— Justin Grasso (@JGrasso_) April 19, 2022
Toronto did win the turnover battle 14-9 and had a 13-7 edge in offensive rebounds – two important keys for them – but that wasn’t enough to make up for the Sixers 30-12 edge in free throw attempts and connecting on 14 threes on 30 attempts to 11-of-32 for Toronto.
The Sixers got another big game from Maxey who followed up his 38 points in Game 1 with 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on Monday night. Embiid finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds as all five Sixers starters finished in double figures.
“I liked the way we started, we didn’t really sustain it there, looked like we ran out of gas a little bit in some areas,” said VanVleet. “But yeah, we brought a lot more fight and intensity tonight, and that’s something that we can build on going forward. We just got to clean up a lot of mistakes, we’re making too many mistakes for the stage, to beat a team like that we’ve got to be a little sharper.”
Scottie Barnes (ankle) didn’t play for the Raptors and while Gary Trent Jr. (non-COVID illness) and Thad Young (thumb) did try and go, they had no impact and Trent Jr. eventually left the bench after going scoreless in 10 minutes.
They now get to test that old playoff adage about series not getting real until someone loses at home. But the flipside is also true: if the Raptors don’t win in Game 3 on Wednesday night, they aren’t going to win the series either.
Nurse was trying to coach as much as he could and he started early.
The gamesmanship continued with Trent Jr., Young and Barnes all being described as doubtful for Game 2. Anyone with eyes could guess that Barnes would be out after badly spraining his ankle, and probably for a lot more than a single game.
But Trent Jr. and Young missing time with an undefined illness and a sprained thumb seemed like a little bit of a ruse, and sure enough, it was, as both were deemed ready to go at the last possible minute.
As well, for one of the few times this season when Khem Birch has been available, Nurse opted to start Precious Achiuwa over the veteran Montrealer in place of Barnes.
Nurse spelling it out in big block letters: this game is important.
To the Raptors’ credit, their coach’s pre-game energy translated. The game was 90 seconds old when Embiid tried to manhandle Anunoby on a dead ball situation. Anunoby shoved right back and shoved again. The referees handed out double technical but it was well worth it, from the Raptors’ point of view. On Embiid’s first touch Anunoby and Achiuwa combined on a hard double team, and a moment after that Siakam took a hard foul on Embiid, putting the Philly big man on the floor. Throw in three quick threes and an aggressive drive by Achiuwa and the Raptors were up 11-2 early.
“I thought we stood in there and brought some physicality and tried to play the game, you know, at the level that it needs to be played at this time of year,” said Nurse afterwards.
Through two games, the Raptors are being thoroughly outclassed. And it’s not just Embiid delivering the lessons. They are failing to slow Embiid without fouling him inside, but they also are being outshot from the outside. Other than in the fourth quarter Monday, the Raptors have not been able to string together multiple stops all series.
“We just got to clean up a lot of mistakes,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “We’re making too many mistakes for the stage. To beat a team like that we’ve got to be a little sharper.
Outside of Embiid and James Harden, the 76ers are 24 of 47 on 3-pointers for the series. The Raptors, not a good shooting team, are at a reasonable 23 of 62. It’s good, but given the free-throw disparity driven by Embiid and, to a lesser extent, Harden, that’s not enough — especially when they are still not winning the battle in transition. Philadelphia now has 51 fast-break points in the series to the Raptors’ 20, the biggest shock of the series.
If it comes down to a half-court, shot-making contest, the Raptors are bound to lose.
“I thought Pascal (Siakam) had about three great looks at the rim, they all rolled off. Fred had back-to-back 3s, and we didn’t make any of those,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “And all of a sudden, the opportunity to kinda stay right there with them (is gone). It’s not good trade baskets, but we could have there to keep it a little bit closer there in the first half.”
In the first half, VanVleet and Siakam had taken 30 of the Raptors’ 47 field-goal attempts, collecting all nine of their assists. Without the injured Scottie Barnes, more of the onus was going to shift to those two, but it is fairly damning that things were that dramatic — that Nurse couldn’t find a few minutes of rest for VanVleet, or that Malachi Flynn couldn’t run a pick-and-roll to get the team an acceptable shot.
For all of the focus on how good the Raptors’ development pipeline is — and it’s warranted — it’s not quite up to speed in the half-court offence. In this game, they needed Flynn and Anunoby to create a little more, and they just didn’t in the first half, which wound up being decisive. Anunoby was beset by injuries for most of the season, while Flynn had long stretches of not playing. It’s fair to wonder whether those stretches could have been better spent. (For his part, Anunoby showed a lot more in the second half.)
That Nurse felt he had to play VanVleet for the first 32 minutes of this game tells you everything you need to know. He doesn’t trust his bench. Some of that falls on the coaching staff; Nurse went down to a seven-man rotation in the middle of a season that was supposed to be leaning toward development, and it must be noted that the decision kept the Raptors afloat in the standings. Some of it is on the front office, for not getting more offensive-minded help on the periphery. We will see how they look to address that issue in the offseason.
The Raptors came into this series as a trendy underdog pick, which has probably obscured the fact that they still have a ways to go from the talent perspective. Some of that talent disparity can be made up through internal development, and some of that will come from the outside. Essentially playing without two starters, the Raptors are not built for this.
It’s not so much the what but the how that has been disappointing about this series so far. The Raptors haven’t looked like themselves, outscored in transition yet again. At some point, you have to acknowledge that the opponent has a lot to do with that.
The Sixers begin the third quarter with a gorgeous alley-oop from Harden to Embiid to go up by 17.
Philly’s defense is suffocating Toronto anytime the Raptors attempt to get into the paint. Embiid made Precious Achiuwa look like a varsity player and completely locked him down on a drive to the rim.
Harris continues his strong play as well. When he’s aggressive on both ends of the floor, the Sixers are that much better for it. So far in this series, Harris has done precisely what the team needs from him. Tobi just scored a bucket to put Philly up 76-56 with 6:39 left in the third.
The Raptors have just six points through 7:50 in the third. The Sixers are owning the Raptors on the defensive end. Toronto isn’t getting any easy buckets and is struggling from the three-point line. The Raptors are six-of-21 from deep after making four out of their first six. Sixers up by 26, and the rout is on.
After constantly complaining to the refs all night, I am happy to report that Nick Nurse has finally taken his seat on the bench.
Embiid is ridiculous. He just made ANOTHER three-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
Embiid appeared to favor his right elbow but stayed in the game. He was taken out for Reed with just under three minutes to go in the third.
Maxey stayed down for a while after being called for an offensive foul. Then, the crowd began chanting MAXEY! MAXEY! and the second-year guard got up off the floor to a loud ovation.
Now Maxey is just showing off. He calmly hits a stepback three after schooling the Raptors on the fast break. He’s up to 18 points, and Philly is up 95-71 going into the fourth.
All told, the Raptors gave up 35 points in the second quarter, on their way to a 67-52 halftime deficit from which they never recovered.
Toronto led by 1 after one quarter, incidentally.
Pascal Siakam scored 20 for the Raptors, and grabbed 10 boards and dished five assists. He was slowed by foul trouble, though, and only hit 7 of his 20 shots. Fred VanVleet scored 20 as well, and finished with five assists.
Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey was fantastic yet again; he finished with 23-9-8, shooting 8-for-11 from the field.
Toronto was without Scottie Barnes in this one; the rookie was on the sidelines in a walking boot after spraining his ankle in Game 1. There’s no timetable for his return, although he did say early today he already felt better. The Raptors also lost Gary Trent to a non-COVID illness that’s been bothering him for a week; he didn’t practice yesterday, but gave the game today a go — and it didn’t go well. He left in the third after just nine scoreless minutes. Thad Young, who hyperextended his thumb in Game 1, only managed eight minutes.
The Raptors’s sleepy D was the main culprit in Philadelphia’s critical second-quarter run, except perhaps for the Harden three — that was just a classic unstoppable Harden step-back. But the others? Leaving shooters in the corners is part of Toronto’s scheme, sure, but helping off Green on Harden drives surely can’t be in the playbook. (Philly hit 8 of their first 14 threes, if you want the raw numbers on how the strategy worked.)
As for Maxey, he simply used his speed to beat the Raptors down the floor for easy buckets, after makes or misses, and Toronto didn’t seem able or willing to put the effort in to slow down the ball. (Maxey was 4-for-5 from field for 11 first half points, if we’re still talking numbers).
An unfriendly whistle didn’t help the Raptors on this night — Philadelphia shot 23 first-half free throws, to Toronto’s 7, and as a result, pretty much every Raptor was in early foul trouble.
But take nothing away from Philadelphia. Much as he did in Game 1, Doc Rivers turned all of Philly’s weaknesses into strengths (or, vice versa, from the Toronto side). Toronto wants to crash the offensive glass? The Sixers will run. Philly isn’t a good offensive rebounding team? They’ll crash the offensive glass.
The Sixers played so well in their dominant series-opening win that it became a source of optimism for Toronto. The thinking was that Philly, who was led by 38 points from sophomore Tyrese Maxey, couldn’t play much better than that, and the Raptors couldn’t play much worse.
The problem with that theory was that Embiid, Philly’s MVP finalist, was held to 19 points on just 5-of-15 shooting. He was physically imposing and took advantage of Toronto’s defensive pressure by making plays for his teammates, but he had a quiet offensive game, at least by his standards. What would happen if and when he decided to take over?
We saw it in the opening quarter of Game 2. In 12 minutes, Embiid matched his scoring total from Game 1, and 11 of his 19 points came at the free throw line. He attempted 12 of his team’s 15 free throws and drew eight of the Raptors’ nine fouls.
Embiid went to the line 14 times in the game, more than the entire Raptors team. Overall, the free throw disparity was 30-12 in favour of Philadelphia.
Yes, Nurse and the Raptors had a reason to be frustrated, but not about the calls on Embiid – most of which were deserved – but with the calls they felt they should have been getting and weren’t.
“There was another open-handed slap to the face [and], again, I don’t understand why they will not call them,” Nurse said afterwards. “But other than that, at least there [weren’t] as many elbows thrown to the face tonight that we had to endure.”
But pointing at the refs is low-hanging fruit. When he wants to, Embiid can impose his will on just about any player and against any team. Despite their length and defensive creativity, the Raptors don’t have a player that can match his size. On Monday, it showed. They didn’t have an answer for the Sixers’ superstar centre.
“I thought we did a pretty good job, but at a certain point, we have to stop arguing with the refs and find another solution, because they’re not budging,” VanVleet said.
If you’re not going to slow Embiid down – and most can’t, to be fair – you absolutely have to take advantage when he’s not on the floor. That was always going to be a non-negotiable if the Raptors were going to have a shot in this series. In Game 1, they were outscored by four points in Embiid’s 11 rest minutes.
The truth is, the Raptors just didn’t have enough depth to sustain a promising start as the Sixers just wore them down as the game went along.
The Raptors played without Scottie Barnes, who came within two rebounds of posting the first playoff triple-double in franchise history before spraining his ankle in the second half of Game 1.
And while Gary Trent Jr. felt good enough — while dealing with an illness that’s bothered him for almost a week — to play and start, he was nowhere near his normal self.
He played just 10 minutes, missed all three shots and picked up four personal fouls in his first seven minutes on the court. He left about three minutes into the third quarter, a scoreless night done.
“Give him credit, but he had nothing,” Nurse said of Trent. “Probably should have held him out, but he went out there and he tried.
“It’s hard enough, but we’ve got to hope these guys get healthy by Game 3.”
The absence of Barnes was critical because of the versatility he provides the Raptors.
The Raptors used Malachi Flynn for a long stretch of the first half to alleviate of the ball-handing chores from VanVleet, and Flynn played like a second-year player in his first serious playoff action. He didn’t hurt the Raptors, but he didn’t do much to help in what was a so-so run.
The wing and frontcourt issues caused by Barnes’s absence were more telling.
Chris Boucher was OK, but not when the game was in doubt, while neither Precious Achiuwa nor Khem Birch did much of anything at either end and Thad Young was limited by a hyperextended thumb on his shooting hand.
Toronto’s desperation for veteran leadership was born out by point guard VanVleet playing the entire first half and about the first eight minutes of the second without a break. He started out on fire, hitting four of his first six three-point attempts, but finished 5-for-15 from beyond the arc with 20 points, while playing about 44 minutes.
Pascal Siakam played 33 of the first 36 minutes and ended up playing 40, with 20 points and 10 rebounds. OG Anunoby led Toronto with 26.
The bench, different as it was because of the injuries and illnesses, just didn’t provide anything.
As good as they were from a physicality standpoint, from a defensive standpoint in the early going, the margin for error remains slim and the visitors made a glaring one in Game 2 that blew this one wide open.
The Sixers, who dominated all of Game 1, had that similar in-control feeling for the final three quarters of Game 2 pulling away for a 112-97 win and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Head coach Nick Nurse, who was critical of the official’s whistle in Game 1 when it came to letting Joel Embiid do pretty much what he wanted, was a little more impressed on Monday night, but just a little.
“There was another open-handed slap to the face that I don’t understand why they will not call them,” Nurse said. “But other than that, at least there weren’t as many elbows thrown to the face tonight that we had to endure.”
A 15-second conversation between Nurse and Embiid with the game clock running down was an odd sight.
Nurse said Embiid basically told him: “He was going to keep making all the free throws if you keep fouling me and I said: ‘Well, you might have to.’
“But, good player,” Nurse said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for him and he’s certainly playing great here. There is nothing there but us trying to compete against him and him trying to compete against us.”
The old adage, however, remains: The series hasn’t really started until the home team loses a game.
The way this is going, though, that doesn’t appear far off. Give the Sixers credit.They are rolling. It’s not just Joel Embiid driving this train although the attention he draws certainly makes it easier for all of his teammates.
After Raptors head coach Nick Nurse had a few pointed remarks about the officiating following Game 1, you figured Toronto might choose to get a bit more physical with Embiid.
And that’s exactly what they did early with a couple of hard fouls. At one point, Embiid and OG Anunoby were assessed double technicals for exchanging shoves on a side out-of-bounds play.
The strategy worked well at first, with Toronto getting out to an 11-2 advantage to start the game. Then a hard foul on Embiid from Pascal Siakam seemed to turn the tide. From there Embiid turned into the aggressor, scoring 19 first-quarter points and getting to the line 11 times in that period alone.
“He’s the most dominant player in this league to me, physically,” Doc Rivers said postgame “And that’s what we told him — be who you are, be dominant, be physical. I thought the first three minutes they spent time trying to hit him, deliver blows to him. And I was like, ‘No, Jo, you be the dominant guy.’ And I think he’s been that. I loved how he ran down the middle of the floor into the paint, rim runs. That’s good for us. And we need that more.”
Once the temperature of the game cooled down, the Sixers took it over much like they did Game 1. After scoring 33 points in the first quarter, the Raptors were held to 38 combined in the second and third. The Sixers held a lead as large as 29 and (mostly) cruised to a 112-97 victory.
Nurse, who is one of the more animated and vocal coaches in the league, was incredulous for just about all 48 minutes of this one. As the game was winding down, Embiid and Nurse had a little exchange.
“He’s a great coach, obviously,” Embiid said of the conversation with Nurse. “I [know] what he’s been able to accomplish and [I’ve] always been a big fan. But I told him, respectfully, I told him to stop bitching about calls. Because I saw what he said last game. I mean if you’re gonna triple-team somebody all game they’re bound to get to the free throw line, or if you’re got to push them off and try to hold them off and all that stuff, they’re bound to get to the free throw line. I feel like every foul was legit, and there probably should have been more, honestly.”
You have to appreciate Embiid harkening Ricky Bobby’s “I said with all due respect” stance.
It’s one thing to double team Embiid, leaving shooters dotting the perimeter and lanes for others to take advantage of, but if the Raptors are going to send all that pressure at the 76ers’ big man, they have to make him pay. That just wasn’t the case in Game 2 as Embiid once again forced Toronto into early foul trouble. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Thad Young all collected a pair of first-quarter fouls and Embiid waltzed to the free-throw line for 12 first-quarter attempts.
Toronto continued to ride its stars despite the early foul trouble, but the defense can’t be the same with foul issues. When the 76ers settled in offensively, the Raptors couldn’t generate anything in the halfcourt and everything unraveled in a hurry.
“It’s tough, we changed a few things schematically, I thought they made a real concentrated effort at getting him the ball a lot more in a lot deeper areas tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I’m encouraged because I thought we started turning him over a little bit and he just about turned it over probably another handful of them but I think it’s pretty good night there if we can cut those free throws in half there.”
Embiid’s 19-point first quarter gave way to a 31-point performance in Game 2 with Tyrese Maxey once again lighting the Raptors up with his speed to the tune of 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. His biggest three-pointer of the night came midway through the fourth quarter to end a 15-0 Raptors run and put Toronto away for good.
The only way to counter a bully, in other words, is to push him right back. And maybe the Raptors deserved some credit for spending Monday night doing their best to carve out their turf against Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ MVP candidate of a seven-footer. The game wasn’t 90 seconds old before Toronto’s OG Anunoby and Embiid had matching technical fouls after a shoving match. Not long after, Embiid found himself on the deck after a hard foul from Pascal Siakam — an obvious attempt by the visitors to set a more punishing tone.
But if the early action was promising — with the Raptors jumping out to an early nine-point lead — the ultimate result was more of the same.
Toronto stood up and pushed back, sure. But in what turned out to be second straight disassembling of the visitors — a 112-97 final that gave Philadelphia a 2-0 series lead — Embiid and the Sixers mostly sloughed off their opponent with nonplussed shrugs and another in a line of easy dunks.
Playing without prized rookie Scottie Barnes, who was on the bench in a walking boot after spraining his ankle in Game 1, and with a severely ailing Gary Trent Jr., the starting shooting guard who conjured just 10 minutes of listless work, Toronto’s counterpunch didn’t pack anything close to the necessary wallop.
With Wednesday’s Game 3 looming in Toronto, the odds get long from here. Teams down 0-2 in NBA playoff series have an eight per cent series win rate.
Tyrese Maxey of the 76ers strips Raptor Gary Trent Jr. of the ball in Monday night’s Game 2 of their best-of-seven playoff series in Philadelphia.
This is the fifth time in the Raptors’ five most recent playoff runs that they’ve found themselves in a two-game hole to open a best-of-seven. On the previous four occasions, they came back to win just one of those series, when they reeled off four straight victories against the Milwaukee Bucks en route to the franchise’s only championship. And while the pre-series buzz had the Raptors gaining an advantage on home court on account of unvaccinated Sixers forward Matisse Thybulle being ineligible to make the trip, Thybulle hasn’t been much of factor.
You could point to Toronto’s sketchy shooting lines as a big part of the problem — Siakam and Fred VanVleet both had tough nights from the field, with Anunoby leading the team with 26 points — but Toronto’s biggest problem, clearly, hasn’t been offence. It’s been defence.
After allowing the Sixers to shoot 50 per cent both from the field and from three-point range in Game 1, the Raptors watched them open up a 67-52 halftime lead shooting 56 per cent from the field and 53 per cent from three-point range. If those numbers were maybe unsustainable, at times the Sixers looked downright unguardable. The Sixers shot a tidy 52 per cent from the field in Monday’s win.
“We never really slowed ’em down,” said VanVleet, the Toronto point guard. “We’ve got to do a better job of guarding everybody. They dictated the game in terms of physicality and flow and momentum.”
Two games in the best-of-seven series have been played between Philadelphia and Toronto. Two blowouts by the Sixers. Two physical beatings by a total of 35 points, which would have been a whole lot worse had the Sixers bothered to play the fourth quarter Monday night. So far, in two defeats, the Raptors haven’t left much of an impression that this team — maybe even with a healthy Barnes — would be any real test for this version of the 76ers.
Coach Nick Nurse wanted his Raptors to make a statement and show up physically in Game 2. He didn’t want to see them beaten down the way they were in Game 1. And his players accepted that challenge and came out strong in Philadelphia on Monday. For one quarter.
The Raptors led 33-32 after the first 12 minutes. And that was it.
“They dictated the game,” said VanVleet. “With physicality, flow and momentum. We’re going to have to find a way. We ran out of gas in some areas.”
They were outscored 35-19 in the second quarter and then 28-19 in the third. The Raptors like to pride themselves on being sharp defensively. It has been one of Nurse’s strengths as an NBA coach. But after giving up 131 points in Game 1, they gave up 95 points in the first three quarters of Game 2. That’s 243 points allowed in two games in Philly. From the free-throw line alone, it was Philadelphia 55, Toronto 29. And on the sidelines in the final seconds of Game 2, words were exchanged between coach Nurse and Embiid. The context was: If you keep fouling me, I’m going to keep hitting the free throws.
So far, he is correct in that. Embiid has scored 21 points from the line in two games on 25 shots. Almost half of his 50 points to date have come from the charity stripe.
The Raptors don’t really have an answer for Embiid, either physically or any other way, through two games. Marc Gasol has retired. Kawhi Leonard is a memory. Kyle Lowry is in Miami with the Heat. Serge Ibaka is in Milwaukee. Embiid is 28 years old, Harden is 32, Green is 34 and Tobias Harris is 29. The Raptors are mostly kids, in age and experience. Masai Ujiri sometimes calls them his babies, and he says that in a complimentary way. Imagine what they’ll be when they grow up. Right now, after two defeats, it’s hard to think in those terms after so heart-warming a regular season.