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Five thoughts on Last Afternoon: Sixers 117, Raptors 111

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The Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors combined for a pretty poor 48 minutes of basketball that most of us would like to forget. Here are five barely coherent thoughts.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that early afternoon NBA games can be tough to watch; professional athletes get their bodies used to certain routines and when you try to bump that routine up by 6 hours—and less than 48 hours after one team (the Raptors) played and three days after a transatlantic flight for the other (the 76ers)—the results can be messy.

The Raptors Sure Didn’t put up Much Resistance

Toronto allowed the Sixers to shoot 49% on the day, and gave up 58 points in the paint. The Raptors also recorded only one blocked shot, well below their league 2nd-best 6.0 coming in to the game. Pretty much whatever the Sixers wanted, they got.

Joel Embiid in particular was a force for the Sixers—perhaps unsurprisingly. He’s incredibly skilled and agile, and he gave Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl fits throughout most of the game. He finished with 34 points and showed utter disdain for Toronto’s defense.

In fact the only thing that kept this game close was Philly’s propensity for turning the ball over. The Sixers gave the ball away 22 times—Embiid had 7—and the Raptors converted those TOs into 23 points.

If Philly were a more disciplined, experienced team, it’s fair to think it would’ve been a blowout.

Kyle Lowry was Rusty, and Crusty

I don’t think there was a single Raptors fan who was surprised when Kyle Lowry was announced as the starting PG; the Philly native loves playing in his hometown. I think we were all hoping for a slightly better performance though, than a 3-of-16 shooting night with 4 turnovers in 37 minutes. He also took a couple more hard falls that left me cringing.

The final 17 seconds summed up Lowry’s night nicely. After two Joel Embiid free throws put the Sixers up five, Lowry threw a brutal inbounds pass to DeMar DeRozan that was easily picked off. When Robert Covington missed the layup, Lowry came up with it and promptly tried to dribble in between two Sixers; he got stripped, and after a scrum Embiid was fouled again and he put the game out of reach.

But Lowry wasn’t done, as he got into a jawing match with Ben Simmons that resulted in both players getting ejected and promising to meet in the tunnel after the game to settle things.

Kyle is an ornery guy, and that’s part of what Toronto loves about him. But that was a pretty poor way to cap off a pretty poor game, and it was tough to watch.

(That said: Simmons, calling out Lowry in Philly was pretty hilarious. Poor kid embarrassed himself on that one.)

Is the Inconsistent Play for 48 Minutes Becoming a Trend?

This is the second game in a row that the Raptors had to fight back in the second half to even make it a game, and the third time in the last five that they’ve been in a dogfight with a team that’s well below them in the standings. You can admire the tenacity and stick-to-it-iveness that allows them to hang around and make runs down the stretch, but it’s also fair to worry about the slow starts and tendency to play down to the competition.

Is it overconfidence? Is their record getting into their heads? I’m not sure what it is, but, Cleveland beatdown aside, the execution just hasn’t been there for 48 minutes.

Things aren’t going to get easier, either, with a Detroit-San Antonio-Minnesota 3-games-in-4-nights stretch coming. Let’s hope this is just a blip and not a bad habit.

Speaking of Bad Habits, it’s Time to Tone Down the Barking

The Raptors have often been compared to the Clippers of recent vintage for their ability to put together great regular seasons, and their inability to show up in the playoffs. Now they’re getting another unflattering comparison to the Clips—the way they complain about calls and bark at other teams.

Lowry has long been a player to jaw at officials and complain about every call, and it seems the rest of the team is following suit. It’s even started to come out in the postgame comments; you no doubt heard DeMar DeRozan’s “five on eight” complaint the other night after the Golden State game (a game in which the Raptors shot four more free throws than the champs).

As for the testiness with other teams, well, I appreciate that they don’t back down, but more often than not—thinking specifically of DeRozan’s incident with Goran Dragic last week and his incident with T.J. McConnell yesterday—the Raps are just letting little things get into their heads.

Look, the refs haven’t had a great year. We can agree on that. (Yesterday—between this game, the Clippers-Rockets brouhaha, and Russell Westbrook getting ejected—may have been the worst day yet.) But the complaining from the Raptors, especially during a tough stretch like this, is unbecoming of an elite team. When people say they don’t consider the Raptors contenders, when they say the Raptors just don’t “feel” like an elite team—despite their record and the numbers that back it up—this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

One More Bad Habit That’s Also Bugging Me: Screens

The other day I called out C.J. Miles for a poor screen he set for DeRozan on the second-to-last possession against the Warriors, but he’s not the only culprit. I don’t think the Raps are a great screen-setting team, nor do I think they’re great at using screens.

Take a look at this play from crunch time yesterday: 1:40 to go, DeRozan coming off a handoff, Poeltl setting a screen. But Poeltl doesn’t get out high enough, and DeMar doesn’t set his angle of attack right, and Covington is able to waltz right around the screen.

Jakon Poeltl screens for DeMar DeRozan - Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers, January 15
Poeltl screens for DeRozan

When your teammate sets a screen for you, your goal is to provide as little space as possible between you and the screener, in order to make it as difficult as possible for your defender to move around the screen. (They used to say you should be “brushing shoulders” with your screener.)

DeMar didn’t brush Poeltl’s shoulder there; there’s so much space in between them you could’ve fit two defenders through. (I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.)

This is far from the only instance and it’s problematic for a couple reasons: it makes it easy on the defense, and, often causes the screener to try and “adjust” his positioning at the last second—resulting in a moving screen violation. (Cue Poeltl and Bebe lowering their heads in shame.)

Come on, Raptors: Clean up the screens.

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All right, that’s a lot of complaining for a January afternoon NBA game. The Raps are in a tough stretch and need to build their good habits back up, and start executing more crisply. Let’s hope it starts Wednesday against the Pistons.