Siakam cements MIP status as Raptors overpower Nets

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It’s funny.

It’s funny because originally, this piece was titled ‘Siakam makes MIP statement as Raptors overpower Nets’. Then came the reality check.

Pascal Siakam didn’t make a statement, he all but confirmed, solidified and clinched his long sought-after ‘Most Improved Player of the Year’ award.

Yet again, on one of basketball’s biggest stages in Brooklyn, New York — Pascal Siakam provided the basketball world with an unadulterated, masterclass performance. Better yet, this was coming off arguably his worst performance of the season as he put up six points, three rebounds, and four assists on 2/9 FG (22%) in what turned out to be an absolute stinker by his standards. A short two days later — bouncing back in incredible fashion — he posts 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists on 11/21 FG (52%) with only a single turnover. Despite the storied setting and impeccable timing, the boldness from this statement was rooted within the circumstance itself.

For the better part of four months, there have been two primary frontrunners for the prestigious MIP award. Your very own Pascal Siakam and Brooklyn Nets guard, D’Angelo Russell. To be fair, Russell had quite a game himself — posting 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists on 11/25 FG (44%) with three turnovers. In defiance of Russell’s fantastic season, most qualified (this is a keyword here) NBA circles perceived the lead Siakam held in the award-race as somewhat sizable. This prime storyline that dominated the game was exceptionally fun to follow, as the Raptors not only came out victorious in the battle, but Siakam seemed to establish a comfortable three-dragon lead on Russell’s award hopes.

In the game itself, it would be remiss not to mention the help Siakam got from his running mates. Kawhi Leonard dropped a cool 26-point, nine-rebound, three-assist performance while Serge Ibaka chipped in with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Not known for his long-range ability (unless we’re referring to Serge’s octave level when doing car-karaoke with OG Anunoby), Ibaka unconditionally terrorized the Nets from three-point range all night long. The Mafuzzy chef was cooking, opening things up for Toronto, allowing much cleaner execution on Toronto’s offensive sets. He finished 5/5 from beyond the arc, leaving Nets players hoodwinked, bamboozled and flat-out deceived. In truth, Serge is shooting barely 30% from 3PT range this season — a mark that’s considerably lower than his career 35% clip. In other words, the Nets certainly had the right to be confused.

At least this season.

Toronto led for most of the game, playing a very direct, open style of basketball. On Brooklyn’s end, they made it clear how they would defend Toronto early. My good friend, colleague and Yahoo Canada’s newest Raptors correspondent, William Lou, put it perfectly — they gave Pascal Siakam the Ben Simmons treatment all night — daring him to shoot. This would’ve been a wonderfully-crafted plan from Nets coach, Kenny Atkinson. The problem, one may ask?

We’re in April now — not December.

Since the season began, by month — starting with October and ending with April respectively — Siakam has shot 23%, 43%, 29%, 33%, 49%, 31%, 40% from long-distance, while his attempts per game have only increased.

In this case, Atkinson challenged Nick Nurse in hopes of placing stress on Toronto’s offense. Siakam obliged, giving Brooklyn a respectable 3/7 shooting night from long-range. An amusing part of this Raptors-Nets matchup was Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin’s incessant mentioning of both teams not fully ‘tipping their caps’ to the opposition. Reason being, both teams may have been saving their strategic intentions for a possible playoff matchup. As of now, both teams have a legitimate chance to take what was a regular-season rumble into a seven-game playoff series. In fact, if the season ended after this game, Toronto would match up with Brooklyn in a homecourt playoff series. This is one possibility of many for Toronto, as just one single game separates the Eastern Conference sixth seed and ninth seed.

As Toronto heads into their final four games of the regular season, Nick Nurse and his staff must make it a priority to preserve the health of his roster. Anunoby is primed to return from his inclusion into the league’s concussion protocol, while Green opted to suit up in what was categorized as a ‘jammed left thumb’ injury. Toronto cannot afford to sustain injuries this late in the season with their seeding in the conference all but locked up. It will be interesting to see how Nurse manipulates his rotations as the season ultimately nears its end.

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