PHILADELPHIA — As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Toronto Raptors, breakout sensation Pascal Siakam will be doubtful for Game 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers with a right calf contusion.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Siakam, who is the only Raptor outside of Kawhi Leonard to average more than 12 points per game in the series. Siakam is not just the second option, but he’s also their only viable power forward since OG Anunoby remains out after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Siakam may be a Swiss Army Knife type of player, but the Raptors desperately need every one of his skills to win.
So in short, the Raptors are screwed if Siakam can’t play.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse rattled off some potential replacements, but they’re all band-aid solutions at best. One of Norman Powell or Serge Ibaka may step into the starting lineup, while Pat McCaw remains the wild card. Needless to say, none of those are particularly inspiring options. Nurse himself even admitted as much.
“None of it is ideal, match-up wise,” Nurse said.
Typically, the Raptors would ask Fred VanVleet to replace a missing member of the starting five. However, VanVleet has just one field goal in 63 minutes against Philadelphia, and has been effectively neutralized due to his height. VanVleet’s only defensive match-up would be against JJ Redick, which means Kyle Lowry would be forced to guard up a position against one of the Sixers’ jumbo-sized wings.
Powell would be the most seamless fit. That would allow the Raptors to maintain their preferred alignment of one big inside, surrounded by four perimeter players outside. Powell can knock down a corner three, occasionally drive to the rim (although that’s a difficult ask with Joel Embiid patrolling the paint), and should theoretically able to hold his own against Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler. But again, replacing Siakam with Powell would only exacerbate Philadelphia’s size advantage, who already hold an 36-14 advantage in second-chance points.
Ibaka would alleviate concerns about size, but the Raptors would have to change just about everything else in their scheme. Nurse dabbled with the Ibaka-Marc Gasol tandem down the stretch of the regular season, but it never quite clicked. Not only does it create problems with spacing and role definition on offense, but the Raptors also had to resort to playing zone so that Ibaka and Gasol weren’t chasing wings around on the perimeter. Needless to say, zoning up against an elite gunner like Redick would be like pouring gas on the fire.
Starting McCaw would be a stab in the dark. McCaw has only appeared in garbage time during this playoff run, and he was never ever featured as a consistent member of the rotation at any point in the regular season. McCaw is an active defender who can be a pest on the ball, but he’s also wire-thin and the Sixers’ wings should all be able to post him up without much of an issue. It’s not even clear if he’s up to game speed after he missed most of April with a sprained right thumb on his shooting hand.
Even if the Raptors manage to replace Siakam on defense, the bigger struggle would be recreating his 23 points on 50 percent shooting. Even with Leonard pouring in 68 points as the leading man, Toronto’s offense failed to crack 100 points in each of their last two outings. The Raptors were already in need for a third option, and now they’re completely up against the wall.
Lowry already vowed to take on a bigger scoring load after Game 3, so he was consistent in his message after learning about Siakam’s injury. Lowry was good in Game 2, where he scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, but his scoring was a non-factor in Games 1 and 3. At minimum, Lowry needs to be the second option.
“Be a little bit more aggressive, I might take some shots that I haven't taken in about a year and a half. Forcing — not forcing, but taking some shots that may be a little bit tougher than they usually are, but I'm gonna play. And that was going to be the mindset no matter if Pascal played or not,” Lowry said.
Gasol, who is averaging a paltry 6.7 points in this series, will also need to provide more scoring. Gasol passed up a handful of open threes in Game 3, and that simply cannot happen in Game 4. The only chance the Raptors have of generating efficient offense outside of Leonard would be for Gasol to pull Joel Embiid out of the paint with his shooting.
If anything, the Raptors might need another Hall-of-Fame type performance from Leonard, something similar to his 45 points in Game 1. But if nobody else can score, the Sixers will just continue their strategy from the fourth quarter of Game 3 and force Leonard to give up the ball by trapping him at halfcourt, and there’s nothing he can do about that.
The only real hope would be for Siakam to somehow recover in time for Sunday’s game, which isn’t entirely out of the question as he’s only being listed as doubtful. Siakam said he felt worse on Friday than he did at practice on Saturday, and that he’s icing his leg as much as possible. He wouldn’t be at full capacity, but even half of Siakam would be better than the other options.
“I think we still got 24 hours or so for it to play out. I don’t think there is anything seriously wrong structurally - you know what I’m saying - that is ruling him out 100 percent or we would be telling you he is out 100 percent,” Nurse said.
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