Siakam and Lowry dish on thrilling NBA all-star weekend

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (left) and Pascal Siakam both competed for Team Giannis during Sunday's NBA all-star game. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

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CHICAGO — The revamped NBA all-star game was a rousing success, but Pascal Siakam would like to see one tweak.

“Yeah. Yeah. I think we definitely can’t win on a free throw,” Siakam said when asked by Postmedia about falling 157-155 thanks to an Anthony Davis make from the line for Team LeBron.

“Like that can’t be a way to end the game. So yeah, we were trying to complain there and get that (foul call against Raptors guard Kyle Lowry overturned), but it is what it is,” Siakam said.

The first to 24 from whichever team held the cumulative lead after three quarters was an inspired switcheroo that livened up a game which featured Lowry taking charges and fighting for calls the way he does during every Raptors game, fans on the edge of their seats right to the end and some genuine emotion. It looks like the NBA all-star game is now clearly the best of the usually dull sporting celebrations.

Raptors and Team Giannis head coach Nick Nurse played Lowry and Siakam down the stretch, alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and others, and they had their moments, though a late Siakam turnover and shot that was blocked hurt, as did Lowry’s missed jumper and late foul.

“I literally couldn’t do nothing (but foul),” Lowry said.

“He ducked in on me, we switched a few times, it sucked to end like that, maybe we have to tweak that a little more when it ends on a field goal but it was fun, it was great.”

Lowry added with some consternation that he’s now 0-6 at all-star games.

Lowry said he treated it like a normal game, so that’s why he was taking charges. Siakam wasn’t surprised and said it was the same old Lowry.

“We saw the charges, so I think we saw the whole package by the end. So, it’s pretty much the same,” he said.

“I didn’t (expect to see charges at an all-star game), but I think we did a good job with the way it is now, the new format, and I think we took it seriously to go out there and try to get a win. So at the end there it was fun. We had, I don’t know how many challenges. It was pretty intense,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 30 points, including eight three-pointers. Antetokounmpo had 25, Kemba Walker, LeBron James and Chris Paul had 23. Lowry had 13 along with eight assists while Siakam had 15 in his first all-star start.

FUN WITH KAWHI

Leonard was on fire, so Siakam tried everything to try to throw him off, including goofing around with him at one point. Leonard eventually cracked a smile.

“Yeah, Kawhi, he came in and I feel like he shot the ball every time he touched it and I was just like, ‘Man, I’m going to have to guard you now,’” Siakam said.

“He made how many threes, like eight threes or something crazy? So, I had to talk to him a little bit, have some fun and try to guard him a little bit more but it was super fun playing against him and hanging out.”

It sounded like Siakam had a blast in Chicago.

“It was pretty interesting you know, just trying to figure it out. It was competitive, but at the same time, you want to have fun. Like we all have our teams to go back to and then you have a season to prepare for, but at the same time, it was really enjoyable. It was really fun being out there with Kyle . And getting to know those guys on our team and the other team. Just hanging out and talking,” Siakam said.

LOST ICONS CELEBRATED

It had been 32 years since the NBA’s big weekend was in Chicago, and while that legacy was celebrated at times — most notably with a slam dunk contest robbery a la Michael Jordan over Dominique Wilkins — and overall it was a great weekend, it was also impossible to ignore the spectre of two fallen greats hovering over the whole thing.

While Kobe Bryant and David Stern are no longer with us, they will never be forgotten and the NBA made sure that two of its true titans were front and centre, especially Bryant, one of the five most popular players in league history.

The night began with all-time great Magic Johnson taking the mic to pay tribute to the two NBA icons who both died in the past two months. Chicago native Jennifer Hudson followed with a stirring and instantly iconic rendition of For all we know in Bryant’s honour.

The most Raptor moment of the game came in the fourth quarter of the tight contest. Siakam threw a pass away and it was corralled by human interception machine Leonard who took off the other way. Minutes earlier, Lowry had unsuccessfully tried to take a charge on LeBron. This time he stepped in and was run over by his former teammate Leonard, who was called for the offensive foul.

The fourth quarter was incredible theatre. It was hard-fought, players were incensed at times with the officiating — just like in a normal game! — and it came down to the wire, tied at 152, before James Harden drew a foul on Antetkounmpo, resulting in a pair of free throws.

James drove and got a goaltending call on Antetokounmpo to bring his team a point away from victory. But the play was overturned after a replay.

Lowry drew a charge on Harden, who hit what would have been the game-winner, but got called for an offensive foul at the other end and Harden blocked a Siakam attempt, which led to Lowry’s foul on Davis and the anticlimactic ending.

BIG WEEKEND FOR RAPTORS

Toronto was well-represented once again with Siakam, Lowry and Nurse and his coaching staff all on hand, along with various behind the scenes team employees.

Heading into the weekend, Nurse had been hoping people might pay a little more attention to the team, while Siakam told me he didn’t really care about that.

“I think it certainly is nice,” Nurse had said.

“I think the team is, at times, it flies under the radar. I don’t know. That’s what I hear, that nobody takes much notice of the Raptors, even still this year. I think you take a look down at the standings and you see us in second, you’ve gotta notice a little bit more. So I think that’s important. And I think it’s great. A lot of fans in Canada tune in to watch Kyle and Pascal, and now they get to see our coaching staff there, too, and I think it increases the interest in the game for everybody north of the border,” Nurse said.

“There’s not much (more) I can do then play games, win, and make sure that I represent my team and the country that I play for, Siakam told Postmedia when asked for his thoughts on Toronto’s profile rising.

“I can’t control nothing else. That’s the only thing I can control, that’s what I care about, to be honest. Continue to get wins.”

THIS AND THAT

Some other stuff I liked at all-star weekend: Pat Connaughton’s underappreciated White Men Can’t Jump slam dunk contest tribute … Getting a coffee with NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo, who told me in his unmistakeable voice the weekend had tired him out … Seeing Allen Iverson in the jersey of one of his great rivals, Bryant … The Aaron Gordon-Derrick Jones Jr. show as a whole … Chris Paul’s alley-oop … Trae Young’s half-court buzzer-beater … Hudson’s amazing Bryant tribute; Tenille Arts, of Saskatchewan, doing an excellent O Canada … How happy the kids who were getting money from either Team LeBron or Team Giannis were when their team was doing well … The entire three-point contest … Rudy Gobert guarding the rim like prime Mutombo, then going an un-Mutombo-like 6-for-6 from the field in the third quarter and league MVP favourite Antetokounmpo looking unstoppable at both ends of the floor, including a block of a James attempt and minutes later of a Davis layup attempt.

RIM-BENDER

At one point during the Rising Stars game on Friday night, New Orleans Pelicans rookie phenom Zion Williamson unleashed one of his patented pogo stick with a jackhammer attached style of jams and it left the backboard reeling and bent. The players didn’t initially notice, but word caught on eventually.

Young said he didn’t see it and Williamson feigned that it wasn’t him, but there was no doubt that only one player could cause that much damage.

“That isn’t the first rim he’s probably bent or he’s going to break throughout his career. I’m surprised I didn’t see it, but, yeah, that’s crazy,” Young said.

It was disappointing not to see Williamson at the 2020 dunk contest, but he told the Washington Post that if the New Orleans Pelicans are in a good spot next season at this time and he’s feeling good he will enter the 2021 event in Indianapolis.

OBAMA MEETS PLAYERS

Many of the players on hand for all-star weekend got to meet former U.S. president Barack Obama at a charity event.

“That was probably the highlight of my day, being able to meet him,” Young said. “That was the first time I’ve ever met him. It’s crazy because he knew so much about me and telling me how much he’s followed me throughout college and then here in the pros.”

Luka Doncic said Obama teased him and told him not to shoot like Jason Kidd.

“First off, he’s a cool dude, man, like it’s Obama. Come on,” Williamson said.

“I was like, you probably have one of the most busy schedules in the world, and you’re able to keep up with a rookie, like superstars, college people, even high school people, and tell them their stats and like what they’ve been doing good, what they can work on. So when he told me that, I just gained so much more respect for him.”

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