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Five thoughts on last night: Raptors 113, 76ers 102

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The Raptors and Kawhi Leonard came up big on U.S. national TV once again, beat Jimmy Butler and the 76ers 113-102.

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 113, Philadelphia 76ers 102, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers met, Kawhi Leonard turned into Ben Simmons’ personal nightmare machine, forcing the Sixers’ young stud into 11 turnovers as the Raptors won going away.

Last night, we saw Jonas Valanciunas become Joel Embiid’s nightmare, as the Raptors big man thoroughly outplayed Philly’s MVP candidate, to the tune of 26 points on 13 shots as the Raptors won going away.

What makes the previous sentences so delicious is that Jimmy Butler, formerly a regular nightmare for the Raptors and their fans, is now a 76er. So, you know: it’s nice to turn the tables! On to the thoughts:

Well, That Was a Weird First Half

Last night’s first half was an odd one; the intensity was there, both teams were up for a national TV game, but both teams struggled to score early.

The Sixers were playing aggressive on D, which made things tough, but when the Raptors moved the ball quickly, it led to open looks; as Sean notes, the Raptors couldn’t hit any of the open ones, but seemed to thrive off of tough shots.

The Sixers meanwhile, after turning the ball over only three times in the first quarter, gave it away 11 times in the second; and the Raptors, after getting beaten up all over the boards the last few games, were sniffing out rebounds like bloodhounds, picking up nine offensive rebounds in the second quarter alone and ending the half +6 on the glass.

So — an odd first half. But one the Raptors closed well, in contrast to Monday night, and it only got better from there.

Hesitant Kyle is Bad Kyle

Kyle Lowry is in a shooting slump. This is not how you break out of it:

Lowry did the same thing in the fourth quarter against Golden State and I feel certain I saw him do it in the Denver game as well. Last night he even passed up a wide open layup in the opening minutes of the third.

I appreciate the mindset, that when you’re slumping, you think you’re hurting the team with your missed shots, so you decline to shoot. But if your teammates are used to you taking those shots, that usually just throws everything off; your teammates don’t know what to expect or where to go. Lowry needs to shoot the damn ball.

(Thankfully, he finally hit one late in the fourth. Hopefully that breaks the slump.)

I Might Be Feeling it Right Now, but This Sixers Team Just Doesn’t Scare Me

I just don’t see how Philadelphia can be a real playoff threat without more shooting, better ball protection, and more depth. Like, Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler are nice players, but if they’re in your top seven, I feel like your ceiling isn’t that high, you know?

As for the shooting... well:

How do you expect to win when one of your best players refuses to shoot? And then there’s this:

The two, obviously, are connected. With Simmons being such a one-dimensional threat, smart defenders like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Pascal Siakam can easily take that one thing away, and make things incredibly difficult. That leads to turnovers. And what do turnovers lead to?

I Love the Way This Team Runs in Transition

Teams that run, usually, are fun (though not always good). Fast paced, fast break basketball is fun! And maybe it’s just that the Raptors haven’t been a great running team the past couple of years, but I am enjoying the heck out of this team and the way they get out and run. The Raptors ran all over the Sixers last night, to the tune of 28 fast break points (to the Sixers’ 12).

And why shouldn’t they be a good running team? With all of the length they have on defense to get deflections and steals, and with a guy like Pascal Siakam who can convert from D to O with the ball in a heartbeat, and good open-floor finishers like Siakam, Wright and Anunoby... it’s the perfect mix for an exciting running team.

Oh, and that Leonard guy is a pretty good finisher:

Not enough? Right:

(BTW, better caption from the Raptors social media team: Throwing shade at Philly’s process, or the Vanessa Carlton reference?)

Shh, Don’t Jinx It: Good Bench Minutes are Back

Before the game, Kyle Lowry told ESPN the Raptors needed the old bench back — the one that turned five point leads into 20 point leads. That’s not quite what we got last night, but it sure looked a little more like the bench of old.

To open the fourth, the Raptors went with a Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, Jonas Valanciunas and Siakam lineup that was active on D, hunted mismatches on offense, ran the break and turned a one-point lead into an eight-point lead before Lowry and Leonard came back in. Valanciunas was incredible during the stretch, just muscling Embiid on offense and changing shots on D; Wright was getting to the rim; VanVleet hit two shots; Siakam got the spin moving after a tough first half. Miles didn’t score, but managed a nice dish to JV and didn’t embarrass himself, so that’s a step in the right direction.

Oh, and Wright and VanVleet? We saw Wright handle most of the ball handling duties in that fourth quarter stretch. That, combined with the additional playmaking of Siakam, made it one of the best bench runs of the year.

We saw good bench minutes against Denver on Monday too. Is the trend finally swinging back the right way?

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With the (justified) worries about a soft early schedule, the Raptors have now played four of their last five against winning teams (and one against Cleveland) and won three of those games (and beat Cleveland). That’s a great start to this tougher stretch of the schedule, and if they can get the bench humming before heading out west next week, that’s a huge bonus.