The Toronto Raptors Are Over .500 with 110-103 Win over Sixers

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Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam's 23 points helped the Raptors defeat the Sixers 110-103 (photo by : Getty Images)

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For the first time this season, the Toronto Raptors are over .500.

It took 31 games to do so. A long time for a Raptors fanbase used to instant success. 

With the 110-103 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday night, the Raptors showed signs of a team coming into form. There’s still many games to play before the playoffs, but the Raptors’ willingness to adapt and be patient is finally paying off. 

They sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, with victories over the four teams above them in February. 

“I think it takes time to build a team,” Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet said to reporters after the game. “It takes time to come together as a team and with the short turnaround and the roster changes that we had, I think it’s taken time to build that chemistry and that flow. And I think we’re starting to find that. I think we saw some things that we tried early that didn’t work, some things that did work and we’re finding ourselves. Everyone’s falling into their natural roles and the chemistry is getting better each day and each game.”

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One of the focuses for the Raptors coming into this game was limiting Joel Embiid, who is having a superior 2020-21 season thus far (30.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 54.7% FG, 40.0% 3-FG). The Raptors don’t have Marc Gasol to slow down the Sixers big man as he did in a game last year where Embiid put up zero points. 

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse decided to start with a small lineup, building off of Friday’s win versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Sixers scored 11 of the game’s 13 points, putting a dent into that strategy. 

Nurse doesn’t fit the mould of coaching conventionally. When one scheme doesn’t work, he mixes it up until he finds one that sticks. Solution: the bigger lineup.

On Sunday, it was the combination of Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher that stymied Embiid. 

When Baynes guarded Embiid, the Sixers center only registered 4-of-14 from the field. The Raptors center was effective at contesting Embiid’s shots, double teams, and limiting the Sixers big man from stepping into the paint to convert easy baskets: 

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Here, the Raptors defense is not giving the Sixers any time in open space to shoot. It ends up with Embiid who takes a fade-away, low-percentage shot, thanks to Baynes’ defense:

After being held scoreless in the first half, Boucher raised his game in the final two quarters, putting up 17 points (11 in the fourth quarter) and five rebounds. Not only did he shoot with confidence from beyond the arc (five threes), but he stepped up in the fourth quarter defensively in the paint, evidenced by this block on Embiid: 

In 46 minutes together when Boucher and Baynes are on the court together this season, they produce a + 49 collectively. Against the Sixers,  a +25, demonstrating that Nurse’s decision to roll with a bigger lineup paid off. 

 “It helps a little bit to have somebody stronger to take the big guy, and I can kind of clean up a little bit, rebound, help out off my man,” Boucher said. “It helps me out. He’s doing a really good job to stay in front of the big so it makes it a lot easier for me to help, and if they kick it out, for me to go back to my man. It’s a chemistry being built, for sure.”

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On the offense, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet each put up 23 points, leading the Raptors in scoring. Siakam continues to create on offense, finding his teammates for scoring opportunities (eight assists) and helping on the pick-and-roll, as seen here with the pass from VanVleet: 

As for VanVleet, the Raptor point guard “played like an All-Star” according to Nurse. His vision of the court to pass into tight spots continues to fool opposing defenses, as it did here:

He is shooting with confidence from distance (seven threes), using the screen and roll to get open: 

When the game ended, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch will be taking the Minnesota Timberwolves head coaching job after Ryan Saunders was let go. First, it was Nate Bjorkgren going from the Raptors assistant role to head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Now, it’s Finch.

The Nick Nurse coaching tree is just beginning. In all seriousness, it’s because of Nurse’s willingness to try different strategies, along with the players gelling together, that propelled the Raptors back into the conversation as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. 

“We’re starting to feel like an actual team,” VanVleet said. “Winning builds that, obviously, but