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With the Indiana Pacers on the verge of elimination, Pascal Siakam delivered a masterpiece

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers could have been routed on Friday night. Trailing 3-2 in their series against the New York Knicks, they needed a win to keep their season alive and force a Game 7.

To avoid defeat, the Pacers stars had to be stars. And Pascal Siakam was up for the challenge. The two-time All-Star forward has a history of strong playoff runs and knows what it takes to win big games. With his 2023/24 season still in limbo, the experienced striker shined.

Since the Knicks are struggling, they have used several guards. Their fourth tallest starter Friday night was Josh Hart, and he's several inches shorter than Siakam. It was important that the former All-NBA forward took advantage of this duel.

He has. When Siakam was able to attract smaller players, Indiana gave him the piece. At the post, at the elbow, wherever he was on the court, he was in attack mode. And he delivered. According to the NBA's matchup data, Siakam was 5/8 with Hart as his primary defender, and the Pacers had an absurd offensive rating of 136.1 during the possessions in which this matchup took place.

“If they put a smaller guy on him, we’re going to have to let him do what he does,” Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith said of Siakam. “Attack the color and be a beast in the depths.”

At the start of the series, the Knicks swapped OG Anunoby over Siakam. Anunoby is one of the best defenders in the league, and someone on Indiana's roster had to overcome this encounter. Siakam was the unlucky winner, scoring 33 points in the first two games of the series. In Game 2, he recorded his worst shooting percentage of the postseason so far.

But Anunoby was injured in the second game and hasn't played since. New York's original plan was to open games with Precious Achiuwa, a taller player who is more of a center than a four-man. In his two starts, Siakam went 16/23 from the field and had 40 points. That didn't work for the Knicks and the Pacers evened the series.

“I’m just trying to play my game, to be honest with you,” Siakam said of the attacks on his situations after Game 6.

The Knicks had to adjust and moved Achiuwa out of the starting lineup for Miles McBride. They opted for the Siakam matchup and instead relied on speed and spacing on offense. It worked in Game 5, although Siakam still had 22 points. He scored a lot of baskets in the fourth quarter.

Watching the series, it was clear that Siakam has become more comfortable and knows where his spots will be. As one of the better individual goal scorers in this series, it is his job to ensure he takes advantage of opportunities that come his way.

In Game 6 he was. New York was starting small again and the two-time All-NBA forward was ready to pounce. He smashed Hart and threw jumpers over him throughout the game. He also hit three baskets against Achiuwa, and whenever Jalen Brunson crossed over to him, Siakam tried to score. The new pacer showed exactly why the blue and gold traded for him in January. When he's on the move, he's a matchup nightmare.

“It was just activity,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said of Siakam’s accomplishments. “We played harder tonight, which was a must.”

Game 6 was a matter of life and death for the Pacers. They needed to win to keep their season alive and force a decisive Game 7. They were successful and Siakam was the leader. He controlled the game on both sides and punished every encounter that came his way.

“I think the way we play doesn't matter. I have to keep playing my game no matter what happens on the other side,” Siakam said after the win.

The star forward, who hoped to be a leader in the postseason and proved it with his play in the first round, finished Game 6 with 25 points. Indiana led the way and was only surpassed by Jalen Brunson in this game. He contributed seven rebounds, five assists and two steals to the win. He did it all and Indiana outscored New York by 20 points in his minutes.

“Composure,” Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton said of what Siakam added. “His experience, his attitude helped a lot… he was great for us, he got a lot of early seals. He helped rebound the ball. I think he played one of his better overall games in a Pacers uniform. What a great time doing it.”

The Pacers needed Siakam to reach that level in Game 6 to keep their 2024 going. Without the punishment of a favorable matchup, the season would have been over. But he did what star players do, took charge and led Indiana forward. Now the team has a chance to reach the Eastern Conference finals with a win on Sunday.

Thanks to Siakam's performance in Game 6, it's all possible.

Anna Harden

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