Before I preview game one of this exciting Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, I’d like to highlight some of the amazing work my colleagues at RR have put together to preview the series:
- Series preview podcast with Samson Folk and Louis Zatzman
- Cooper Smither’s video analysis on the 76ers half-court offense and out of bounds offense.
- Adam McQueen analyzing some specific individual matchups in the series.
- Louis Zatzman’s detailed and thorough series preview.
- And the preview panel with contributions from the entire RR team.
Because there is so much insightful content previewing the series on this site already, I will do my best to avoid being repetitive by answering some interesting questions that are yet to be answered in detail on RR.
- How much will home court advantage matter?
I’ve seen a lot of people picking the Raptors to win this series in four, five, or six games, which seems a bit optimistic. Philadelphia is not only talented but also driven to succeed, as several key players including Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will enter free agency after the series and head coach Brett Brown could be on the hot seat if the 76ers flame out early. This series could very well go seven games, and if it does home court will become very important.
Now that the Maple Leafs are eliminated, the Raptors are Toronto’s last hope, and I think the energy in Scotiabank Arena will get better and better. Toronto is an amazing basketball city with good crowds, and their 32-9 record at home, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference, says as much. However, Philadelphia also has great crowds and a 31-10 record at home this season. They did struggle on the road, though, playing sub-.500 basketball (20-21) in the regular season. I expect both arenas to be loud, but the Raptors having home court could be a difference maker starting in game one.
- Can the Raptors clean their own glass effectively?
The one disadvantage to Nick Nurse breaking up his centers at the start of the season, first separating Ibaka and Valanciunas and later Ibaka and Gasol, is that having one traditional big man on the floor with Siakam at the four leads to a lack of rebounding. The Raptors were a below-average rebounding team in the regular season, raking in 26.5 percent of the offensive rebounds and and 72.6 percent of defensive rebounds, good for 19th and 18th in the league, respectively. They did, however, turn it up against the Magic, grabbing 74.0 percent of defensive boards, good for 6th place of all postseason teams. Part of that was about limiting Orlando and it’s all-star center Nikola Vucevic to just 23.0 points in the paint, the second-lowest points in the paint in the first round.
Embiid vs. the Raptors' centers:
Gasol: 108 possessions, 17 points, 6-18 (33%), 5 AST/7 TOs
Ibaka: 107 possessions, 44 points, 14-33 (42%), 4 AST/3 TOs
— William Lou (@william_lou) April 25, 2019
Toronto will face the same challenges against Philadelphia, and more. Embiid is a rebounding monster, healthy or ailing, leading the NBA in postseason rebounds at 13.5 per game and finishing second in the regular season at 13.6. The 76ers as a whole are a huge team, and their starting lineup features four players 6-foot-8 or taller. In their first round series against the Brooklyn Nets, the 76ers had an offensive rebounding percentage of 35.7 and defensive rebounding percentage of 74.2, good for first and fifth in postseason rankings, respectively. The only way Toronto can keep their glass relatively clean is by rebounding as a team, as they did in the first round, and limiting Embiid and the 76ers in the paint. If the Raptors can force the 76ers to the outside, they should theoretically be better equipped to mitigate Embiid’s rebounding advantage.
- Who is the biggest x-factor for game one?
The biggest X-Factor for the series as a whole is Embiid. If he is healthy and able to give the 76ers upwards of 30 minutes per game while dominating in the way he is capable of, scoring in the paint and gobbling up rebounds, the 76ers have a real shot at winning this series. But that’s too easy of an answer.
The biggest x-factor for game one? Jimmy Butler. He came out firing against the Nets in the first game of that series, scoring 36 points with 9 rebounds and a +11 plus/minus. Other than Embiid, who was limited to just 24 minutes in the opener, Butler was the only one who really showed up and gave the 76ers a shot in game one. After that, however, Butler scored just 10.7 points per game in the next four games, shooting .468 percent from the field. He has plenty of experience, playing in 48 career playoff games, and he has the killer instinct the 76ers sometimes lack. If the 76ers want a chance at upsetting Toronto on their home court in game one, Butler has to come out firing like he did against the Nets, and the rest of his team will have to follow. If they want a chance at upsetting Toronto in the series, Butler has to be the 76ers second best player throughout, because he is capable of being a difference maker on both sides of the floor.
- How do the Raptors finally win a game one?
It has become tradition that the Raptors lose game one of their opening series. They played fairly well against the Magic in game one, but a game-winning three pointer by D.J. Augustin reminded Raptors fans of their demons from playoffs past. The 76ers also lost their opening playoff game, though, which helped some Raptors fans get through the loss.
The stakes will be much higher on Saturday, though, when the Raptors have a chance to take game one on their home court and potentially demoralize the 76ers a little. There are no more excuses: round one of the NBA playoffs are through and both teams are expected to come out firing. If the Raptors continue where they left off, finishing the Magic series by way of a dominant Leonard, players knocking down threes, and the defense swarming and creating turnovers galore, they might be able to take away some of the 76ers confidence, of which they have a lot.
“The biggest thing I saw in the last series was (Kawhi) really taking their spirit away.” – FVV
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 26, 2019
If, for example, Leonard continues feasting on Ben Simmons, like he did in game one of their season series when Simmons committed 11 turnovers, the 76ers might get a bit shook. If Gasol limits Embiid in the paint like he has throughout his career and, by knocking down threes, forces Embiid further from the rim and out of his comfort zone at the other side of the floor, the 76ers might get a bit shook. That is the way the Raptors can win game one, and winning game one could be a huge confidence boost for one team and an eye-opener for the other.
TV: Sportsnet ONE / TNT Tipoff: 7:30pm EST
The Raptors are 5.5 point favourites. O/U: 223.0
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out and Chris Boucher (back) is day-to-day
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks, Patrick McCaw
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka
Mike Scott (heel) is day-to-day
PG: Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell
SG: JJ Redick, Jonathon Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton
SF: Jimmy Butler, James Ennis III, Furkan Korkmaz, Haywood Highsmith
PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden
C: Joel Embiid, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe