Game ones of a playoff series are intended to feel out an opponent.
Not if you are Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.
In the highly anticipated Game 1 of the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers series, Leonard and Siakam shined.
The Raptors were down 7-2 early in the opening quarter. There was a call for an offensive boost against the physical Sixers defense.
Leonard and Siakam provided that spark. The superstar and protégé each scored 17 points in the first quarter. They were feeding off each other, using the team defense to roll out the transition offense.
The Raptors never trailed, defeating the Sixers 108-95.
A rare Game 1 victory for the franchise.
“It got the jitters out,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on the dominant start from Leonard and Siakam. “We weren’t pushing as hard as I would have liked. Those guys bailed us out and played enough offense to give us a lead.”
For Leonard, his double-double 45 points and 11 rebounds set a career playoff-high in scoring. He is second in the Raptors franchise in single-game playoff points, only behind Vince Carter (50).
It was another performance to add to Leonard’s storied career, which includes an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs.
On both ends of the floor, Leonard demonstrated tremendous efficiency and intensity. He utilized his nifty movement in the paint, evidenced by his spin to the basket on Sixers forward Jimmy Butler. Defensively, Leonard was in lock-down, attack mode, using his active hands and feet to contest Sixers shots and force turnovers.
No better example than at 3:51 to go in the third quarter, when Leonard blocked Sixers Tobias Harris on a layup. This led to the Raptors getting out in transition, with point guard Fred VanVleet finding Siakam for the alley-oop slam dunk.
As Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown stated after the game, Leonard has shown tremendous growth since their time together in San Antonio.
“Every year he gets more dominant,” Brown said. “To fast forward and see his skill package tonight and the variety of ways he can score and get his shot off against big defensive athletes is incredibly impressive.”
Coupling Leonard’s stellar play was that of Siakam’s. The Raptors power forward’s momentum from the last series against the Orlando Magic carried into the start of the second round.
Siakam’s 29 points on an efficient 12-of-15 shooting from the field provided the Raptors with sufficient secondary scoring. Even more significant is the fact Leonard and Siakam were the only players to score double-digit points.
After the game, the seasoned veteran commended the rising star for his growth over the course of the 2019 season.
“He came out of nowhere,” said Leonard on Siakam. “He’s got a high skill level, worked hard throughout the season and approached each game the same way. Now you see what he is doing which is magnified because it’s the playoffs. He’s doing a great job.”
As Nurse pointed out, there were moments where the team appeared disjointed on defense.
But game ones aren’t meant to be perfect. When the Raptors needed scoring, Leonard and Siakam supplied it.
A duo that won’t go unnoticed for the rest of the playoffs.