Down three key players, the Toronto Raptors could only muster enough fight to keep last night’s game against the 76ers close for the first half. They had their moments in the second half — getting it down to six late in the third — but give Philadelphia credit, they dropped the hammer in the fourth and ran away with it.
Nothing to see Here, Move Along
You don’t generally want to throw a game out and say it was meaningless, but... you’re not beating a healthy Philadelphia 76ers team without Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Those guys are averaging 75 points combined (!) against the 76ers this season, on 56% shooting. Not bad right? Oh, and how about the 4.5 steals Leonard is averaging against Philly?
So taking that out of the lineup, and take out your best overall defender and your two best rim protectors... yeah, this game doesn’t tell us much of anything, other than that the Raptors need to get healthy. They did a great job hanging in for the first half, but an unfortunate final few seconds of the half — an offensive foul on Chris Boucher, an off-ball foul on Boucher, a missed Fred VanVleet three and a Korkmaz three-pointer turned a two-point game into a six-point game... and then a 14-4 Philly run to open the third all but sealed it.
From that point on, I just wanted the Raptors to wrap it up quickly and without injury.
Should Danny Green and Kyle Lowry have Played?
When Danny Green hit the deck on a first quarter drive, I had to cringe; he’s been getting the stuffing kicked out of him lately, leading to his taking the game on Friday night off.
When he and Kyle Lowry were announced as available just an hour or so before the game, I have to admit I was surprised. Well, OK, not too surprised about Kyle — you’d probably have to tie him up for him to miss a game in his hometown — but given the frontcourt depth, and no Kawhi... it might have been better to wave the white flag and get Lowry and Green an extra game of rest, you know?
Thankfully, it doesn’t look like anyone picked up any more bumps and bruises; fingers crossed everyone is available on Boxing Day and that Valanciunas’ recovery is on schedule.
No Answer for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
Much as they did against the Pacers on Wednesday, the Raptors frontcourt looked overmatched in this one. Joel Embiid is, obviously, a handful, and you’d expect him to have a good game against a team playing its third- and fourth-string centres.
Greg Monroe certainly has his uses — he’s still an effective offensive player, a good rebounder and passer with great hands. He can play against second units. But against Joel Embiid? He’s on another level compared to Monroe. At one point in the first quarter he swatted a Monroe shot after Moose pulled down an offensive board, then beat everyone down the floor for a dunk in transition. He ended up with 27 on 15 points.
As for Simmons — he clearly relished the opportunity to play this team without Leonard, who tormented him into 18 turnovers combined in the earlier two meetings. Danny Green got a lot of minutes on Simmons last night, and he just couldn’t keep Simmons out of the paint; I’d have to infer that Green wasn’t playing at anywhere close to 100% as he gave very little resistance, and Simmons finished with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting... and only one turnover.
Whole Lotta Pascal
The ineffectiveness of Monroe and Boucher meant we saw a lot of Pascal Siakam last night — a game-high 37 minutes, and career-highs in field goal makes and attempts — 11 and 21, respectively, which led to a career-high tying 26 points.
Now, as you’d expect with Siakam, many of those attempts came out of transition and picking up loose balls and rebounds. But he seemed to be a nit more of a centre point of the halfcourt offense last night as well, getting the ball on the wing with room to drive or shoot, and even getting into a couple of pick-and-roll situations. He flashed a nice array of mini-post up moves as well. It was interesting to see, perhaps a little glimpse of the potential future of this team with Siakam as the primary offensive threat.
But the three-point shot deserted him in this one — 0-for-6 from downtown. Siakam had been solid from downtown coming in — 37% — but the shot clearly still has a long way to go.
Speaking of long way to go...
C.J. Miles Has Hit Rock Bottom
I’ve been on C.J. Miles’ side all season, hoping that he’d shoot his way through his slump, happy to have his veteran presence on the floor and confident he’d do enough to earn his minutes.
But I think I’m gonna have to give up hope of him turning it around. We’re 35 games in, he’s played 29 of them, and is still shooting a mere 28% from downtown. And he’s not finding other ways to contribute. Last night, he came in to the game, had a turnover, and immediately picked up a foul; the next play down he shot an airball, then picked up another foul on the next Sixers possession.
A turnover, a miss and two fouls in about 24 seconds. My goodness.
With Norman Powell trending in the right direction (4-for-8 for 13 points) I think C.J.’s opportunities this season are about to dry up, and, as much as I hate to say it, I think the Raptors will be better for it.
At 25-10, the Raptors still sport the best record in the league as they take a short rest before playing again on Wednesday. It hasn’t always been pretty, especially lately with all of the injuries, but I think any fan would have been happy with that record at Christmas. Hopefully a healthier squad can put together a nice run as the New Year comes and put some distance between them and their Eastern conference competition.