Raptors News

Pre-game news and notes: Siakam playing, Embiid gametime decision

Our hopes during the playoffs crest and wane with the wave of every possession, let alone the outcomes of each game. That is to say, reactions are fierce during the playoffs. Could game three have been any lower, game four any higher? Emotional reactions from one year are impossible to compare to those from another, but this has been a playoff run inspiring extreme emotion.

The Toronto Raptors won game four behind Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance and Nick Nurse’s adjustments. To think about alternative possible endings to game four is to invite misery. At the end of game four, it was Leonard hitting potentially the greatest shot in Raptors’ franchise history. No need to ponder other what-ifs. At the same time, as game four could have gone another way, so too could have game two. At the end of game two, Danny Green missed an equally clutch triple to tie the game. Our hopes waned, and our hopes crested, and after all the emotional turbulence through four games of the series, we’re all square at 2-2 with home court advantage once again with the Raptors.

Many tactical elements have changed since the start of the series. Toronto has shortened its bench to a comical degrees, with Kyle Lowry, Leonard, and Green playing 40 minutes or more in game four. The tight six-man rotation does not seem to worry Toronto going forward.

I think it’s sustainable,” said Danny Green after practice on Monday. “We’re not old guys. We’re not that old. We’ve been fresh all season, this is what the playoffs is about. This time of year. You get more than enough rest in between. It’s not even back-to-backs. You get more than enough rest to bounce back and play 40 minutes if you need to.”

“I think Danny’s probably right,” agreed Nick Nurse, “each one of them should be ready to play 40-plus if they need to.”

Nurse did mention that if bench players had significant impacts, they could see their run extended. That was the case in game four. Serge Ibaka finally came through in a massive way, offering 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He outscored the Sixers’ bench 12-11 on his own, although Ibaka was the only bench player to score for Toronto. The series has really been a battle of the teams’ top performers, as only one or two bench players have played well in any given game. Whichever team has had the best bench player has usually won.

In most games, that has been James Ennis. Ennis outscored Toronto’s bench by himself in games one and two, and he’s been playing out of his mind. He hit three incredible difficult triples in game four, and Philadelphia is confident that Ennis will perform for them going forward. Brett Brown had nothing but praise for Ennis before the game. Greg Monroe has also been surprisingly effective on both ends for the Sixers. Can they get anyone else? Can Toronto get another performer besides Ibaka? It’s a war of attrition out there, with the pace slowing with each consecutive game. One team having more than one or two useable bench players would have a huge advantage.

It’s hard to predict that game five will necessarily offer the same flavours as previous contests, which Nurse readily admits. At the same time, there are some elements that Toronto can expect. Gasol will remain tethered to Embiid, against whom he has had incredible success on defense. Pascal Siakam should improve. His right calf contusion won’t be fully healed, but he should be able to impact the game more, especially on the offensive end. Ibaka and Gasol will see plenty of minutes together to counter the Sixers’ size. Nurse hopes that using the two-center lineups doesn’t sacrifice shooting, which the Raptors need more of to pry open the Sixers camping in the paint.

I think the good thing is both those two bigs can pull the trigger and are gonna get their opportunities to,” said Nurse on Monday. “Again, those guys gotta take ’em. Marc stepped in and made a couple. Serge has historically made those. They’re gonna have four or five opportunities a piece to shoot ’em tomorrow night and they’re gonna have to do it.”

Shooting could be the hinge upon which this game swings. After shooting 10-of-31 in game four, the Raptors are down to 31-of-108 (28.7 percent) from deep against the Sixers on open or wide-open triples, after shooting 38.1 percent when open or wide-open in the regular season. (Against the Sixers, they’ve only taken 14 triples that aren’t open, so the Raptors are actually doing a great job creating good looks.) Every shooter other than Leonard is in a funk right now. If Toronto starts hitting their open looks, this series could quickly get a whole lot more lopsided. At the same time, the Sixers are so long and fast that shots classified as open actually are well-contested. Green said as much on Monday. And even when shots are open, the Sixers have done a good job making sure Toronto’s shooters are out of rhythm on the catch. Even taking those factors into account, Toronto is shooting below their expected percentages. Brown continues to call Toronto the NBA’s best three-point shooting team, so that’s a thing?

The Sixers, on the other hand, are shooting 35.8 percent on open or wide-open triples. That’s to be expected. But Tobias Harris shot 2-of-13 from deep in game four, and that’s outrageously low for him. Toronto got extremely lucky in Harris missing so much. Both teams have room to improve, especially in distance shooting.

Adam McQueen has a great gameday post here.

Toronto Injury Updates

Pascal Siakam (right calf contusion) is playing. He won’t be fully healthy, and you saw how much it affected his lateral movement in game four. He was still a defensive positive, and hopefully he’ll offer a little more on the offensive end with a few more days of rest. Nurse says Siakam is playing but his minutes will be limited. No more 15 straight minutes, or ridiculous stretches like that. Chris Boucher (back spasms) is out, as is OG Anunoby (appendectomy). Jeremy Lin (back spasms) is available, but it would be shocking if he factored into the game.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam

C:  Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

Philadelphia Injury Updates

Joel Embiid is dealing with an upper respiratory infection. This is a different illness from his affliction in game two, and it affected him heavily in game four. (He received IV fluids in advance of both games.) Embiid was held out of shootaround this morning, but he’s probable for the game. No definitive word, as it’ll be a gametime decision. Otherwise, all healthy here.

PG: Ben Simmons, TJ McConnell

SG: JJ Redick, James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz

SF: Jimmy Butler, Jonathon Simmons

PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden

C: Joel Embiid, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson

Rotation Notes

  • Toronto’s starters went back to their winning ways in game four. They finished +6 in 15 minutes, and that was with a hobbled Siakam. (And a hobbled Embiid, but that’s neither here nor there.) Both the starters’ minute total and plus-minus are quite low by Toronto’s standards. Still, great to see them winning their minutes after a horrific showing in game three.
    • The low minutes for the starters in game four mostly meant the starters with Ibaka in Siakam’s place stole the show. They played 12 minutes – the most any Raptors’ non-starting lineup had previously played in a single game in the series was five – and went +10. That’s a great showing for a number of reasons. Siakam has been integral to the success of Toronto’s starters on both ends. That Ibaka was able to simulate his production is impressive. But he didn’t do it in the same way. Ibaka received more post-ups, and set more screens, whereas Siakam usually spends more time isolating. Ibaka missed his triple attempts badly, but any production there would sorely help. At the other end, Ibaka protected the rim, whereas Siakam usually spends more time dancing on the perimeter. That the starters remained successful speaks to their versatility and Leonard’s singular greatness.
      • Brett Brown spent some time complimenting the Ibaka-Gasol lineups. He said it helped Toronto’s rebounding, and that they had great chemistry due to their time together with the Spanish national team. Brown was still happy with his looks on the other end.
  • Only one other lineup finished with a positive plus-minus in game four. It was Ibaka+starters, but with Fred VanVleet in Lowry’s place. They were a modest +2 in three minutes. Not bad. It’s kind of a de facto situation, at this point, that Toronto is counting on a small handful of lineups to win the game, and all others to tread water or offer small negatives. Over the course of the series, only three lineups have won their minutes by 10 points or more, and all three have featured four starters or more. It’s clear where and when Toronto is going to put points on the board.
    • Not to look past a Sixers series that is far from determined, but Toronto will be in serious trouble if they face a team with a starting lineup that can outmatch the Raptors. Looking ahead, both the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors are capable of that, so Philadelphia is not the hardest test the Raps will face in this playoff run.
  • The Raptors got slaughtered without Gasol on the floor. In his six minutes off the floor, the Raptors were outscored by eight points. Though his effort has often been excellent, Ibaka just can’t grapple with Embiid as effectively. He is wasted as a shot blocker from the weakside when he has to wrestle with Embiid, and he is far less capable of drawing Embiid out of the paint. The Raptors tried three different lineups without Gasol, and the best they did was break even. That lineup featured every starter with Ibaka in for Gasol, and Toronto should be looking to win minutes with four starters, rather than break even. Toronto will need to squeeze every last minute out of Gasol that they can.
  • Over the course of the series, any non-garbage time lineup with Powell (-41), McCaw (-7 in a low minute total), or VanVleet (-32) has been beaten pretty badly. It’s not that Toronto has been unable to find lineups that use all of them, it’s that Toronto has been unable to find any successful lineups that use any of them. That’s a problem. Ibaka, who has been the most reliable bench player, has been a more modest (-19). Toronto can’t only win minutes with the starters on the floor.

Assorted

  • VanVleet has sort of been played out of the series. Even though his defense has been quite solid, especially against JJ Redick, he’s giving it all back on the offensive end. He can’t create any space against the Sixers’ size and length, and he seems to be in his own head about it. He only played seven minutes in game four, yet was a -6. As usual, he overdribbled a little bit, forced his midrange shots, and was unable to create for Ibaka. Expect his role to dwindle further, especially if Siakam is healthy and able to play more minutes.
    • Nurse was complimenting VanVleet before the game, describing his role and impact even in a low minute total. It sounds like VanVleet will stay in a low-minute role, but Nurse expects him to continue playing good defense in that position. Expect a similar minute total as game four going forward for VanVleet.
    • Siakam or Leonard could play backup point guard when necessary, as well.
    • VanVleet-Lowry lineups dwindled to almost no minutes in game four. Though they are fantastic lineups out of the context of the Sixers, they don’t have much of a place here in this series. They are too small to create their own looks on the offensive end.
  • Toronto was far more willing to pull the trigger on deep triples in game four. After being totally unprepared to shoot in game three, Lowry and Gasol were far better. The Raps know it’s been a problem.
    • I think one of the keys that we said was we’ve gotta get ready to shoot,” said Nurse on Monday. “I think the first problem was, since they were out of rhythm a little bit, we weren’t ready to pull the trigger enough. I think we did a better job of that [in game four]. Again, you’ve gotta take shots that are there.”
    • Now it’s just making those shots. Taking them and missing is better than not taking them at all, but of course, it’s not the best-case scenario.
  • Lots of heresay from Woj about Kawhi Leonard’s future in his most recent pod. Basically, he is seriously considering re-signing in Toronto. Cool. Otherwise, some stuff about past DeMar DeRozan trades that were discussed, just to dredge up old ghosts.
  • Shirts today:
  • Refs here are James Capers, Eric Lewis, and Sean Wright.

The Line

Raptors are -6, so the betting markets have really warmed on Toronto after the win. The over-under is 212.

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