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Pascal Siakam Is Taking Over

Pascal Siakam #43 of the Indiana Pacers prepares to shoot a free throw during Round 1 Game 2 of the 2024 NBA Playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 23, 2024 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

In a playoff series with a glaringly absent superstar, a power vacuum can form. Though the general quality and intrigue of an Indiana Pacers–Milwaukee Bucks first-round series is noticeably lower without Giannis Antetokounmpo—particularly after the Bucks' alpha and omega dominated the Pacers this season to the tune of 42.2/13/5.4—the space that he has left behind has allowed everyone else to stretch and some to thrive. Through two games, split 1-1, no one has taken advantage of the Giannis-sized void more thoroughly than the entire postseason's rather surprising leading scorer, and this series' leading rebounder, Pascal Siakam.

After putting up 36 and 13 in Game 1 but falling short of a win thanks to Damian Lillard's 35-point first-half explosion that gave the Bucks enough breathing room to coast in the back half, Siakam was back at it again on Tuesday. His statline is beefy enough to say quite a bit on its own: 37 points and 11 rebounds on nearly 70 percent shooting, as Indiana became the first road team to win in the 2024 playoffs, comfortably handling things to a 125-108 tune. For the series, Siakam is shooting 64.5 percent from the field, and after going 1-of-4 from deep in Game 1, he splashed in three of his four attempts in Game 2.

It's safe to say that this is what Indiana traded for when it sent three first-round picks to Toronto back in January. At the time, the Pacers were in the midst of one of the more lopsided seasons ever put together: While the offense was notably great, the defense was among the worst in the history of the NBA. As Ray pointed out in our playoff preview, only 23 teams ever gave up more points than Indiana did this season, and only one of those had a better record. If Indiana were to march into the playoffs with a "no defense, just vibes" mentality, then it needed more firepower.

That's where Siakam has come in. He's been a very tidy postseason player, dating back to the 2019 playoffs, where he, admittedly as a second fiddle to Kawhi Leonard, helped Toronto win its first and only NBA title. In those playoffs, his first as a starter, Siakam averaged 19 points and seven rebounds per game, and though his career playoff numbers are lower, that has more to do with his being a bit of a late bloomer; he was 24 when he picked up his first start in the postseason.

It's only been two games, but first-option Siakam has flourished. Since Tyrese Haliburton returned too early from a hamstring injury and fell off a scoring cliff, Siakam has picked up the slack, and after averaging 21.3 points per game in exactly half a season for the Pacers since the trade, the Cameroonian has stepped up again as the most experienced playoff player on the roster. Milwaukee, without Giannis patrolling on defense, has no answer for Siakam's length and his soft touch in the paint; he was 11-of-16 in the paint in game 2, and though he's not drawing many fouls—only three free-throw attempts on Tuesday—his efficiency is through the roof. His true shooting percentage of 67.9 is the highest in any playoff series of his career to date, rather unsurprisingly.

Siakam also helped kick off a dominant fourth quarter for Indiana that put the game away early; with just under 10 minutes to play and the Pacers nursing an eight-point lead, Siakam hit two straight jumpers, one at the elbow and one from a quick post-up in transition. The Bucks would never get it back to single digits again.

What do the Bucks do to stop Siakam? The hard answer might be: Pray for Giannis. Siakam is taller and longer than any wings that Milwaukee can put on him, and he's faster than the big men that might be able to stop his paint barrage. The most logical counter would be Khris Middleton, but Middleton is nowhere near the player he was even a few years ago; his foot speed has slowed too much to keep up with Siakam, and he lacks the height to overcome that pace discrepancy. Doc Rivers has instead mainly countered by putting Brook Lopez on Siakam, but that was a tragic misfire on Tuesday: When guarded by Lopez during Game 2, Siakam scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, to go along with three assists.

Really, the answer might just be to play the type of game Indiana wants to play, maybe the only type of game they can play: Throw as much firepower as possible at the Pacers and see if they break. That's what happened in Game 1 with Lillard's bonanza. Lillard had another strong game on Tuesday, scoring 34, though he ran out of steam in the fourth as Indiana pulled away, going 0-for-3 and finishing, on the night, with a minus-24. That won't do, especially when the Pacers' starters all go for double digits.

Now this series is very much a dogfight. The Bucks have shown they can survive and outscore Siakam's contributions, but can they do it three more times? That's exhausting, and might be formidable enough as the series shifts to Indiana for the Pacers to come out on top before Giannis even gets back on the court.

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