For as much as the Raptors’ run to the finals was about Kawhi Leonard’s ascension to godhood, it was also about the circumstances that made that ascension necessary. Think of all the playoff possessions in which Leonard was forced to pull a heroic shot out of his ass because his other four teammates didn’t show much interest in making their own. Think of all the times you read some analysis of a game that featured a sentence along the lines of, “At some point, the other Raptors are going to have to step up and do something.”
In Game 1 of the finals, Pascal Siakam stepped up and did something. The 25-year-old forward is the only Raptor not named Kawhi who possesses a truly game-breaking combination of skill and physical attributes, but through most of the playoffs he deployed those gifts inconsistently. There were some nice games, but there were plenty of moments in which he just sort of floated out of the action, looking a lot like what he is: a young player experiencing the pressures of the postseason for the first time.
In Game 1, he found himself primarily defended by Draymond Green. It seemed like a smart move by the Warriors: Target the guy who has already looked a little overwhelmed by the moment, sic the most overwhelming defensive presence in the league on him, and count on Green to just bully the kid right out of the series before it even starts. What the Warriors got instead was 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting through a healthy dose of fearless play from young Pascal.
Siakam did a lot of damage in transition, where he’s most dangerous, but he also got some big buckets in a way the Warriors probably didn’t expect him to: by going right at Green’s neck. Finding oneself isolated against Draymond Green on the perimeter is a scenario in which a certain amount of wilting can be expected, but Siakam repeatedly got himself into those situations and made a meal out of the Warriors’ burly menace. There’s a particularly good sequence in the middle of this highlight reel, in which Siakam rumbles right through Green and gets to the rim on two separate possessions:
He also sized Green up and hit a jumper right in his scowl:
And just for good measure, he hit Green with a humiliating block at the other end:
Green was asked about his matchup against Siakam after the game, and he couldn’t help but offer some praise. “I think he played an amazing game, obviously,” said Green. “You got to take your hat off to him... he’s become A Guy, so, he put a lot of work in to get that.”
Thirty-two points, a highlight reel block, a Game 1 victory, and an official sanctioning of your Guyhood by none other than Draymond Green. Not a bad way to start one’s NBA Finals career, and not a bad set of accomplishments to spend some time dwelling on before Game 2, where Green will likely take the floor armed with a chainsaw and a grenade.