Through these three games, the bench has managed a plus-minus of -113. VanVleet has averaged just 1.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists on 40% shooting, while Serge Ibaka has managed five points and three rebounds on 30%. Norman Powell has been abused by the 76ers, while Jeremy Lin has appeared in just one game in the series.
The Raptors have to take advantage of the mismatch they have over the 76ers’ bench — they may have the best player in this series in Leonard, but the 76ers arguably have four of the top five. If they can’t leverage their bench strength and depth against an inferior Philadelphia unit, made up of James Ennis III, Greg Monroe and Mike Scott, among others, they stand no chance in turning the series around.
Their other major issue has been the play of Leonard’s co-stars, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Gasol has underwhelmed tremendously on the offensive end, while Lowry has played down to his poor postseason standard.
In his postseason career, Gasol, brought over from the Memphis Grizzlies at the February trade deadline, has averaged 16 points to go along with 8.5 rebounds, three assists, a steal, 1.6 blocks and has shot 45% from the field and 42.5% from three. But in this series, the Spanish big has managed a measly 6.7 points, five rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game on 30% shooting.
His defensive contributions in the first two games had balanced out with his offensive struggles — he rendered Embiid’s stat line relatively pedestrian — but Gasol couldn’t even manage to maintain that in Game 3 as Embiid torched him for 33 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and five blocks.
Meanwhile, Lowry has played like a lesser version of himself once again. After he averaged 14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.4 steals and shot 41.1% from the field, he has managed just 12 points, 4.3 rebounds and six assists on 33.1% shooting in these three games. In Game 3, Lowry shot two-for-10 and was a team low -28.
Lowry is rushing too much, which, on the one hand, shows he cares and he wants to win so badly. But his body is not keeping up with his mind. You can see lots of examples of how uncontrolled he is when he tries to force layups or making high-reward, but also high-risk passes.
The statistics back up the fact that Lowry is arguably the worst-performing player on the starting five. Lowry’s field goal percentage over the eight-game playoffs is only 40%, with only Danny Green’s 37.3% lower among the starting five. Leonard leads that category at 57.9%.
And look what’s happened over these last two games, both losses.
Lowry’s field-goal percentage has fallen to 34.6%, which is better than only Marc Gasol’s and Ibaka’s percentages. And Lowry’s three-point percentage has plummeted to a scary 25.6%, easily the worst among the starting rotation.
The two highest-paid players on the Raptors are Lowry at $31 million and Gasol at $24 million. That’s $55 million of talent and what has it got them in this series?
Lowry was already being asked to take back a bigger offensive role after Toronto failed so spectacularly in its support of Siakam and Kawhi Leonard. Now, if Siakam can’t play or is limited, which seems likely, the Raptors may be short of realistic hopes beyond defence, fearlessness, Kawhi Leonard as God, and Kyle Lowry.
“I might take some shots that I haven’t taken in about a year and a half,” Lowry said Saturday. “Forcing — not forcing, but taking some shots that may be a little bit tougher than they usually are, but I’m gonna play. And that was going to be the mindset no matter if Pascal played or not.”
Lowry has played plenty of games for the Raptors, and the best ones have always been the ones where he put in his whole heart, and also made shots. In this series he has made a bunch of little plays: He leads the NBA in playoff charges drawn and going into Saturday night had taken as many as any other entire team. He led the league in playoff loose balls recovered, and was tied for third in deflections. He has made some of the extra-level smart decisions that he makes as well as anybody in basketball.
He has also passed up opportunities to shoot, almost as a habit, when he wasn’t being chased off the line or pestered by the six-foot-seven Jimmy Butler, or the six-foot-nine Tobias Harris, or the six-foot-10 Ben Simmons. He missed all five of his shots outside the restricted area in Game 3’s awful 2-for-10 performance; he went 2-for-6 outside the lane in his 20-point Game 2, but at least he took shots. He went 1-for-5 outside the deep lane in Game 1. He hasn’t shot well enough, or shot enough at all.
The suspicion is that Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent when this basketball season comes to an end.
Although none of that has come from Leonard, who is the poker player of all poker players. Stone-faced seems to be his regular face in the normally loud and rumour-laden NBA.
The departure of Leonard after one season of brilliance and a playoff in which he has scored just below Kevin Durant and just above James Harden was expected but will be disappointing nonetheless.
That will officially end this brilliant and most recently frustrating one-year experiment the Toronto Raptors and Masai Ujiri have undergone, with their playoffs not going the way they were drawn up, especially now with Pascal Siakam on the limp and possibly out of Game 4 in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
That would shift the pressure back to Ujiri, in a heavily talented free agent class come July. You hear a lot about Durant going to New York. A lot about the Lakers and LeBron James trying to recruit players. A lot about Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
What you never hear much about — in all these conversations — is Toronto. That’s Ujiri’s job to make the city important, as he has in his time with the Raptors. This playoff season feels like time is up. A season we didn’t want to see end.
Siakam said Saturday he hurt the calf in the Raptors’ 116-95 loss at Philadelphia in Game 3 on Thursday. Asked if he thought the injury could have occurred when he tripped Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Siakam said he had no recollection.
“I don’t know exactly when it happened, but after the game I was just, like, really sore,” Siakam said. “I think it calmed down a little bit, then I felt worse.”
Siakam hasn’t been able to put the leg through much physical activity since Thursday. The calf has been undergoing treatment, including ice as well as light movement therapy, he said.
“Every game in the playoffs in a must-win,” Harris said. “Yes, so, this one is the most important, because it is the most present so that we have …”
Harris was reminded that by going up 3-1 could enable them to put some doubt in the Raptors’ minds.
“You want it, I’ll tell you yeah,” he said with a smile. “Like I said every game is important. But if you want it, you got it. Every present game that play, whether it’s Game 1, you go up Game 1 you are up 1-0. It’s the same type of mental.”
He kept stressing that you have to stay locked-in every game.
“But like you said, you can go up 3-1,” he said. “That’s a momentum boost for the team confidence-wise. Whereas the series is 2-2, it’s a little bit different.”
The Sixers could get a boost Sunday if Toronto power forward Pascal Siakam is unable to play. He is listed as doubtful with a right-calf contusion. Siakam may have injured his calf when when extended his right leg to trip Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter of Game 3. He left the game moments later and didn’t return. The Raptors standout told reporters Saturday he’s unsure when the injury occurred.
Regardless, Toronto could be in trouble if he’s unavailable.
“It looked like he intentionally put his butt in your face,” Redick said while looking at Simmons.
Simmons looked away and smiled.
“That was weird,” Redick said as the two players and media chuckled.
Sixers coach Brett Brown will continue to remind his players to keep their emotions in check. He doesn’t want them involved any altercations for fear of losing them to suspensions.
“It’s part of the NBA, physicality and heightened emotions,” Brown said. “And I think Ben said it best where he said he just wants to move forward and play Game 4. It’s stuff where we talked a lot about it with my team before the playoffs began — how things can go south with things of that sort.”
Nurse said there's nothing seriously or structurally wrong with Siakam's calf, stresses he hasn't been ruled out yet. He mentioned VanVleet, Powell, Ibaka and McCaw as potential starters if Pascal is out. "None of it is ideal matchup-wise."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 4, 2019
Gasol is not accustomed to being on the receiving end of such beatdowns like he and the Raptors experienced on Thursday, and he’s watched enough tape over the previous 48 hours to see exactly how Embiid got going.
“He got away from my body,” Gasol said. “There was the first foul, (Gasol’s 1:12 into the game), conditioning a little bit, (limiting) how aggressive I could be on him in the first quarter. He got to the free throw a lot through rolls and on plays that I kind of had to go help. The little lob passes and then he made three threes, which for him, really for a big, or for anybody, making three threes kind of gets you going.”
Gasol had praise for the Sixers coaching staff and how they are employing Embiid, who isn’t at full operating capacity and has had his minutes limited somewhat throughout the series.
Gasol just sees the distribution of minutes, when and how many Embiid is getting as key to helping maximize his impact on the game.
“The way they are playing him, they take him out five or six minutes into the game, they put him back in at the end of the quarter when normally they are in the bonus,” Gasol said. “They go to him. For those 30 minutes that he is going to play they really maximize. They go through him every play, every possession. They look for him as obviously they should so you have to be really disciplined the whole way. Hopefully I won’t pick up that early foul, that way I can continue to be aggressive.”
Toronto’s lack of depth is already an issue. This would put even more pressure on the multi-talented Leonard, who is averaging 37.7 points and shooting 70.8 percent (34 for 48) on 2-point attempts in the three games. He scored a total of 68 points in the past two outings and the Raptors still lost both.
Sixers star center Joel Embiid is coming off of his best game (33 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocked shots) in the series. All five starters played well Thursday while James Ennis has been the best reserve on either team.
“We just had great efforts from everybody who got out there and contributed,” power forward Tobias Harris said. “It made it even more special because we defended at a high level, too.”
Should the Sixers prevail Sunday, they’d be one victory from their first trip to the conference finals since 2001. They’d face the winner of the Bucks-Celtics series, which is tied at 2-2. They’d have homecourt advantage against Boston, while they’d open on the road vs. top-seeded Milwaukee.
Turnovers forced isn’t something we typically measure in a box score for defenders but maybe it should be because:
A) forcing a turnover keeps an opponent from getting a shot up. If a team averages around 1.09 points per possession (like the Sixers and Raptors do) you’re saving about that much on average at a minimum. But there are other benefits.
B) Some turnovers (like a drawn charge or well-timed flop might lead to an offensive foul which can send a key starter to the bench for a long time and get them closer to the free throw penalty so the next foul leads directly to shots. Sometimes they also lead to technicals when guys get frustrated.
C) Turnovers are often of the live-ball variety and those transition opportunities present exciting fast-breaks and high-efficiency, high-octane offense which can ignite a home crowd or silence a road one.