If there’s a takeaway to be had in the Raptors’ contest against the Philadelphia 76ers, one in which the latter team’s best player Joel Embiid did not play, it’s this: the Sixers are not close to good yet, and the Raptors are. Toronto beat Philly tonight 122-95, while shooting 54 percent from the floor, a whopping 68.4 percent from three and 80.6 percent from the line (on 31 attempts). That’s it, what more is there to say?
You’re still here? Fine, let’s get into what we saw. Watching Kyle Lowry in games like this, ones in which he’s free to be as smart and surgical as he deems necessary, is a special treat. Lowry had 24 points in 31 minutes and shot 7-of-9 from the field, including an impossible 6-of-6 from deep. In short, he was cooking. And just for fun he added eight assists, four rebounds, a steal and more fun plays than I can count (or remember). My favourite: the classic pull-the-chair-out move as Ersan Ilyasova tried to back Lowry down in the post. He’s just too good.
But really, against the Sixers, everyone can look their best. Jonas Valanciunas played 22 minutes, sprained his ankle in the third quarter and sat for the remainder. He still managed a 12-11 double-double (on 50 percent shooting, with three offensive boards) to go with two blocks and solid post defense. Pascal Siakam got into the act for 11 points, a vicious block on former Raptor-killer Gerald Henderson, and some inspired run-outs that led to rousing plays at the rim.
You want more? Terrence Ross, fresh off his discovery of Bulk Barn, has continued his evolution into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the Jamal Crawford mould. Ross dropped 22 points on more silky shooting — 8-of-11 (and 3-of-5 from deep) in total. He looked to be in complete command of his gifts on the night. And let’s not forget the Raptors other “sixth men” Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph, who chipped in eight points apiece, and did the usual little things necessary to break the game open — including Patterson’s demoralizing 60-foot buzzer beater.
Tonight was not exactly DeMar DeRozan’s finest hour, as he struggled to hit shots (4-of-13, but a perfect 6-of-6 from the line) for a total of 14 points. But DeRozan, at long last, has begun settling into a distributor role when needed, one that has him noticing the newly paid defensive attention and finding the open man. DeRozan had five assists on the night; he’s now had four or more in his last nine games (including outings with seven and nine). If he’s going to move the ball — to a cutting DeMarre Carroll (10 points, five rebounds, three assists), or a rolling JV — it opens the game up for DeRozan, and demonstrates another facet of his game.
As for the rest, it was just for fun; Norman Powell running the floor, Lucas Nogueira finding his feet again, and Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and yes, Bruno Caboclo all getting some minutes. We still wait for Fred’s first legit NBA points, and Bruno’s first of this season, but you can’t have everything.
Before the game, coach Dwane Casey talked about the Raptors defense, and said he was concerned it was not where it was supposed to be. That’s fair. Unfortunately for Casey, this is the kind of game that, while encouraging and offering something of a reprieve, does not suggest a whole lot as to the Raptors defensive acuity. The team held the Sixers to 41.9 percent shooting (though 41.2 percent from three), and largely kept them from what they wanted to do. Only Jahlil Okafor’s 15 points and inspired post moves, and Robert Covington’s shooting (20 points on 7-of-11) could made much of a dent in Toronto’s sharp onslaught. But the caveat still applies: it’s the Sixers.
Still, to paraphrase the closing text from Barry Lyndon and apply it to the concept of an NBA win: good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now.