Last night’s game looked like a laugher. The Toronto Raptors were in control, the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t hang on to the ball and couldn’t shoot, Kawhi Leonard was transforming into a hydra at midcourt. Then those shots started dropping, the 76ers started taking care of the ball, and a 26-point lead began to slip away... until Leonard and Kyle Lowry calmly reached out took it back. Game over.
Those Big Hands are Quick, too!
Everyone talks about the size of Kawhi Leonard’s hands, because they are marvels of human evolution. But it’s even more unbelievable how quick they are. Leonard had two steals in the first two minutes last night; on the first, he nearly snatched the ball off a pass to Ben Simmons, then simply got into his stance and slapped it away from Simmons two seconds later.
On the second, he simply waited in the passing lane and got his hands up when Simmons had nowhere to go, deflected the ball and scooped it up.
Leonard finished with four steals and five deflections. His hands were everywhere, especially when Simmons had the ball; Simmons just couldn’t keep Leonard at bay—those giant hands were constantly swiping and stabbing at the ball, and Simmons got more and more frustrated. It was incredible.
Simmons got a lot of praise for not looking like a rookie last year, but he didn’t have to play Leonard—and Leonard made him look like a high-schooler out there.
It Feels Good to Have Delon Wright Back
OK, so Delon Wright is not all the way back; he’s still got rust to shake off. He only finished 3-for-9, and was a -9 overall. But last night was the first time he looked like the Delon Wright we all know and love—deflecting passes, throwing defenders off with herky-jerk dribbles, getting to the rim. He’s trending the right way and that’s something the bench really needs.
Also trending the right way? Norman Powell. I’m knocking on wood and crossing my fingers, because it’s been such a long road with Powell the past year, but he finally looks to be playing under control and letting the game the game come to him, other than a few forced drives—and even with those he’s at 63.4% true shooting. Welcome back Norm!
Pascal Siakam Run-outs Aren’t Always Things of Beauty
A couple games back I highlighted a Siakam turnover-and-run play, and talked about how much I love those plays. He had about a half-dozen of them last night either off of a turnover or a rebound and for the first time I thought—whoa, sometimes, maybe Pascal needs to slow it down!
He blew a four-on-one in the first quarter, just going too fast and not in control of the ball.
Later in the second, he tried to lead a break off a deflected pass, but didn’t take the time to control the deflection and he bobbled it out of bounds.
You don’t want to stymie a guy’s gifts, and with Siakam, his end-to-end speed with the ball is clearly one of them. But every once in a while it doesn’t hurt to slow up, get things under control, and then make your move. Danny Green, he of poise and patience, did exactly that in the first quarter—picked up a loose ball, raced across half, slowed up at the three-point line, waited for Siakam to catch up then threw a lob that Siakam laid in.
Siakam continues to grow as a player and I’m sure the awareness of when and where to make those decisions will come.
It’s Not Christmas yet, but the 76ers Were in a Generous Mood
Last season, I got a kick out of how often the Sixers turned the ball over against Toronto: 22.3 times per game, a full nine turnovers more per game against the Raptors than they turned it over against the rest of the league. I felt confident they’d give the game away—literally—each time they played.
I figured with a year of experience under their belts they’d have that cleaned up.
Nah. They had 23 last night, right on par, that led to 31 Toronto points (and 27 fast break points).
For all the talk of the experience Philly got last year, and how awesome their young stars are, they are still that—young—and it shows.
Danny Green is a Difference-Maker
It was easy to see why Leonard’s acquisition overshadowed Danny Green’s, but it’s also easy to see that Green is a perfect fit for what this team is trying to do. His three-point shooting is a wonderful complement to Leonard and Kyle Lowry; his presence opens up the floor for them and gives them room to operate, and an outlet when they need it.
On the other end, his defensive chops are helping hold scorers like JJ Redick in check—which again, means that guys like Lowry and Leonard don’t have to help off their guys to float into coverage.
Green may not always show up in the boxscores (10-4-2 in 35 minutes) but you know you can rely on him to have a positive impact.
Toronto’s bench faltered again last night; when Lowry and Siakam came out with two minutes left in the third, the lead was 101-78. By the time Lowry came back with 10 to go in the fourth it was 107-94. The 76ers carried that momentum from there, closing it to six before Lowry and Leonard sealed it.
On the one hand, that’s not great, but on the other: That’s what you pay your star players to do. And this team, as we know, still hasn’t been at full strength—which is something I really want to stop writing! Hopefully on this upcoming four-game trip we’ll see OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet back in action and we’ll really start to see what this team can do.