As games in the NBA go, it can be a hard sell to get people to watch the 76ers play anyone. We’re two weeks from the end of the regular season and while the Raptors are still jockeying for playoff position, everyone knows Philly has nothing for which to play. Coupled with a pre-sunset tip-off on a beautiful Sunday, and you’re not getting a ton of eyeballs. Not even to watch the Raptors exert their superior talent over 48 minutes in a 113-105 win.
Fans of the full court press will be pleased, however. The Sixers worked as hard as they could to keep the Raptors off-balance for most of the first half. The effort worked for a time, but the realities of the Raptors’ skill were hard to deny forever. Despite starting 0-for-5, Serge Ibaka led the Raptors with 24 points (on 11-of-17 shooting), plus six rebounds and six blocks in 28 minutes. DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 17 points (on 6-of-11 shooting) and nine assists, some of the eye-popping variety, in a mere 31 minutes. These two are just too good for Philly.
So it went for the rest of the Raptors’ rotation mainstays. Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and 8 rebounds (going 7-of-9 from the field, and chipping in two steals) in a high-powered 28 minutes. DeMarre Carroll worked well in the opening run, bombing two threes and working his way to 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. And Cory Joseph, of all people, led the Raptors in minutes with 32, while chipping in nine points, six assists, and five rebounds. Despite the full court pressure, the Raptors shot 54 percent from the field as a team, even after coach Dwane Casey turned the keys over to the bench.
For most of the fourth, with the Raptors maintaining control of the game, Toronto went to Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and Jakob Poeltl in big minutes. Patrick Patterson helped stabilize the unit (he got 17 minutes of action), but since P.J. Tucker sat with a sore knee, it was mostly left to the kids. Eventually Fred VanVleet and even Pascal Siakam got into the action. The highlights include four steals from Delon, a neat 12 and 5 from Jak (plus two steals and two blocks), some rude finishes from Norman Powell, and VanVleet’s own version of the press which got him two of his seven points after stripping a flustered Nik Stauskas.
The young Raptors did gradually let the fired up (try-hard) Sixers back into the game, going scoreless for almost four minutes late. Yet, it was the kind of game that allowed broadcasters Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins to have a debate over Poeltl’s nickname while play progressed. Leo went with “Second Chance” — owing to the big man’s propensity for offensive rebounds — only for Devlin to no-sell it and offer up “the Austrian Hammer” shortly afterwards. Fortunately, Devlin got the final say: it was Poeltl’s dunk that gave the Raptors their final 8-point lead. So, Austrian Hammer it is.
With all the talk of resting players down the stretch, this was a positive outcome for the Raptors. Toronto was clearly the better team, and while the 76ers did go on mini-runs, they maintained their lead throughout the second half for the win. The rest the stars accrued was a nice bonus. Toronto is now 47-30 on the season and continue to sit in third. The future of the post-season, however, remains uncertain.