I have avoided spending too much time talking about or even thinking about Kawhi Leonard and next season, avoiding the tiresome cottage industry that has sprung up south of the border and led to such headline staples as “Sources: Leonard leaning toward Clippers.” Meh. We’ll get there when we get there, right?
But watching Pascal Siakam’s 58 minutes worth of growth in Game 3 Sunday night left me thinking about where this team might be moving forward, since there is a sense in this city that no matter how this series or these playoffs wind up, any decision by Leonard to leave will trigger wholesale changes. Those changes will most likely claim Kyle Lowry or any other veteran on the team and, maybe, president Masai Ujiri as well. It might not be a whirlwind breakdown as opposed to a slightly faster than gradual change. But it will come.
Now, it’s a long way from being considered one of the most improved players in the league to franchise lynch-pin and truth be known I’m not certain Siakam has that in him. Perhaps this is his ceiling. But he has in many ways personified this team throughout these playoffs: capable of monster defence, powerful offensive flourishes and susceptible to bouts of icy coldness when shooting.
Like the rest of his team, Sunday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals was for Siakam four regulation plus two overtime quarters of bending but not breaking as the Raptors went on to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 118-112. His missed free throws contributed greatly to the need for overtime, but that block on Brook Lopez immediately after choking on a three-point shot in the second overtime, then hit a pair of free throws that made it a three-possession game. When it was over he had played the second-most minutes on the team (51:23), was plus-12 that was bettered only by the plus-15 of Kyle Lowry (who fouled out half-way through the fourth quarter), had 11 rebounds and was 9-for-18 from the field.
He also had a role in clamping down Giannis Antetokounmpo, holding him scoreless in 19 tries according to NBA.com’s John Schuman.
And whenever this season finishes, perhaps the biggest takeaway has been Siakam’s ability to go from a game-changer off the bench to a player who can put together a career year and raise his game while his team goes through the process of acclimating to the sudden infusion of a talent and personality such as Leonard’s. There have been times when we’ve wondered how the pieces would fit together … but it seems as if that focus was more often than not on players other than Siakam.
Certainly, there are issues just below the surface with this Raptors team. The post-Kawhi let-down, if it occurs, will be something else. The teams depth is no longer a strength but an Achilles heel, Fred VanVleet has, I think, pretty much laid to rest the notion that he can be anything other than an option off the bench. God bless his tenaciousness and all that stuff, but he cannot be your point-guard if Lowry leaves. Which brings us to Siakam. Can he be your go-to guy going forward? I’m not certain. But I know this: whenever this rebuild commences and whoever is in charge, they’ll know they have a terrific complementary piece who can keep up with the very best players in the game. You can work with that. You really can.
NOW TWEET THIS
In which we wonder if two managers will be fired in the same series this week … pick out the Padres as a Blue Jays trading partner … go out of the world with the Astros … and decide once and for all that the Warriors are Steph’s team, not KD’s.
• Eyebrows were raised around baseball this week when Marcell Ozuna, one of this winter’s potential prime free agents, dropped Scott Boras as his agent in favour of Melvin Roman, who also represents his Cardinals teammate Yadier Molina #redfaced
• Quick question: Would any other fan be allowed the freedom of the sidelines as much as Drake seems to get at the Scotiabank Arena? Seriously. He seems to think he’s part of Nick Nurse’s staff. Be interesting to see if the NBA were to allow it in the Finals #downinfront
• Have the managers of both teams ever been fired in the same series? Something to think about Monday when Mickey Callaway’s Mets take on Dave Martinez’s Nationals. A case can be made that both should walk #firingline
• Hey, Port Hope, Ont.’s, Cal Quantrill is in line to start for the Padres at the Rogers Centre this weekend. The Padres will be involved when the Jays get serious about trading Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez #preying
• The Astros second 10-game winning streak of the season was snapped Sunday at 10. The only other teams in Major League history with two double-digit win streaks before June 1 were the 1941 Cardinals and the 1955 Dodgers #rarity
• Red Sox left-handed pitcher David Price starts Monday against the Jays and here’s one reason Alex Anthopoulos traded for him: he’s 21-3 (2.43) in 30 starts at the Rogers Centre and 8-0 in his last 10 (3.09). Those eight consecutive wins are tied with … injured Blue Jays starter Clay Buchholz (2009-2014) #pricey
• Tuuka Rask is the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy. His seven-game post-season win streak is three shy of Gerry Cheevers Bruins record set in 1970 #cheesy
• If I’m an NBA free-agent like Kawhi Leonard I look at the Nets or the Warriors, who are still Steph’s team: up 3-0 without Kevin Durant, with Curry the first player with at least 35 points while winning each of the first three games of conference or division finals. The Warriors move faster without KD #franchise
This has been a difficult post-season for NHL officials, who are in my opinion the best in any professional sport. They have seen their league issue a formal apology for a botched call in Game 6 of the Golden Knights-Sharks series that gave the Sharks a five-minute power play and cost the Knights the series. Referees Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt were subsequently told they were done for the playoffs. Referees were also thrown under the bus again for a missed hand-pass on an overtime goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. Yes, the officials missed the hand-pass, but the last time I looked they had nothing to do with the fact NHL rules don’t provide for video review of those plays. Here’s the thing with video review: once the genie’s out of the bottle it can’t be put back in. The NHL has accepted the overall principle of video review so now the next step is to ensure that each goal scored is subject to review, either through the NHL’s office in Toronto or through the use of an extra official on-site. Limit each review to 30 seconds and have a checklist: was the goalie interfered with? Was there an offside play or hand pass in the immediate buildup? Was it kicked in? Limiting the time for reviews makes it less of a forensic exercise. Do away completely with the coach’s challenge. There’s no need for it if a goal is automatically reviewed. As for that major penalty in the Knights-Sharks game? I’m sorry, Vegas: suck it up. Penalty calls are missed all the time in every sport. They are subjective and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there should be nothing subjective about goals. There’s a big difference between the two.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m and Baseball Central from 11 a.m.-Noon on Sportsnet 590/The Fan