him to be in these playoffs, Siakam, the NBA’s frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year, showed why he’s just that. There was no one-on-one matchup he didn’t like. Siakam looked like a guard in a raw center’s body, and Golden State had no answer for him. You rarely see that from the defending champions.
The degree of difficulty on some of Siakam's drives/hooks/finishes, with a defender of Draymond's quality all over him on a number of them, was crazy.— Paul Headley NBA (@PaulHeadleyNBA) May 31, 2019
What a night. pic.twitter.com/RZrXWkcYLI
Is this the kind of performance we can expect from Siakam every game this series? Probably not. It would be unfair to expect a third-year player to become this consistently good, this soon. Siakam did win an NBA G-League Finals MVP with Raptors 905 two seasons ago, but this is a different animal.
Still, in butchering Golden State in Game 1, Toronto’s Swiss army knife of a forward earned the respect of a defense that clearly had none for him. Even the Warriors’ defense can only give but so much respect to each player on the floor. By dominating in Game 1, Siakam has opened up the floor for the rest of his teammates out there.
Now, someone else can have a Pascal Siakam game. And if they do, the Warriors will be in even deeper trouble.