The play-by-play says Gary Trent Jr. did not take his first shot until 95 seconds after he first checked into Thursday’s game. It only felt like, let’s say, 90 fewer.
Trent made his preseason debut after missing Monday’s game with soreness in his quad, and he came off the bench. The second starting guard spot would seem to be a battle between Trent and Goran Dragic, with the former bringing more shooting and the latter bringing more playmaking.
Well, Trent got up 12 shots in 22 minutes, so he certainly did his thing, scoring 12 points. Efficiency is a work in progress for Trent, but there is an obvious fit with Trent and a prototypical NBA role: that of the microwave scorer off the bench. Think Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford.
Trent expressed indifference about whether he starts or comes off the bench after the game. There is some logic in, at least at the start of the year, keeping him on the bench. With no Pascal Siakam, putting VanVleet in a lineup with no other experienced playmaker would be asking a lot of him. Dragic might have slowed down since his prime, but he can still create more for others than Trent can.
When Siakam returns, on the other hand, flipping the roles and taking more advantage of Trent’s elite spot-up shooting would seem to maximize spacing. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nurse switch the two players’ roles at least once in the final three preseason games.
Precious Achiuwa was asked the other day what it was like trying to wrestle with Sixers backup centre Andrew Drummond, who at six-foot-11 and 280 pounds is almost as big as starting Sixers centre Embiid.
He hit the nail on the head in the scouting report: “They’re really big. Those guys are really strong and really really big and also not just that, they’re vets as well, have lot of experience seeing pretty much everything.”
Drummond had his way in the paint in the Raptors’ first meeting with Philly and things didn’t project to get any better in Thursday’s game when Embiid was playing after sitting out Game 1.
Fortunately, there aren’t many — if any — teams that can roll out 14 feet and 600 pounds of centre, but the Raptors’ ability to manage the league’s few dominant bigs will be a factor as the season unfolds. The Raptors don’t have anyone who resembles a primary defender on one of those monsters, so it will either be single coverage and hope for the best or a swarming approach and hope that it doesn’t lead to a blizzard of open threes and offensive rebounds.
The Raptors held their own on Thursday night and did very well on the offensive glass as they flew into the paint for tip-ins and tip-outs, which helped generate 13 offensive rebounds (to 11 for Philly) and a 24-12 edge in second-chance points.
A series of smaller Raptors defenders got bullied on occasion, but it wasn’t like either Embiid or Drummond turned the game upside down. Embiid did draw some fouls when he got the ball in deep. It was pretty much what you might expect.
Fortunately, there is only one Embiid and not many others like him. Embiid finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes while Drummond added 10 points and seven rebounds in his 20 minutes of floor time.
“Your best defence is to not let them get it at a comfortable spot,” said Achiuwa. “The best defence is to not let them get it down low or a spot where they’re comfortable scoring the basketball.”
Easier said than done, but a good example was when Achiuwa denied an entry pass to Drummond above the three-point line, got a deflection and took it the other way to score midway through the third quarter. That’s the kind of balance the Raptors are trying to achieve: give away a little bit but get something back too.
Georges Niang: 16 points, three assists, two rebounds, one steal
With a quartet of threes, the former Utah Jazz forward dazzled beyond the arc and confidently fired shot after shot, despite some timely contests from Toronto. En route to a team-high 16 points, he launched spot-ups, cashed a movement three, operated shrewdly off the ball for a bucket and assist via cuts, and helped catalyze fruitful minutes from the entire bench unit. He hedged well on a few ball screens too. The Sixers simply need more smart ball movers who fire threes. Niang checks those boxes and Thursday embodied that.
Seth Curry: 15 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal
Fresh off a sterling preseason debut in which he dropped 14 points on 63.6 percent true shooting, Curry topped that performance with 15 points on 75.9 percent true shooting and notched a second consecutive Bell Ringer shout out. The veteran guard had the two-man game cooking with Joel Embiid and knocked down four of his eight long balls. He maintained that ever-important scoring aggression, was undeterred by closeouts — a vital trait for him — and appeared in rhythm all night.
Isaiah Joe: 15 points, two rebounds, two steals, one block
I need to open this section by issuing a formal apology for Joe’s omission in Monday’s Bell Ringer. He absolutely deserved a mention. Hand up, that’s on me. I’ll be better moving forward. Fortunately for the Sixers, he produced another impressive game off the bench with enticing two-way play and afforded me the chance to pen an apology.
The second-year wing went 3 of 4 from deep, had numerous possessions defensively where he flustered the opposition with physicality and positioning, and garnered three combined steals and blocks. Between an efficient, unabashed outside stroke and multifaceted defensive chops, he’s rapidly earning consideration for a rotation spot during this preseason run.
After falling to the Toronto Raptors in their preseason opener on the road, the Sixers evened the preseason series with a solid home win.
Both teams came out firing from 3-point land, including the player most familiar with both squads, Danny Green. A lay-up to open the game paved the way to two long balls as Green scored eight of his 11 in the opening minutes.
Back-to-back Fred VanVleet 3-pointers gave Toronto a 18-16 lead before the Philadelphia defense tightened as an 8-0 run over nearly four minutes propelled them to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Like many preseason games, the pace was feverish. Newcomer Georges Niang opened the quarter canning a deep 3-pointer, a constant theme of his night. Andre Drummond, Furkan Korkmaz, Tyrese Maxey, and Isaiah Joe spread the scoring while OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Svi Mykhailiuk helped Toronto keep pace.
After a continued barrage of 3-pointers, Philadelphia entered the halftime locker room leading 71-55.
The second half was more composed.
Joel Embiid got the scoring started and Tobias Harris pitched in a seemingly usual effort. With no player exceeding 25 minutes and all 15 players getting at least five minutes of action, the game began to more resemble an open local gym run with a mixture of lapses on defense and open 3s.
By the final buzzer, Philadelphia secured the win finishing 125-113. As for the breakdown, Philadelphia had eight players in double figures and poured in nearly 50 percent of their triples while holding Toronto under 30 percent.
OG Anuoby did his best to keep the Raptors in it, showcasing some tantalizing glimpses on offense — a couple of above-the-break threes, including one off the dribble, and a nice drive, stop-on-a-dime turnaround fadeaway.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Raptors simply gave the Sixers whatever they wanted on their end. Philly nailed 12 threes in the first half, and it felt like 10 of them were wide open (and Danny Green missed two other wide open triples, too). How’s this for a stat: The Sixers scored 44 points in the second quarter, and all 10 Sixers that played in the quarter scored, but no one scored more than six points. Pretty balanced attack, I’d say!
The Raptors found themselves down 16 at the half, and despite Anunoby and VanVleet both playing the entire third quarter, coudn’t make up any ground. By the fourth, we were well into garbage time as none of the veterans on either team returned to the floor.
For the Raptors, Mykhailiuk was once again a positive, scoring 11 points and being active on offense. Nick Nurse mentioned post-game that he was impressed with Mykhailiuk’s ability to fly off screens, get his feet into the paint and make plays for others. Mykhailiuk, for his part, spoke post-game to his chemistry with his teammates; even though it’s only their second game together and the team has a lot of young guys, he can see his teammates learning from their veteran teammates.
Justin Champagnie also had another solid game, slithering into open spots for his teammates to find him. Precious Achiuwa, meanwhile, did a solid job keeping Embiid out of the paint, forcing the Sixers big man to get his touches farther from the hoop. Embiid had just four points on five shots in eight first-quarter minutes,
Gary Trent also made his preseason debut in the second quarter, and quickly showed that he didn’t pick up the passing bug in the summer — he got two threes up before he even broke a sweat. He finished with 12 points on 12 shots in 22 minutes. To his credit, Trent said postgame that he knows his role and on this team his role is to score — especially when he’s coming off the bench.
As always with the preseason, it’s easy to get excited about positive results (like Monday!) and it’s tempting to toss out results that don’t go the team’s way (like tonight!). Ultimately these early games are about conditioning and coaches getting extended looks at new players.
If nothing else, in his short, short time with the Raptors, the 20-year-old Barnes has infused the team with a youthful exuberance that’s been absent the past few seasons.
“I’d say it’s just me being me, me being me on the court,” Barnes said. “I like to win. I like to make winning plays. I like to bring my energy to practice.
“No matter where I’m at, I’m going to be who I am. That’s what you’re going to see me, being enthusiastic, bringing positive energy to the team, picking everyone up, just trying to prepare us for whatever we need.”
So far — and even the pre-season is still in its infancy — Barnes’ enthusiasm has been impressive. He has a way of energizing players on the court with him, it helps him have an impact all over the floor. He’s young and excitable and if that allows him to have an impact on the game, it’s great.
“At this level, you can’t be shy,” he said. “You can’t be trying to look too cool. It’s just the dirty things that you need to do on the floor, that’s what’s going to need to be happening.
“It’s not really that hard. I’m not a shy guy. I’m just going to be who I am no matter where I’m at.”
The aspect of Barnes that allows his older, more sedate teammates to accept his excitable nature without rolling their eyes is that fact he’s shown he’s got some very solid, multi-dimensional skills that are going to help the team win games.
Coach Nick Nurse is adamant Barnes will get a heavy load in his rookie season, shifting all over the court. In just two pre-season games, Nurse has used him as a primary ballhandler, a power forward and a wing, a kind of a jack-of-all-trades piece that fits well into what the team was the roster to become.
It’s what endeared Barnes to the team’s brass long before Toronto took him with the fourth pick in last summer’s draft. Team president Masai Ujiri, general manager Bobby Webster and director of scouting Dan Tolzman were tracking Barnes for years through appearances with the United States national age-group programs and through one year at Florida State before they chose him.
They knew what kind of player — and person — they were getting and did not hesitate to make him Toronto’s highest draft pick since Andrea Bargnani was the No. 1 choice in 2006.
There are certainly parts of his game that need to improve but that’s not an issue for an organization that’s shown its player development program is one of the best in the NBA.
Barnes still isn’t a great NBA shooter by any stretch and his free throw shooting is suspect but he can have an impact on game while still fine-tuning those skills.
And that is what’s going to endear him to his teammates, who remained bemused by his personality.
Obviously, the return of Embiid and Harris were factors. Not to be underestimated was simple pride. The Sixers were embarrassed in Toronto three nights ago and head coach Doc Rivers called out their effort, their physicality and their very desire.
None of those were in question Thursday night as the Sixers were the better team from the opening tip.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse sounded like he felt his young team came into this one expecting a repeat of their success from Monday night.
“There’s a lot of lessons, I think that we can take from it,” Nurse said. “I think that you understand from one game to the next, each game is a new game. It’s not like you shoot the ball really well, you run up and down the floor [it’s going to happen again]. You understand that, especially when you’re playing the same team, they’re going to be more determined and make you do things at a faster speed and you got to be ready for that and the physicality.”
And no, the Raptors did not look like they were ready for that.
Nurse’s other major takeaway from this one was the need to start spending a little more time the team’s offence.
“We’ve got to get going on our offence a little bit,” Nurse said. “It was really, probably poor offensive execution tonight and shot selection and those kind of things. We got to get going on that and pick up the pace on that a little bit.”
The Sixers got double-digit scoring efforts from eight different players, led by the 16 from Georges Niang.
Philadelphia was deadly from behind the arc, going 18-for-36 from distance, again led by Niang, who was good on four of his seven attempts.
The Raptors struggled mightily with the Sixers’ size in this one, with Embiid back joining Andre Drummond, two of the bigger bigs in the league, against a Raptors team that was playing without three of their own bigs in Khem Birch, Chris Boucher and Yuta Watanabe.
There were some bright spots for the Raptors.
OG Anunoby continues to show a ton of confidence with his offensive game, finishing with a game-high 22 points. That kind of contribution is going to be needed even when the likes of Pascal Siakam, Boucher and Birch return.
Gary Trent Jr. struggled with his long-range shots, which is to be expected given this was his first action against anyone he didn’t share a uniform with.
Trent, though, remains an above-average scorer and went 5-for-7 from the non-three-point shooting areas.
The Raptors will remain on the road for a third pre-season game Saturday in Boston before returning home.
“It was a live scrimmage action and we were worried it was going to be worse but obviously they checked him and scanned him and did all this stuff and they think it will be OK in a pretty short amount of time,” Nurse said.
The Raptors finish the pre-season with three games in four nights, starting Saturday in Boston, and for now that leaves a couple of players fighting to make the roster, Freddie Gillespie and Reggie Perry, with Precious Achiuwa earning the No. 1 spot by attrition.
Not a perfect situation at all.
“Usually we get everybody that’s healthy out there, figure it out and then we give the last couple of games where we give the young guys a crack to see where they’re going fall as far as the roster, making the team and 905 and all that kind of stuff,” Nurse said. “And then you’re kind of saving legs but we’re going to have to probably do it in reverse this year.”
If there is a benefactor to the situation, it’s Achiuwa, who has started both pre-season games and is settling in well as a frontcourt anchor.
He had trouble at times with the Sixers’ Joel Embiid on Thursday but he used his quickness to force a handful of turnovers and pressure Embiid away from the ball.
That’s going to have to be a staple of Achiuwa’s defence against bigger centres.
“The best defence is to not let them get it down low or a spot where they’re comfortable scoring the basketball,” Achiuwa said.
One trickle-down issue is that Achiuwa isn’t getting consistent opposition in practices with all the other big men on the sidelines. It’s good that he’s getting timing and chemistry with the rotation players but the daily challenges aren’t there.
“That’s what training camp is all about, coming in, proving yourself and fighting for a spot, fight for a rotation spot, and being able to be out there and earn minutes,” he said. “We all came here to compete, and as much as we’re a team we’re individuals as well and everybody wants to be out there, everybody is a professional athlete and everyone wants to play. And we bring that competitive spirit every day to practice.”
Not surprisingly, the Raptors looked disjointed at times Thursday, especially defensively against a Sixers team that had Embiid and veteran forward Tobias Harris back in the lineup.
OG Anunoby, with 22 points, and Fred VanVleet, with 17, put in solid nights but there wasn’t a whole lot else to the Raptors on the evening.
For exhibit A, consider the uncertain status of second-year point guard Malachi Flynn.
With Kyle Lowry’s departure in the off-season, it seemed obvious that Flynn – after a promising finish to his rookie year – would be pencilled in for 25-30 minutes in year two as part of a three-guard rotation with VanVleet and Dragic.
Not so fast. The 29th pick from 2020 didn’t play until the second half of the Raptors opening exhibition game against Philadelphia on Monday night. In part it could be attributed to Nurse’s desire to see Raptors rookies Dalano Banton and Scottie Barnes get force-fed ball-handling duties with the second unit, but also a message to Flynn that his role isn’t guaranteed.
Flynn is expected to get an earlier shot of minutes when the Raptors travel to Philadelphia for the second of what will be five exhibition games, but notice has been served. Nurse wants his club to play fast and doesn’t want to waste time trying to get the outlet pass to point guards.
“He’s got to get a little more aggressive up the floor. He tends to be a little safer and kind of wait for the developing play. In doing that, the defence is also going to get set,” said Nurse. “So we’re gonna try to get him to go a little faster and we’ve got to get him to go off the ball. The three point guards — the true, true, point guards; Freddy, Malachi and Goran all are really good spot-up shooters. So, we’re trying to get them to get up the floor and get off the ball and get those kick-outs from Scottie and OG and Pascal and Precious and all that stuff because we think that puts a lot of pressure (on the defence) and gets them great face-up, catch-and-shoot threes which they need.
“Malachi hasn’t (played off the ball) much. He’s kind of had the ball in his hands, bringing it up the floor, probably since he’s been in about sixth grade,” added Nurse. “So we’re just trying to get him to learn that a little bit just because we want to get him out there. We think that catch-and-shoot game that he has is super valuable and we need him to learn how to put that to use a little bit.”
But the possibility for rotation disruption runs even deeper. Coming into camp the thought was someone from the half-dozen non-guaranteed contracts might jump up and claim some minutes. To an extent that has happened as returnee Yuta Watanabe has looked tremendously sharp, earned effusive praise from Nurse and seems a lock to not only have his contract guaranteed, but push for a chance to start in the absence of Siakam. After that, things are less certain among Freddie Gillespie, Ishmail Wainright, Sam Dekker, Isaac Bonga and Reggie Perry.