Tough road ahead for Siakam as Isaac proves his defensive merit in Game 1

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There’s no substitute for shot-making in the NBA. You can draw up beautiful plays from the baseline in-bounds, immaculate elevator plays from the sideline out, but you can’t make the players hit their shots.

Much was said of Pascal Siakam’s struggles against the Magic’s absurd length and tenacity during the regular season. Nobody embodied that length and tenacity better than Jonathan Isaac, who defended Siakam admirably throughout the regular season. In an ideal world, the Raptors would flex all their offensive options throughout a game and wouldn’t necessitate Siakam to attack a matchup with a very good defender (and Isaac was very good), but the Magic defense forced the Raptors hand in that direction. Siakam’s response was vital for the Raptors in Game 1, and speaks volumes to how he can operate going forward in this series, and the playoffs.

They (Magic) have a lot of length, we understood that coming into the game. – Pascal Siakam

It’s not particularly surprising that Siakam led the Raptors in shots taken (24) in a game that called for exactly that, shot making. He played the most minutes (42) and was often the release valve for the offense when Kawhi Leonard wasn’t in the game. The Magic knew this and played him (and Leonard) tight, especially at the rim.

*Even when Isaac has to close-out and Vucevic plays little-to-no help-side defense, Isaac’s recovery and length makes this shot significantly harder. On the close-out Isaac drops his right hand to guard against Siakam’s sweep-through, Isaac and Gordon try to get their hands on everything. Tough makes were the norm for Siakam in this one, and might have to be over the course of the series.

*This play helped shape how Siakam attacked the rest of the game. Vucevic’s help-side defense only had to be a deterrent, allowing Isaac to catch up to the play. Siakam was far more mindful of the back-side of the defense after this.

Of the eight made baskets that Siakam had after this play, only two of them came with Isaac as his primary defender. He shed Isaac through dumb-luck twice, but mostly created his opportunities by receiving the ball in motion. Credit Nurse and the Raptors for deciding to treat Siakam like a guard in the offense. Similar to Lowry, the Raptors started putting Siakam on the receiving end of DHO’s (Dribble Hand-offs), or even running the 4/5 pick n’ roll with Gasol. The momentum and pace Siakam takes the ball with is of extreme importance if he wants to force a switch.

*It’s all about creating enough space between himself and Gasol. That way the Magic have to surrender the switch rather than gift Gasol a free lane to the basket.

I think for me, coming in and kinda taking my time and understanding what they’re trying to do defensively against me, and just try to use that to my advantagePascal Siakam on playing Isaac and the Magic differently in the Playoffs

Of the two shots that Siakam ended up making against Isaac after the first quarter, both came with less than 10 seconds on the shot-clock, and both came from the mid-range – one a pull-up and the other a push-shot. Isaac was superb on Siakam in Game 1. Siakam was patient and changeable, he worked hard on defense and created turnovers to jumpstart transition and he wore a few different hats offensively in this one. Against a lot of other teams (or players) this game might’ve ended up looking like a 30+ point explosion for Siakam, but Isaac’s heady defense limited Siakam to 24 points on 24 shots, with no free throws. 

In 35 games prior to this, Siakam went without free throws in just one game. His playstyle lends itself toward trips to the line. The crazy part is that Siakam didn’t even have a bad whistle in this game, the Magic just played him that well. Even wilder, Siakam shot 50-percent from the field against a defense that was fixed on him and was throwing All-NBA level defenders his way. On top of all that craziness, the wildest thing was that the Raptors top-5 ranked offense desperately needed Siakam’s 24 points on 24 shots in this game, and they’ll likely need it throughout the series.

The Magic came in with a fantastic game-plan to dismantle the Raptors. They dog-piled Siakam and Leonard at the rim without fouling, they limited their turnovers, and by extension the Raptors transition offense; they took advantage of the Raptors “drop” defense early in the pick n’ roll and they made Lowry play the role of finisher, one that he didn’t make them pay for. For their efforts they were rewarded with a bit of luck (the Raptors shot 1-9 on corner threes) and what was probably the best game of DJ Augustin’s career given the circumstances. They stole Game 1 from the Raptors.

Things will be easier if Siakam and Lowry hit threes, as they’ve both been dependable this year. Made shots will lend the Raptors more spacing, spacing that everyone can work within.The Raptors should still take this series going forward, I don’t think that’s a question. They’re the better team, and they should be able to figure out how to avoid getting murdered in their minutes without Lowry on the floor.

Part of the way forward lies with Siakam. Not only in his own offense, but keeping Isaac away from the rim when others drive in; eliminating all the easy misses, and making a point of becoming a player that capitalizes on every damn mistake. The complacency of this series has already left the Raptors and it’s fandom, and Siakam has been left with a larger piece to the puzzle than we originally thought. Luckily, he seems to know how to navigate going forward, even if Isaac makes it the most difficult test of his NBA career so far.

Oh yeah, play Kawhi Leonard more than 33 minutes.

Have a blessed day.

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