TORONTO — Unlike the free meals the bars and restaurants lining the streets around Scotiabank Arena were promising to Kawhi Leonard, there was no campaign to wine and dine Pascal Siakam before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
By the time Thursday night’s game was over, Siakam had taken a star turn, scoring 32 points to power the Raptors to a 118-109 win over the two-time defending champion Warriors. And while there were not actual stickers affixed to restaurants like the “Ka’wine and Dine” campaign, Siakam likely could have been toasted with free drinks anywhere around town if he had chosen that path.
But he passed.
“I got a lot of messages,” Siakam said Friday afternoon. “But I don’t know, it didn’t really feel that way. My family is here. I just hung out after the game, spending some time, quiet time with family. I think that’s pretty much it.”
The 25-year-old native of Cameroon arrived in Toronto with a resume devoid of star power. He picked up the game seven years ago, when he was coaxed to give up plans to become a priest and try basketball instead. Picked at the back end of the first round, the third-year player has moved from an unknown to the likely recipient of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Golden State’s Draymond Green, who took his own path from second-round pick to All-NBA star, provided the most apt description and maybe the best compliment a player with an unusual route to a star moment could receive.
“Regardless of this game, you still have to take your hat off to him, even before this game, of what he’s been able to accomplish this year,” Green said after Game 1. “He’s become a guy.”
What got Siakam to this point, to this night in the spotlight, was a work ethic like Green’s. His progress has come quickly, both in years and even during this season.
Some might describe a young player being thrust into the glare of the cameras and a worldwide audience, facing a player like Green and a team like the Warriors, as adversity. But Siakam defines adversity as when his father passed away while Pascal was far away at New Mexico State University, relying on teammates to help him get through it.
“It was definitely a moment where it kind of tested me as a man,” Siakam said. “Just being able to go through that and for me using that as a motivation, and something that’s going to push me to do better things for my family and for myself, for my dad. I think it was a turning point in my life, just going through that type of adversity. It definitely made me the person I am today.”
And that leads him to the present. For one night, he was a star. He is, as Green noted, a guy.
“I learned a lot and I know I have a lot to learn,” he said. “I think that’s one of the advantages for me. I know I have so much to learn. I have to grow. It allows me to look at my mistakes and evaluate them and try to see how I can do better.
“Obviously, you never know. I mean, you get fouls and it’s in your head and a lot of things like that. You just have to be smarter.
“That’s something that I try to do, just try to be a little smarter and learning every single night out there on the court.”
Durant to miss Game 2. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Kevin Durant who has been working out with assistant coaches, definitely will be out of action for Sunday’s Game 2.
“Kevin is not going to play Sunday,” Kerr said. “Yeah. I guess we have been sort of holding out hope, but I might as well just say it now. He’s not practicing today. We’ll have a practice tomorrow. But he’s still progressing. It’s near impossible for him to play on Sunday.”