What a fun game. The 76ers came to Toronto to showoff their two Superstar’s. On this particular night they only had one. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were equally important on defense, as they reduced Ben Simmons to a guy who was perpetually dropping his keys. Whenever Simmons pushed in transition he looked like Kramer busting into Jerry’s apartment, so erratic.
Alright, let’s get into the game.
Both teams are out running early. When Pascal Siakam starts, he gets a lot of touches in the first quarter. Likewise, for the 76ers, Simmons is trying to create artificial transition anyway he can. Neither is finding a lot of success early. Luckily for the Raptors, they employ Leonard. Leonard went to work early from the baseline or the extended free throw line, getting a few baskets. Really smooth. Adversely, the 76ers don’t have a wing-scorer like that. The 76ers offense was stagnated in half-court hell for a great deal of the first quarter, with no way to get them out. Serge Ibaka was doing commendable work, clearing out Embiid down low. Consequently, Siakam was gobbling up a ton of boards in that space and jump-starting transition. Still returning mixed results, lots of flubbed up plays. Both teams stumble their way into a score of 20-17.
A really nice ATO play from Coach Nurse gets Lowry loose for a triple. The size of the 76ers seems to be giving Lowry fits, Markelle Fultz strips him and glides down court, handing off to Mike Muscala for three. Ibaka gets subbed out for Jonas Valanciunas. Much shorter shifts for the big men tonight, Nurse looks far more malleable than the night before. Valanciunas emulates Ibaka’s work on Embiid, the big man isn’t finding any success. Lowry has a pedestrian 4 assists (your point guard doesn’t lead the league in assists? How sad.) and his shot still seems awry.
The end of the quarter is the Valanciunas show. He breaks off a personal 6-0 run, all the while taking Embiid’s massive elbow to his chin. CJ Miles hits a three at the end of the quarter, how nice. These points are really important to the Raptors, and when Valanciunas can keep these bench lineups afloat, he’s a hero. Most noteworthy, the Raptors won the rebounding battle in the first quarter. Huge work from Ibaka and Valanciunas to lock down the paint. 35-26 after the first.
We’re in the dicey part of every Raptors game this year. Lorenzo Brown, Miles, Norman Powell, and Delon Wright flank Valanciunas. Nurse has to keep going back to these mediocre lineups as a result of all the injuries. Valanciunas eats up the first five possessions, one of which includes a crafty up-and-under move. Powell gets an opportunity to run at the rim sans a big man, and gets to the line. Wright iso’s against Muscala and gets to the rim for a nice reverse layup. He looks bouncier today, there’s more wiggle in his patented in-and-out move as well. Leonard checks in for Brown, hammer and sickle in hand; ready to seize the means of production. A no look pass from Leonard to Valanciunas and he bangs in a triple, man this guy is pulling the cart up the hill.
Ibaka-Green trade places with Leonard-Valanciunas. Leonard is off to the locker room as he got poked in the eye. Wright gets a small opportunity to create next to good players. Not much happens outside of a slick step-back three for Wright. As much as the Raptors are struggling to put the ball in the hole, it doesn’t matter much. The 76ers are running their offense almost solely through Muscala, and there’s not much upside to that. They’re seriously strapped for options when they can’t get out and run. A couple substitutions and we’re looking at starters-plus Wright. The 76ers are still missing the lion-share of their shots, so naturally Siakam is eating in transition. The ball is flying everywhere and most everyone is getting a bucket here and there.
Leonard, whose eyes still suffer from puppy-dog syndrome, seems fine. He’s back in the game and the Raptors are poised to close out the half strong. Green hits a quick-trigger three, and the score sits at 53-40. Leonard gets a ton of possessions down the stretch here. The 76ers wings can’t ‘D’ him up, resulting in a lot of fouls. Rather than attempt any jump-shots (coward) Simmons is still trying to shove spaghetti into a keyhole. He’s running himself into trouble every time down the floor, loads of turnovers. Lowry and Valanciunas both work off of Leonard’s gravity for a couple of buckets. The half ends on a truly monstrous Embiid slam, but the Raptors are comfy. 67-53.
Things open up with an Embiid triple, and you have to give it to him. He’s trying to bring this team back. Not only has he been tireless grinding away down low, but he’s hitting some jumpers too. Simmons does his best impression of “guy runs and drops something” then Siakam picks up the ball at his feet and throws the ball forward to Leonard for a dunk. He’s affecting this game in so many ways right now. The game gets a little wild for a minute, Ibaka did 5 consecutive jab-steps, and we got a Green post-up! Somehow, the Green post-up resulted in a double team(?) and he found Siakam under the rim for a dunk. The next play, Siakam pushes in transition and finds Ibaka for a dunk. A little DHO from Embiid to Redick gets the 76ers a bucket.
The 76ers are still plugging away through the post, and with no shooters in, the paint is crowded. Meanwhile, the Raptors keep on pushing in transition, Siakam scores consecutive spin-move baskets. The Raptors settle into a half-court offense that ends up with a Leonard isolation and layup. This team is really tough to play. Siakam will tear the floor wide-open in a fast game, and Leonard can score in a 90’s style basketball game. Simmons has eight points and eight turnovers, seems like this is a major problem for the 76ers. In what is probably just an off night for Simmons, I’m more than happy to heap the praise on Green and Leonard. They’ve been so good at locking down Simmons, for the same reason that they’ve always locked down great players.
As the 76ers look elsewhere for offense, Fultz comes into the fold a bit. He snakes a pick and roll, uses his big body to seal Lowry and hits a nice mid-range jumper. Good for him, I want him to do well. A little bit of side-top-side action earns Powell a corner three, which is nice. Valanciunas muscles in a couple baskets, and the Raptors are up 105-86.
Wright-Powell-Valanciunas-Richardson-Miles start the quarter. Buckle your seatbelts. Richardson played three minutes, if that’s a fine enough indicator of how it went. Simmons finally starts to get it going, not necessarily scoring, but using his height to pass over the defense. The 76ers finally start creating some good looks, and they pair that with a herculean effort from Embiid. A Simmons feed to Embiid generates a 3-pointer. 13-point game with 10 minutes left.
Both teams trade a couple baskets, Miles misses a three, then loses Covington in transition. He bangs one in, and suddenly its a single-digit game. Lowry, cool as ever, gets to his spot and knocks down a tidy mid-range jumper. Simmons loses the ball for his 10th turnover, triple-double! Somehow an Embiid-Lowry post-up ends up in a steal, and the ball gets flung forward to Green for a triple.
Embiid earns a couple trips to the line, hits a spinning layup, then comes off a Simmons rub screen and hits a triple. 6-point game, unbelievable. Embiid has this game by the horns right now, and he will not be denied. The Raptors decide to run a pick and roll for Leonard, something they don’t do often. Turns out, he’s a pretty good player in that scenario as he carves into the paint then dumps it off to a wide-open Ibaka, bucket. The offense has completely shifted into Leonard’s hands and everything seems okay. He gets Simmons up in the air, side-steps and knocks down a triple. The lead is 124-111. Lowry adds a three of his own before the final buzzer goes. This thing finishes up at 129-112.
1. The collective defense that the Raptors played on Simmons was sublime. Most notable of the group has to be Green. He did a terrific job of never allowing Simmons to carry his momentum to the rim. Leonard had a couple nice plays on him (stole the ball right out of his hands), but Green played him most of the night. Simmons felt suffocated most of the game because Green corralled him into spots he couldn’t succeed in. This was the best defensive game for Green this year.
2. Ibaka played an incredibly good game. He’s overmatched physically in the Embiid matchup but he fought really hard early. Not to mention he remains an elite pick n pop outlet. Be it floaters in the lane, jump-shots, or finishing through contact at the rim. He’s been an incredible release valve for the offense this year, and that’s the cherry on top of his terrific defensive output.
3. This is what a bad Lowry shooting night looks like with Leonard. It’s a sigh of relief that Leonard is so capable of lifting this team on offense. DeMar DeRozan is my favourite player, and it pains me to say that Leonard makes things look infinitely easier. The ability to toss it into him and have him score this efficiently – 31-points, 10-19 – is a godsend. It’s premature, but this looks like a Finals team.
Hope everyone enjoyed the game, and the recap.
Have a blessed day.