Reviving Pascal Siakam’s Half-Court Spice

Draymond Green had the ball above the break with 6-minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Warriors were down 11-points and were struggling to create offense against the Raptors amoebic, sticky, and uniquely physical half-court defense. Pascal Siakam was a large part of the reason the Raptors were up at this juncture in game 1, and Green made the decision to dart to the rim, hoping to score against Siakam the way Siakam had against him. Even though Green got the first step, Siakam tracked him, loping after him with the confident, quick steps of a feline-adjace being. Green put the ball up, and Siakam slapped it hard off the glass. The first mistake Green made was assuming Siakam wasn’t equally as impressive defensively.

The help-side defense is non-existent on this play. Oddly enough you can see Marc Gasol take the step in, but he backs out and locks onto Kevon Looney for the box-out. Why do this? Well, he probably noticed the same thing I did. As soon as Siakam caught up to Green he started matching his steps. With Siakam’s timing and athleticism, Gasol knew that Green would have to bail out with a pass under the basket, or get his shot swatted. A small feat of Siakam’s, but something that all good defenders do; match those steps and get the guy you’re defending trapped in the air, then attack the ball.

Had there been a question in the RR staff roundtable phrased as: “Do you expect the Raptors to win Game 1 if Kawhi shoots 35-percent from the floor and Steph has 34 points?” I expect that most everyone would respond with a resounding no. However, comma, we had been a couple weeks removed from an example of just how overwhelming a burst from Siakam can be. Thinking back to Game 1 of the 76ers series when Siakam left the opposing team in abject despair after scoring in a multitude of ways, stretching the floor in transition like a NBA version of Randy Moss, and bouncing around the Raptors masterful half-court defense; this performance from Siakam doesn’t seem so alien when you’re cognizant of how he got here.

After contending with up-and-coming defender Jonathan Isaac, Siakam contended with Defensive Player of the Year nominee, Joel Embiid. After that it was… Defensive Player of the Year nominee, Giannis Antetokounmpo. After that it was… oh right! Defensive Player of the Year nominee, and self proclaimed “Greatest Defender of All-time” Draymond Green. It’s no wonder Siakam’s numbers took a dip in the playoffs, or that he started hanging out around the three-point line a bit more often. He’s been looking an absolute murderer’s row of defenders in the eye for over a month now. Why was Green so much easier for Siakam to figure out?

“He played an amazing game. He got out in transition a lot, our transition ‘D’ was horrible, and I let him get into a rhythm in the first half, the first quarter really, so I gotta do a better job of taking his rhythm away, and I will, but he had a great game.” – Draymond Green on Pascal Siakam

It’s notable that Siakam did a hell of a job getting loose of Green, whether it was as a screener with Kawhi Leonard and forcing a switch, in transition, or even as a ball-handler himself. Especially early on in the game, Siakam did a great job of finding Curry, posting him up and finding the Raptors shooters beyond the arc. This resulted in three first quarter triples (Danny Green-Gasol-Gasol) assisted by Siakam. With a lot of players who thrive in the post, most of the work comes before you receive the entry pass, and Siakam was vigilant in putting himself in positions to succeed and make the Warriors sweat.

It’s been said that LeBron James keeps track of how long rim-defenders have been in the paint. He does this so he knows when they have to step out (avoiding a 3-in-the-key call) and the lane will open up for his driving game. Maybe not as cerebral as James, but mindful enough, Siakam chose his spots wisely against the Warriors. More often than not, he would take Green at the rim when there was either no help, or one of the Warriors more diminutive players like Curry. He’s capitalizing on a luxury he hasn’t had for two rounds of basketball. Embiid and Lopez were always at the rim, waiting for Siakam. In this case, with the Warriors, and keeping in mind how good Green is, Siakam hardly feels the primary defender when he’s finishing at the rim. He can hang and out-maneuver anyone at the bucket. When there’s no help-side, all Siakam has to do is wait, and use his absurd length, dexterity, and countless shoulder slots for finishing at the rim.

*Survey the floor – Gasol has obliged Looney to drift out of the paint, Curry is on the weak-side – push Green under the rim and use your touch and length to finish.

*Gasol’s gravity is dragging Jordan Bell out of the paint, Klay Thompson is in help-side. Shake Green out of his damn shoes and finish easy.

“His motor is non-stop. Even if you feel like you’re running shoulder-to-shoulder with him, he has another gear he can get to. He puts pressure on you in transition. When he puts the ball on the floor he’s pretty composed, knowing what he’s trying to do with it, and he’s great at finishing no matter where it is around the paint.” – Steph Curry on Siakam

The Raptors have shown how daunting it can be to try and score in the half-court against good defenses, and the Warriors are a good defensive team. However, the front-court tandem of Gasol and Siakam proved to be far too much for the Warriors to contend with. Especially with Gasol hitting his triples, increasing his gravity and giving Siakam loads more room to work his magic in the post. The fact that the Warriors weren’t able to give Gasol fits on the defensive end – by spreading him thin with the high screen & roll – is fantastic news for the Raptors. The way that Gasol shot the ball from behind-the-arc and bullied (surprisingly) his way inside provided the Raptors offense with far more organic options out of their sets. If the Warriors can’t punish Gasol on defense, and Kevin Durant doesn’t return soon, the Raptors might have – and this feels strange to say – too much firepower for the Warriors to contend with.

Siakam will always be a terror in transition, and the Raptors supercharged him last night with how often they turned the Warriors over. The Warriors can come back and execute a lot better on offense than they showed in game 1. The Raptors can keep playing their aggressive brand of defense, and there will be adjustments for the Warriors to make, but I don’t see a remedy for the Warriors to stop Siakam in the half-court with the current spacing and little to no help-defense. It’s the first time in a while that Raptors fans can let their eyes grow wide when Siakam has the ball in the half-court, but it’s a welcome sight.

Have a blessed day.

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