The Toronto Raptors will play a Game 7 on Friday and many are still asking how.
The Raptors never say die attitude has seen them climb off the mat multiple times in their series against the Boston Celtics and now they're in a position to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season.
Kyle Lowry has gotten plenty of praise for his play and rightfully so. OG Anunoby has made timely plays throughout the series to keep Toronto alive. Serge Ibaka gutted it out in Game 6 to help force a seventh and deciding game and the fanbase has appreciated what the team has done every step of the way.
And then there's All-Star Pascal Siakam. Siakam has been a lightning rod for criticism through the postseason. Scroll through social media at any point when Toronto has been playing and you've seen Raptors fans seemingly turn their backs on their All-Star.
Pascal Siakam at halftime:- NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 10, 2020
1/7 FG pic.twitter.com/kiF8NuYtDg
Has Siakam deserved criticism? No question. We're at the point now where even head coach Nick Nurse is waiting to see the player he saw during the regular season. When asked about it after Game 6 Nurse said there's hope for Siakam to return to his All-Star form.
"I'm not saying it's there, but it's getting closer," Nurse told reporters after Game 6. "There's a possibility that it could get there when the ball goes up Friday."
Siakam being close to his old self probably isn't going to help the Raptors repeat as champions. They'll need the All-Star version of him to do that. Whether he does or not in Game 7 remains to be seen, but his "close" to All-Star self is still worthy of praise and has brought value beyond the obvious in this series.
It's been well-documented that Siakam's offensive production and efficiency has plummeted in the second round. He's averaging 15.2 points shooting 37.8 percent from the field - shameful by his standards. While you can question his assertiveness at times, his shot selection hasn't been regretful - he's just not making shots.
Siakam is in a shooting slump and while it may be the worst possible time to be in said slump, he still provides value to the Raptors beyond his scoring. In fact, the Raptors continue to be a better offensive team with him on the floor in this series.
According to NBA Stats, the Raptors are scoring 6.3 points more per 100 possessions with Siakam on the floor against Boston. Only Lowry and Fred VanVleet have made more of an impact offensively than Siakam. The mere presence of an All-Star forces defences to pay attention. Siakam's ability to score at three levels opens driving lanes for the likes of Lowry and VanVleet that simply wouldn't be there if he was on the bench.
His ability to attract attention and move the ball opens things up for shooters. In this series alone, Lowry and VanVleet are shooting 50.0 and 42.9 percent from 3-point range, respectively, off of Siakam passes. Both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are shooting over 50.0 percent from the field off Siakam feeds in the series. So while his shooting touch has left him, he's been able to create opportunities for others and still contribute against one of the toughest defences in the league.
Despite his offensive woes, Siakam's defence hasn't suffered at all. In fact, he's been stellar. Over the last four games - three of which Toronto has won - the Raptors are allowing 12.2 points per 100 possessions less when Siakam is in the game. He's taken on the challenge of guarding multiple positions and has had success when matched up against the Celtics' two leading scorers Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
According to NBA Stats matchup data, in 64.0 partial possessions, Siakam is holding Brown to just 29.6 percent shooting from the field. In 50.5 partial possessions on Tatum, Siakam is only allowing him to shoot 38.9 percent from the field. Both Brown and Tatum have the potential to get hot and go off on any given night; so far in this series however, Siakam has done a good job of keeping both of them in check.
It would be easy for Siakam to hang his head, especially with the way he's been shooting the ball, but he hasn't let his lack of touch offensively affecting his defence one bit. That's the value of having Siakam on the floor beyond just his point production.
Sports fans have a short memory. If Siakam comes out in Game 7 and has a big game and Toronto wins, all will be forgotten and he'll once again be embraced by Raptor nation like the All-Star he is.
But if he doesn't, don't get caught up looking at his point total to tell you the entire story. What makes Siakam special is his versatility and there's more than one way to contribute to winning.
The Raptors have had success all season long because of the sum of their parts, not any one player. Why has that changed now? It will take a total team effort to get past Boston in Game 7, not just a big scoring night from their All-Star.
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