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Pascal and Rolling to a Victory

Best game of the year deserves some of the best plays.

6 mins read
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Photo via NBA Canada

Winning time is pick and roll time.

I have said for years now – oh god, it’s been years, the pandemic is stealing my youth – that the Raptors are leaving points on the table by not allowing Pascal Siakam to be involved in more pick n’ rolls – as a handler or screener. Unless you’re extremely tapped in to a coach’s or a players ear, you won’t know who is the one that’s resistant to which play calls. Regardless, the Raptors, Pascal, whoever – they weren’t resistant to it last night, and it’s the reason they won.

Read Louis Zatzman’s terrific breakdown of Siakam’s screening here.

For starters, Siakam has been screening more as of late and that pairs incredibly well with his growing skillset. Whether he’s popping, slipping, or rolling he’s typically catching the ball with advantage. He’s without a doubt one of the best passing bigs in the NBA, he’s been a force downhill since rounding into form post-injury, and he’s a dependable mid-range shooter. All of that becomes more dangerous when he’s attacking with an advantage, which is exactly what the pick n’ roll will do. What’s better than Siakam with an advantage? Not much, as the Bucks found out.

Against the Clippers, Fred VanVleet initiated most of the pick n’ rolls as the handler and the Clippers switched – meaning Siakam got to isolate on a mismatch. The Raptors ran a variation of the Siakam/VanVleet pick n’ roll on 7 straight possessions to close them out. No Paul George, no Kawhi Leonard, not convinced it’s a winning play? Well, they did it against Giannis & co., only they were far less focused on featuring VanVleet, and made sure that Siakam was the focal point.

Nine pick n’ rolls in the last 5 minutes. Seven involving Siakam, including the last 6 halfcourt possessions to close the game. One trip to the free throw line, 8 points scored, and 1 turnover directly related to the pick n’ roll. Overall on those possessions? Tack on another 5 points. When the Bucks tried to lock up, the Raptors steamrolled them, and it was largely because Siakam is one of the most diverse and imposing offensive weapons when he has it going.

The Pascal/Precious pick n’ roll and subsequent missed jumper vs. the Suns late lived large in the minds of Raptors fans. This overwhelming assault from Siakam to completely dominate the Bucks over a full five minutes is way more impressive than had that middy dropped against Ayton. Siakam took on all comers – DPOY’s, gritty journeymen, and undersized guards.

Siakam’s bucket against George Hill after Giannis & Hill switched the Siakam/VanVleet pick n’ roll. You have to switch or give Siakam the edge, because if you Blitz Siakam on-ball, and you don’t plan on ‘Next-ing’ your rotations, you’re going to be leaving the NBA’s best catch and shoot option open for 3. This play was the dagger for the Clippers. This time, it was the dagger for the Bucks, just in a different fashion. 

From the Bucks broadcast after the bucket:

“Siakam with that move. That pump-fake, step through move. He’s been clutch when Toronto has needed him to be clutch.” 

Here you get Siakam doing his best VanVleet impression, slipping into space and canning an above the break triple after the Bucks blitz him- which they did all night. Then, the front end of that Siakam/VanVleet ‘pnr’ that the Bucks had to switch. 

We can even look at how the Raptors started the game. When the Bucks were funneling the ball to Achiuwa, the Raptors were ending too many offensive possessions without points. So, they go to the Siakam/VanVleet pick n’ roll.

Even when Siakam was off the ball he was helpful. Check out this wonderfully Lowry-esque screen on Giannis in the lane for Anunoby’s and-1.

It might sound stupid to say: “Hey, the thing you did to mash one of the best teams in the league? More of that please.” But, I’m perfectly fine with being stupid and saying that. Siakam has been playing the best basketball of his life lately – yes, better than his 2nd team All-NBA season – and leaning into more plays that allow him to attack with advantage is a winning strategy.

Perhaps most importantly, though? He won the “YES SIR” battle.

 

Have a blessed day.

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