Raptors face many conundrums if Siakam sits out Game 4

Posted On Oct 2 2019 by

As the Toronto Raptors have spent their playoffs struggling to supplement the otherworldly play of Kawhi Leonard, the one guy they could rely on was Pascal Siakam.He’s leading the team in minutes played this post-season. His 22.9 points per game are second only to Leonard, and just shy of double Kyle Lowry’s 11.6, which rank third. On a Raptors team starved for size and struggling against the length of the Philadelphia 76ers — who have opened up a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final — Siakam leads Toronto in rebounding, is second in blocks, and has scored more points in the paint than anyone. He’s been indispensable.So, about that. Twelve minutes after noon on Saturday, the Raptors sent sharp pangs of anxiety through an already distressed fan base when they announced Siakam is doubtful for Sunday’s critical game 4 against the Sixers with a right calf contusion. Minutes later, Siakam arrived for practice with his team at Wells Fargo Center, took a seat on the baseline, and didn’t do much to mitigate concern, saying not even he’s sure if he’ll be able to play or not.“We haven’t really done much until now. So I’m probably going to see what I do today and kind of play it by ear,” he said. “It’s sore. It’s really sore.”Siakam says he doesn’t know exactly when the injury occurred, only that he didn’t notice how bad it was until his adrenaline wore off following Thursday’s game. He’s spent the time since resting and receiving treatment, and says the soreness has subsided with each passing day. He was hoping to try a bit of running during Saturday’s practice to gauge his recovery. But the true test will be how he feels Sunday ahead of his team’s 3:30 p.m. ET tip-off.Now, it is certainly worth mentioning that during the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game, in a momentary and uncommon loss of composure, Siakam used his right leg to trip Joel Embiid after being stuffed at the rim. Embiid weighs nearly 300-lbs., and he appears to drive his left knee directly into Siakam’s right calf on the play before toppling forwards. That could certainly cause a contusion.But it’s also worth mentioning that Siakam continued playing following that event, and actually came up on the wrong end of an even more vicious collision with Embiid moments later, when the Sixers centre blocked another attempt, this time sending the Raptors forward crashing to the floor as if he’d been volleyed from a cannon. That could also cause a contusion.As Siakam said Saturday, there was no shortage of contact in Thursday’s game — “I was on the floor at lot,” he pointed out, accurately — particularly in the paint where Siakam spends much of his time. And Zapruder’ing game film in an effort to determine exactly when Siakam was contused doesn’t accomplish much. All that matters is that Siakam’s now injured, and his status for Sunday’s Game 4 is in doubt.He’ll certainly do everything he can to suit up, and the fact he’s missed only three games over the last two seasons — including a pair of playoff runs — speaks to Siakam’s willingness to play through bumps and bruises. Considering his style of play, you can be certain he’s taken the floor on many occasions that he doesn’t feel his best.And with that in mind, maybe Toronto’s listing of Siakam as doubtful is merely a bit of gamesmanship meant to give Philadelphia something else to think about. The injury would have to be awfully serious, and awfully limiting, for Siakam to sit out a game this important. And Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said Saturday, “I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong, structurally, that’s ruling him out 100 per cent,” which leaves plenty of room for Siakam to be taking the floor as usual Sunday afternoon. But what happens if he can’t?“It’s just a next man up thing, if that’s what it turns out to be,” Nurse said. “It’s just like every other time somebody’s been out this year. Whether it’s Kawhi, Kyle, whoever. You just have to plug in with what we’ve got.”If Nurse needs a replacement in his starting lineup, Fred VanVleet is likely the leading candidate. The Raptors’ unofficial sixth man drew 28 starts this season, often when the Raptors were without one of Lowry or Leonard, as they often were. Of course, subbing in for a forward like Siakam is a different proposition. But with OG Anunoby still unavailable following an appendectomy, the Raptors don’t have a natural replacement.“We’ve done that a lot with Fred and we’ve really enjoyed great pace and ball movement, et cetera,” Nurse said. “That may be something to spark us a little bit.”Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka are Nurse’s other primary options. They’d bring more size than VanVleet, which carries extra weight in this series considering how much Philadelphia’s length has bothered the Raptors.Powell’s no stranger to impromptu and impactful playoff performances. Two years ago, after not even seeing the floor in the opening game of Toronto’s first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Powell drew into the starting lineup for Game 4 with the Raptors down 2-1. He was plus-15 during an inspired Raptors victory that night, earning another start in Game 5 when he scored 25 and was plus-23 in 34 minutes. He remained in the starting lineup for Game 6 as the Raptors completed the series comeback.Ibaka, meanwhile, would be the most natural Siakam replacement from a pure size standpoint. But that would mean sharing the floor with starting centre Marc Gasol, which hasn’t always been a seamless fit in their limited time playing together.The Raptors did manage a 6.4 net rating over the 31 minutes spread across 15 games that Gasol and Ibaka shared the floor during the regular season. That number was powered mostly by a very strong 85.1 defensive rating, however, as the Raptors played to only a 91.4 offensive rating over those minutes. That confirms the eye test which suggests that while Gasol and Ibaka’s length can create problems for an opposition’s ability to score, it isn’t a cohesive fit for the Raptors on the offensive end.And if Toronto has had one issue in these playoffs, it’s been scoring. The Raptors defence was its biggest strength up until Thursday’s blowout, a game in which Toronto didn’t do anything it wanted to. In the six games prior to that, the Raptors held their opponents to a defensive rating of 99 or lower. So far, that’s been the trend, with Thursday’s game the outlier. So, Nurse may prefer to prioritize offensive fluidity when deciding who to start.Patrick McCaw is the final, dark horse candidate to fill a Siakam absence. He drew into the starting lineup once this season on a Leonard load management night this March, and has been used sparing during the playoffs. From a rotation standpoint, starting McCaw would allow Nurse to keep VanVleet, Powell, and Ibaka in the roles and lineups they’ve become familiar with over Toronto’s first eight post-season games. But those three haven’t been enjoying much success, anyway, so a change to their usage might not be the worst thing.While McCaw brings plenty of fast-twitch defensive energy, he’s been a hesitant shooter to this point with the Raptors, and would be at a size disadvantage against the Sixers’ big starters. Of course, that’s the case for essentially all of Nurse’s options outside of Ibaka.“None of its ideal matchup-wise,” Nurse said. “But those are the guys that have been playing.”Depth guard Jeremy Lin and forward Eric Moreland have only seen floor time in blowouts, which removes them from the conversation. And while veteran shooter Jodie Meeks has logged limited minutes in every playoff game for the Raptors thus far, thrusting him into a starting role would be a lot to ask. But one of those three could see their bench role expanded Sunday, as Nurse mentioned that if Siakam isn’t unavailable he’d likely “introduce somebody else into the series that hasn’t played yet.”But the biggest impact in all of this will be what the Raptors would lose if Siakam can’t play. The rest of the Raptors roster outside of Leonard has been struggling to produce as is, from Lowry and Gasol’s lack of scoring, to the second unit’s continued failure to arrive in this series. Through it all, the Raptors have been able to rely on Siakam to pick them up. Sunday, that option may not be available.“Those guys, they’re unbelievable. They’ve carried us a lot this year. Honestly, they’ve done a lot for us,” Lowry said of Leonard and Siakam. “As other players around those guys, we need to step up in general. Make some shots, be more aggressive, draw some more fouls, try to do some more things to help relieve a little bit of the scoring burden off of them.“It’s next guy up. We’ve got to step up. I’ve got to step up even more. I’ve got to step up way more than I have. And that will be the challenge for us — everyone stepping up.” read more