With Kawhi Leonard struggling and the Orlando Magic threatening in Game 3, Most Improved Player favorite Pascal Siakam saved the Toronto Raptors from falling behind in the first round and facing more questions about ghosts of playoff past.
When Nikola Vucevic’s 3-pointer gave the Magic their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter, Siakam answered with a triple of his own. Orlando retook the lead for a fleeting moment, but Siakam scored or assisted on nine straight points during a 16-0 run that buried the offense-challenged Magic in too big a hole.
— NBA (@NBA) April 20, 2019
By the end of that run, Siakam had already surpassed his previous career playoff high of 24 points, which he set in Toronto’s disappointing Game 1 loss to Orlando. The 25-year-old Cameroonian totaled 30 points, adding 11 rebounds and four assists in a 98-93 win that gave the two-seeded Raptors a 2-1 edge in the series.
“It’s playoff time,” Siakam told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano afterwards. “It’s time to go.”
The Magic had no answer for Siakam, a 6-foot-9 stretch forward with the athleticism and skill to bounce around the halfcourt and score at every level. He made 13 of his 20 field-goal attempts, converting three of his four 3-point tries.
He was Toronto’s representative on our list of seven co-stars who could swing the 2019 NBA title, and he has shown no fear in his first playoffs as a central figure.
Siakam scored all of 66 points as a reserve on the Raptors that were swept out of the second round by Cleveland Cavaliers season. He has 73 through three games of this series, and Toronto has needed all of them to ward off another playoff scare.
“I put in a lot of work,” added Siakam, who went from seminary student with limited basketball experience to NBA prospect at a Basketball Without Borders camp in 2012. “I’m just happy I’m here and a lot of African kids can look up to me and know that it’s possible. That’s why I’m here, and Most Improved Player will show that.”
Leonard, the All-NBA forward whose arrival transformed Toronto into perennial pretender to legitimate contender, could not buy a basket in Orlando on Friday. He was suffering from an illness and finished 5-for-19 from the field in 37 minutes. So, when the Magic sliced the deficit to four with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, it was Siakam who found his way to the hoop for his 29th and 30th points.
Players with a 30-point, 10-rebound, 0-turnover game in the playoffs since 2015:
— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) April 20, 2019
Siakam became the first Raptors player to exceed 30 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs since Chris Bosh in 2008. His improvement from frisky bench player to borderline All-Star has had as much, if not more, to do with Toronto reestablishing their legitimacy as a title contender. Now, if only the rest of the Raptors could help hold off the Magic — a game opponent but a .500 one nonetheless — in Round 1.
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