An old adage in sports is that there are no silver linings, but there can be signs of hope. The Toronto Raptors lost their third straight game on Saturday to the Boston Celtics, 106-104, but while the team continues to slide, Pascal Siakam broke out of his offensive slump.
While the Raptors have battled a number of losing skids this season, the atmosphere entering Saturday's game was different because they were coming off a pair of especially embarrassing losses.
Last Tuesday, the Raptors fell to the Bucks, 130-122. If giving up 130 points wasn’t bad enough, Milwaukee was without its two All-Stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Moreover, the Raptors allowed the shorthanded Bucks to score 44 points in the first quarter, which was the most Toronto has given up all season.
That was followed by an epic collapse versus the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. The Raptors led by as many as 18 and held a 14-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Minnesota closed the game on a 23-7 run, spearheaded by D’Angelo Russell’s 16-point explosion in the final frame.
While there are a number of reasons for the Raptors' recent struggles, Siakam has been at the centre of them.
Siakam lacking typical offensive spice
Over the course of his last 10 games, Siakam has been below his season average in both points and efficiency. Specifically, it has been his last four contests that have been plagued with offensive struggles. The Cameroon native is averaging 17.8 points on 41.8 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. These are all stark drop-offs compared to his regular-season averages.
It is conjecture to say that if Siakam played up to his All-NBA potential — or even a modicum of what he’s been this season — that Toronto would have done better than 1-3 in its last four outings but it's not a far-fetched assertion.
Many of the Raptors’ recent losses have been barnburners, so tack on a few more points from the team’s leading scorer and maybe the outcomes swing.
The cause of Siakam’s struggles isn’t too concerning, though, as his aggressiveness hasn’t dissipated. It’s been more a case of shots not falling, exacerbated by the fact Toronto has suffered some of its worst losses of the season.
Siakam looked like himself in loss to Celtics
Despite the loss, Siakam put forth a scintillating performance against the Celtics. Stuffing the stat sheet, the two-time All-NBA forward put up 29 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds on an efficient 61 percent from the field.
His night got off on the wrong foot, as he opened the game 1-of-5. With Fred VanVleet out, he saw a slew of double teams — and even soft triple teams — resulting in him forcing tough shots at the rim and rushing reads. However, he would proceed to knock down his next five shots to close the half. His stellar second quarter included him scoring or assisting on 20 of the team’s 30 points; he was responsible for 24 of the Raptors' 57 first-half points.
Ultimately, this game showcased Siakam’s play style away from the paint, reinforcing the surreal growth he has put forth this season, with the exception of the last handful of games. Twelve of his 29 points came from midrange jump shots, and 10 were a product of him getting out in transition.
Postgame, Siakam also talked about the attention he draws from the opposing team’s defence. He was able to mitigate that tonight by isolating defenders along the perimeter and knocking down contested jump shots at the expense of paint touches.
Very few players in the league can score almost 30 points while seldom scoring in the paint during halfcourt sequences. Not to mention, Siakam had a near triple-double, building on the notion that he is both the team’s most valuable and untradeable trade asset heading into the deadline.
Siakam proved that his recent stretch of lacklustre offensive play was due to him missing makeable shots. Like the last 10 games, Siakam got to his spots and executed his moves — the only difference was he made them. In a make-or-miss league, all it takes is one stellar performance to remind people exactly the type of player you are, as well as what your value is.
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