TORONTO -- With about two-and-a-half minutes to play in the second quarter and his team down 26 points, Pascal Siakam looked to make a point to back down Jaylen Brown, made a quick move over his left shoulder and softly floated in a hook shot.
A lovely move that was far too little, far too late as Siakam’s Raptors got crushed by the Boston Celtics, 111-89, and are on the brink of playoff elimination for the first time since they played Game 7 against Philadelphia last year.
Thanks to a dreadful 11-point first quarter and then a defensively disastrous second that saw them allow the Celtics to score 37, the Raptors’ Game 5 hopes of taking control of their second-round series were undone by halftime.
And while there’s a lot of blame to go around, perhaps the most puzzling aspect to narrow in on were just the three field-goal attempts for Siakam in the first half, which appears to be more of a continuation of a troubling trend seen from the Raptors' all-star in this series.
Siakam has shown a penchant to start the game slow and then have a much better second half in all but Game 3, when the opposite was seen. Either way, Siakam’s been inconsistent for the Raptors and Game 5 looked to be an extreme example of this.
In the first half, Siakam was 2-of-3 from the field with the looks he did get looking pretty good -- he just didn’t get enough of them. Obviously, the Celtics’ defence played a role in this as their defence was locked in and suffocating the entire first half, but with Siakam Toronto’s go-to scorer, the Raptors probably had to find a way to get him the ball more than they did.
“Probably both. Probably squarely on me, first and foremost. I got to look at it. I hate to look at a stat and see what the problem is when I don’t really know without looking,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after the game, when asked if Siakam’s limited looks were more the Celtics defence or Toronto’s offence not finding him. “[But] to get back to your question, it's probably not enough attempts for him.”
Added VanVleet when asked the same question: “I think that's on us, that's on me. Gotta give him more shots, gotta give him the ball, put him in good spots. But, I mean, you have an 11-point quarter, I don't think anybody's going at that point.
“So we're searching a little bit, trying to find the open ones, I don't think it's a constant thing where we're not looking for him. I think the ball just found other guys, and that's the way that their defence is set up right now, so we've got to keep taking advantage of the open ones we get, and then when we have a chance to put him in a good spot, we've got to continue to do that.”
In the second half the Raptors appeared to correct their issue of not finding their top offensive threat as they ran more high-pick-and-roll with Siakam and Kyle Lowry. That freed up Siakam to score six straight points to begin the third quarter as the Raptors managed to cut a 27-point half-time deficit to a somewhat more manageable 21-point discrepancy.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t last long for the Raptors as Celtics coach Brad Stevens, understanding how dangerous Siakam is, took a quick timeout to try to snuff out any momentum he and the Raptors may have been building.
“He's terrific. Tough. You just try to guard him as hard as you can. I know that sounds simple and doesn't give away a whole lot, but you just try to be as good as you can be. He gets where he wants to go, he's physical, can put the ball on the floor,” said Stevens of Siakam. “He's a really good competitor. So every time you get a stop on him, you really have to earn it. Saw at the start of the second half, he had a couple of baskets there and it looked like they were going to set the tone for the way the half was played again, and, you know, he's tough.”
After that timeout, while Siakam kept trying to attack, he missed his next two shots and, more pertinently, picked up three more fouls to bring him to five for the game. That essentially ended his night, with the Celtics leading by 26 again with just under six minutes to play in the third quarter.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to pick up a foul like that, but it is what it is,” said Siakam of the quick fouls he picked up in the third.
Understandably, Siakam seemed a little dejected about when taking questions from reporters following the contest, but the Raptors can’t afford to let him hang his head now.
As mentioned before, Siakam has been mired in a strange trend of inconsistency and with the Raptors now literally in a do-or-die situation in their next game, they need him to figure things out -- and fast -- because, quite frankly, his performance in Game 5 simply wasn’t good enough.
A go-to guy should be expected to demand the ball when his team is in danger, like the Raptors were in the first half, and can’t afford to put himself into foul trouble the way he did in the third quarter. In doing both, Siakam essentially erased his own presence from Game 5, and when you’re the team’s most talented player, that just can’t happen.
This is obviously a sign of growing pains for Siakam as this is his first post-season as a No. 1 option, but the time to wait for him to figure it all out is about to run out, and everyone is still waiting.
“It could be part of it,” said Nurse when asked if Siakam’s struggles right now are related to him being a go-to guy for the first time in his career. “I don’t know. He has already kind of been through a deep playoff run and had spectacular games. I am not sure why he has been so out of rhythm since the restart in the bubble. He hasn’t had a lot of great games and I think that is more of it other than here we are in the playoffs and he is supposed to be our leading guy.
“I’m not sure he’s been in great rhythm since the restart and it’s too bad because he was spectacular in last year’s playoffs and spectacular all season long. We still got some games to play. Hopefully he can get his rhythm.”
Facing a Wednesday contest with actual win-or-go-home stakes, the Raptors would probably like more than a little hope that Siakam finds his old game again.