Pre-Game

Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors Game 2, Apr. 29

After the Raptors picked up the win in convincing fashion in game 1 of their series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the series resumes on Monday night with the Sixers once again looking to take home court in Toronto, and the Raptors looking to extend their series lead before heading to Philadelphia. In game 1 it was the star power of the Raptors taking over, with Kawhi Leonard leading the way with 45 points and Pascal Siakam adding 29 to key the win, and the Sixers struggling to stop either player, while Marc Gasol did an admirable job slowing down Sixers star Joel Embiid at the other end of the floor.

In game 2 the Sixers will likely look to Embiid and Jimmy Butler to have bigger games to help them gain control, and find a new way to attack the talented Raptors starting lineup. In order to preview this game, I enlisted Adam Aaronson of Liberty Ballers to help look at what went right for the Raptors in the first game and how Philadelphia might look to adjust in game 2.
Early on in the game, Leonard was just getting wherever he wanted on the floor and converting on great looks. But as the game went on, the Sixers did a better job of restricting him to much tougher shots — but he converted on those, too. Jimmy Butler was the initial defender on Leonard, but after Kawhi bulldozed him, Ben Simmons got a chance. While Kawhi did score on Simmons some, it was in a much more difficult way that is tougher to sustain over an entire series. Kawhi will obviously score in bunches for the entire series, but the Sixers will count on some regression thanks to the defense Ben Simmons played, which was perfectly fine.

Obviously, coming out of game 1, most of the conversations circle around Kawhi Leonard. I thought the Sixers actually did a decent job defending him, and he was just really good offensively. Is there an adjustment you see for the Sixers to limit him going forward in the series, or do they just come back with the same gameplan there and hope he sees some regression?

Early on in the game, Leonard was just getting wherever he wanted on the floor and converting on great looks. But as the game went on, the Sixers did a better job of restricting him to much tougher shots — but he converted on those, too. Jimmy Butler was the initial defender on Leonard, but after Kawhi bulldozed him, Ben Simmons got a chance. While Kawhi did score on Simmons some, it was in a much more difficult way that is tougher to sustain over an entire series. Kawhi will obviously score in bunches for the entire series, but the Sixers will count on some regression thanks to the defense Ben Simmons played, which was perfectly fine.

2. Both benches struggled in game one, but because of Brett Brown’s rotations, they struggled in different minutes, allowing the Sixers to have some runs against the Raptors bench. Raptors fans would like to see them shorten the rotation somewhat to limit those minutes. How did you feel about the rotations for each team, and what are you looking for to change in game two?

Because of how good the Sixers’ starters are and how bad their reserves are, Brett Brown has come up with a substitution pattern that ensures at least two of his starters are on the floor at all times. For a few months now, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have led what is their theoretical second unit, and then JJ Redick, Joel Embiid and Simmons re-enter. Brown’s substitution patterns have been mostly the same for a few months now. After seeing it once, Nick Nurse should adjust his rotation to match Marc Gasol’s minutes with Embiid’s as much as possible. What should scare Toronto most is allowing big runs in short spans to this Sixers team that can get hot quickly. The best way to prevent these runs from occurring is to limit the amount of touches that Embiid gets against anybody other than Gasol.

3. Joel Embiid is clearly not entirely healthy, but the Sixers depend on him to win games. Marc Gasol gave him some trouble in game one, but he won the minutes he played that weren’t against Gasol comfortably. Is this Gasol’s defense, Embiid’s injury, or some combination thereof, and how can the Sixers maximize him better later in the series?

Embiid’s struggles on the offensive end were not caused by one specific thing. It was a combination of Gasol’s great defense, his imperfect health, and also a degree of unluckiness where shots just were not falling like they normally do. I said earlier that Nurse should try to keep Gasol as Embiid’s defender as much as possible — well, the Sixers should try to get Embiid minutes against Serge Ibaka as much as they can. Embiid will not get locked up by Gasol, in fact by the end of series it will be clear that he is the vastly superior player. But Marc makes him work for everything, and that’s taxing on a player, let alone one in Embiid’s current physical condition. Easier said than done, but the Sixers should try to get Joel Embiid as good looks as they can from the outset. He needs to be able to set the tone early against a defender as good as Gasol.

4. Philadelphia did a really good job taking away the other guys for Toronto in game one. No one aside from Leonard and Pascal Siakam hit double digits in points, but those guys went off. Do you think Philly can help off those other guys, potentially slowing down Leonard and Siakam, or do they need to continue to keep taking those guys away and live with single coverage on the Raptors’ lead scorers?

My guess is that the Sixers for the most part stick to their single coverage. They have had a similar strategy against other teams. The example that comes to mind is that in their recent matchups against the Milwaukee Bucks, they simply did not double-team Giannis Antetokounmpo. They were willing to concede 40+ points to Giannis and stay home on shooters. That’s been part of their philosophy all season, so I’d expect to see it again in Game 2. However, if the Sixers continue to get torched by Leonard and Siakam and start to sense that they’re on the verge of being eliminated, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them diverge from their normal defensive principles. Anything is on the table once you’re feeling desperate.

5. Jimmy Butler had a rough game one offensively. With Embiid limited somewhat, he has to score for the Sixers. How can they help open up his offensive game in the series, and conversely, what is Toronto doing well against him?

Toronto’s defense was obviously great, but more than anything it seemed to me that Butler was just not himself. He wasn’t getting to the rim, missed a handful of mid-range jumpers he usually knocks down, and simply failed to put any positive imprint on the game. Butler surely would like to be featured in some pick-and-roll sets, and when he’s quarterbacking the aforementioned second unit lineups, I think it’s worth giving a try if he still can’t get going within the Sixers’ typical offense. Butler has been overrated by fans as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, but he is still quite good. And if the offense continues to stagnate as it did in Game 1, Brett Brown should try it.

Game Info

TV: TSN / TSN3 / TSN4 / TSN5 / TNT Tipoff: 8:0pm EST

The Line

The Raptors are 6.5 point favourites. O/U: 220.5

Raptors Updates

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

76ers Updates

Mike Scott (heel) is out

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

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