Siakam is 'unbelievable'

Ex-seminary student sinks Magic with post-season career high of 30pts to give Toronto 2-1 lead

ORLANDO • Pascal Siakam has gone from being a seminary student to a raw gem unearthed at a Basketball Without Borders camp to a bona fide National Basketball Association (NBA) star in seven years.

Mirroring his rise has been his status as a mere benchwarmer to a "focal point" for the Toronto Raptors.

In just his third year in the league, Siakam had a post-season career high of 30 points to lead all scorers in their 98-93 win at the Orlando Magic on Friday. It gave the visitors a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference play-off series.

After again demonstrating why he is the front-runner to pick up the Most Improved Player accolade, teammate Kyle Lowry hailed him as "unbelievable".

The All-Star guard, who had 12 points and dished out 10 assists, insisted: "He's the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he's only going to get better. His personality is just to go play and have fun."

Siakam added 11 rebounds to join LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players to have at least 30 points and 10 boards in a post-season game since 2015.

The Cameroon forward, who has gone from an average of 4.2 points in his debut season to 16.9 this term, put down his progression to a lot of work.


Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam driving past his Orlando Magic counterpart Jonathan Isaac to the basket during Game 3 of the first round of the NBA play-offs at Amway Centre, Orlando, on Friday. The Raptors won 98-93 to lead the series 2-1. PHOTO: REUTERS

He told ESPN: "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 the Most Improved Player (award) will show that.

"Being able to make plays goes a lot, helps me navigate the defence and find open guys or score myself.

"It's mostly just getting more comfortable with the game, and understanding the pace of the game and not rushing like I used to do. It's play-off time."

And Siakam, who is the second Raptor after Chris Bosh in 2008 to put up the same numbers in a play-off game, is getting even more efficient in the post-season, with an average of 24.3 points per game.

Already the Raptors' leader in minutes played this year, he was able to step up for his team, with All-Star Kawhi Leonard contributing a subdued 16 points after "not feeling that well".

Game 4 will be held in Orlando today, with the Magic hoping their continued reliance on All-Star Nikola Vucevic, who added 22 points, will pay off.

In Indianapolis, Boston fended off a late surge to post a 104-96 win over hosts Pacers to take a stranglehold 3-0 lead in their series.

All-Star Kyrie Irving helped the Celtics close it out by scoring 11 of their final 16 points, while Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 23 as the visitors held the home team, who were paced by Tyreke Evans' 19, to under 100 points for the third time.

ROLE MODEL

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 the Most Improved Player (award) will show that.

PASCAL SIAKAM , Toronto Raptors forward, who has gone from an average of 4.2 points in his debut season to 16.9 this term.

Elsewhere, All-Star Russell Westbrook scored 33 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the visiting Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 to take Game 3 of their Western Conference series, cutting the deficit to 2-1.

All-Star Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 32 points, but could not prevent his team from slumping to their eighth straight road loss in the play-offs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Siakam is 'unbelievable''. Print Edition | Subscribe