Howie Mandel fears germs, Ron Weasley’s afraid of spiders and the Philadelphia 76ers are scared shitless of the Toronto Raptors – at least they played like it last night. Coming off the back of an ugly loss to Milwaukee and looking as vulnerable as they have all season, the Raptors were in desperate need of a statement road win in 2019. Almost immediately following tip-off, it was clear the players understood that.
Seemingly unfazed by the Sport’s Illustrated reported rumors that he was being put on the table in trade talks with Memphis, Kyle Lowry began the game with the tenacity that Raps fans never want to lose from their franchise PG.
A balanced dose of Lowry penetration, Ibaka pick and pops and Leonard isolations got Toronto off to a decisive lead early in Philly, and was instrumental in guiding them to a 119-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night.
Nurse made it a point of emphasis to begin this game with the spark the Raps have been lacking early on in recent contests. Establishing Kawhi in baseline isolations as a way to initiate offense allowed Leonard to get his aggressiveness rolling early. When the defense collapsed, or a lane wasn’t there, Leonard whipped the ball out to his teammates who were signing to the same tune like a choir on Sunday.
I don’t know what it is about Ben Simmons when he comes into contact with Canadian Dinosaurs, but Kawhi Leonard seems to own a sizable piece of real estate in the young Aussie’s head. While Simmons posted a modest line of 20/7/6, it was on the defensive side of the ball that he was absolutely exposed. Nick Nurse rarely elects to make Leonard’s main defensive assignment the opposing teams best player, but he couldn’t deny his superstar a feast on this fine Philly evening – and I’m not talking about the cheesesteaks consumed during shootaround. Kawhi made it nearly impossible for Simmons to do his usual thing where he gets to the rim at will and backs down opposing guards like a gym teacher demonstrating post moves on their student.
Nurse’s starters answered the call early, but concern loomed as to whether the Raptors bench – who have struggled as of late, would sustain the intensity levels. Hell to the yes. Delon Wright strapped up McConell and Shamet, as he hijacked basketballs left, right and center while leading the bench mob in the first frame. Although he finished the night 1/7, his impact on offense was far greater than the numbers indicate, prancing to the cup on numerous occasions drawing fouls or collapsing the defense to kick out to open shooters.
The Raptors closed the first quarter strong, putting up 40 points on 62% shooting while only turning the ball over once. It was one of the savviest starts to a game this team has had all season.
Nurse continued to field the Raps bench unit against a starter-heavy Philly line up to begin the second quarter. It ended up being the right call, as they maintained the aggressive downhill-running mentality of the starting point guard who was catching his breath while watching their lead extend.
Playing with leads have long been the kryptonite of the Toronto Raptors, but not on this night. Famished to get a signature road win this year, the dino collective dug deeper in unison, and man was it pretty. OG began the second quarter with a crafty steal in the open court, which led to a Siakam-esque spin and score. Moments later the bench continued their second quarter assault as a loose ball was scooped up by FVV, who airmailed a pass to Delon Wright, who then.. well just see for yourself:
Everything was sitting pretty for the Raps until Ibaka quickly picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls in the space of a minute. Enter Greg Monroe. He struggled to contain Embiid, who finished with 37 points on the night, but it could have been worse. Not the best endorsement for our backup backup center, but he didn’t lose us the game – which could easily happen with a beast like JoJo.
It makes the podium for the Raptors best first half performance of the season, and it might even be their most impressive given the stakes, conference rivalry and just the fact that we haven’t seen them act or play like a championship level team since Mid-December.
The Sixers made a big push in the second half, but the Raptors and their patented zone defense were eventually able to conjure up something to stop everything Philly threw at them. As Philly made their first mini-run (7-0) of the second half, Kyle Lowry calmly walked the ball up the court and pulled up from the top of the key, draining his 5th triple of the night.
After closing out the 3rd with a 18-point lead, Nurse did something his predecessor Dwyane Casey was famous for: he got cute with his lineups. Granted the bench had been playing well up until that point – but Coach Nurse elected to run out and all bench lineup against the Sixers starting unit. They were able to trade buckets with them for a couple minutes but at the 7:29 minute mark of the 4th quarter, the lead had dwindled down to 10, and Joel Embiid was at the line to make it a single digit game.
Embiid had his way with the Raptors for most of the time he was on the court last night, but looked like a God among men (well, Moose if we’re going to be specific) in the second half. As we eagerly await the return of the Lithuanian Lightning, we were reminded just how important Jonas can be for certain matchups. This was definitely one of them and Monroe had a tough time containing the All-Star Starter, especially in the 4th.
With 6:59 remaining in regulation Embiid showcased his version of the dream shake overtop of Moose to make it a 7 point game. That’s as close as they would get.
The remainder of the game wasn’t pretty, but it worked in the Raptors favour. A seldom called leg kick on a Shamet corner 3 saved Toronto from it being a 5-point game with 2:40 to go.
The Raps made smart basketball decisions down the stretch, with a new-look closing line up. The bench’s stellar play led to Norm Powell stealing closing time minutes off Green. During the final few possessions, Toronto finished this game like they started it — Slowing the pace on offense, good shot selection allowing for raps to set up on defense, a eventually forcing Ben Simmons into a dagger turnover that made him look his age.
This proved to be one of the best and most complete team wins of the season for the Toronto Raptors. Every starter with the exception of Danny Green scored in double figures. Delon and OG had impacts on both ends of the floor, and Norm Powell continued to reach back into a time machine and pull out the game that made Raptors fans so giddy about his potential in the first place.
The Raptors still have a lot to figure out ahead of April, but beating what could be a second round or even Eastern Conference Finals opponent boosts this team’s continuity, settles the waters and moves the needle in the right direction. It really is a shame the Trade deadline is tomorrow, forcing Woj and Shams to take a back seat to the on-court talent and lay their trade rumors to bed. A jaded Kyle Lowry – now that’s something we should all be afraid of.