The Toronto Raptors were in control during their first NBA Finals game, fending off the Golden State Warriors‘ late rally attempts down the stretch to hang on to a no-fluke 118-109 upset victory to take an early 1-0 lead in the championship series.
The Raptors got stellar performances from key members of the supporting cast — namely Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka — a solid-if-unspectacular night from Kawhi Leonard and an unreal performance from Pascal Siakam.
His biggest breakout in a season full of them, Siakam was the centre of attention in the aftermath of the big win, scoring 32 points on an unthinkable 14-of-17 shooting.
As we do following each and every Raptors playoff game this season, let’s take a look at how the out-of-market media are reacting to Toronto’s latest moment in the sun:
While Siakam’s defence (and the entire Raptors rotation) was stellar, it was his welcome return to form on offence that changed the tenor of the game, quickly. Siakam flirted with perfection for more than half the game, finishing the night hitting 14 of his 17 shots, including a stretch in which he had 11 consecutive makes. Siakam had 26 points in that overtime matchup in November; he had 26 points with 4:19 remaining in the third quarter in Game 1, before finishing with a playoff-career-high 32. Green, whose all-world defence is predicated on being able to read his opponent’s moves a step before they’re made, was often left in the dust defending Siakam on the break or down in the post. It was like a jazz scholar trying to discern ambient drone.
Siakam, for all his fluidity on the court, does not play with an easily identifiable rhythm. He has his pet moves on drives — his spin move has earned much-deserved acclaim all season — but with a full head of steam, he often crazy-legs his way into open spaces and jams his body into his defender’s airspace, placing his defender in an awkward position and himself with just enough daylight to let his soft touch carry his vision to fruition. If that sounds a bit like Draymond, it should. But Siakam is a few years younger and a few steps quicker, and at the pinnacle of basketball, every advantage matters — especially when you’re facing a version of yourself.
The Siakam who showed up in Game 1 was a reminder of why the Cameroonian is the favourite to receive the Most Improved Player Award at the end of this season, and a stark departure from the muzzled version we saw in the back half of the second-round series, against the Sixers, and the Eastern Conference finals, against the Bucks.
…Raptors president Masai Ujiri remembers seeing teenage Siakam at a Basketball Without Borders camp in Africa seven years ago.
He was all limbs and not very coordinated. But the native of Cameroon gave an effort that made a lasting impression on Ujiri, who followed Siakam’s career. Siakam eventually moved to the United States and played college basketball at New Mexico State.
“I didn’t even know if I really dreamed of being at this level,” Siakam said. “I couldn’t even think about this moment because it wasn’t reachable for me.”
He delivered big-time, making 14-of-17 shots, including 9-of-10 for 20 points in the second half. He is the first player to score 30 or more points on at least 80% shooting in the Finals since Shaquille O’Neal in 2004.
The Warriors weren’t nearly as physical with Siakam as they needed to be, and Golden State’s elite defender Draymond Green took responsibility.
“I let him get in a rhythm in the first half — first quarter really,” Green said. “So I’ve got to do a better job of taking his rhythm away, and I will, but he had a great game. But that’s on me.”
San Fransisco Chronicle — Warriors contain Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard — but have a daunting new challenge
…The story has changed heading into Game 2. The Warriors discovered Thursday night what it means to lose to the Toronto Raptors with Leonard little more than an afterthought. And Pascal Siakam, a third-year player coming of age before our eyes, has become a major influence. Siakam was nothing short of a revelation, sparking Toronto’s 118-109 win with a 32-point performance, and it’s hard to imagine him slowing down anytime soon.
Some of the second-half episodes stretched the limits of credulity. At one point, with Leonard forced to pass off a double-team, he found Patrick McCaw, the long-forgotten Raptors guard who hadn’t hit a shot of any kind since March 28 (against the Knicks). True to a night of pure bedlam inside Scotiabank Arena, McCaw drilled a 3-pointer for an 88-81 lead. And when VanVleet hit a crazy jumper for 110-98 — a shot that bounced off the glass, then spun around the rim in a circle before dropping in — there was little doubt about the outcome. On their maiden experience in the NBA Finals, the Raptors fans would head home delighted.
In soccer, Barcelona is known for a style of play called “tiki-taka,” which implements perfect passing as a way to build up an attack. Patience, precision, and synergy are all essential pieces of that puzzle, and during Game 1, Toronto used many of those qualities to get easy baskets on the offensive end and crucial stops on defence… Gasol, in particular, was paramount in this regard on Thursday night.
The seven-foot-one Spaniard often acts as Toronto’s most reliable conduit. Throughout the game, he’d set screens for Kawhi Leonard, watch as the Warriors trapped him with a double, and spring free as an outlet to keep the play going. He is the ultimate connector, but give him space and he can score too. When he was left open, he shot without hesitation and finished with 20 points, including two made 3s.
How big a lead does a team have to have on the Warriors before its fans can feel comfortable? Twenty points with two minutes left? Fifteen points with 30 seconds to go? To me, it didn’t feel like the Raptors had Game 1 locked up until they were actually dribbling out the final ticks, up nine with the shot clock turned off and the Warriors waving the white flag. But if there was a moment in Toronto’s 118-109 victory that signalled to their fans, “Everything’s going to be alright. They got this,” it was Fred VanVleet’s miracle shot with three-and-a-half minutes to play that put the Raptors up by 12.
Guarded by Klay Thompson with the shot clock about to buzz, the Raptors’ backup point guard flung the ball desperately toward the basket from just inside the arc. The ball banked off the backboard, rolled one full rotation, then sat on top of the rim for a brief moment before dropping through to ignite the crowd. When this kind of shot is falling, there’s nothing the Warriors can do.