Joel Embiid might have real estate in the heads of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond and other bigs on insignificant teams, but after Toronto’s 101-96 win over Philly in what is to this point the game of the season, there’s little doubt that the entire Raptors franchise has a hold over the Sixers centre.
His teammates haven’t exactly cracked Toronto’s code either.
Toronto probably should have lost this game. Still without Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick McCaw, and with Matt Thomas ruled out for some time before the game as well, the Raptors entered the imposing Philly match-up with 10 available bodies. Of those, plenty of dudes not-so-hot track records against the unique length of the Sixers. In Toronto’s most recent run in with them, Fred VanVleet scored three total buckets over seven games; Pascal Siakam had clearly been spooked by Embiid and pals more than any other collection of defenders, and Marc Gasol’s offense had dried up, even compared to the not-so-high standards he set for himself in the second round last spring. Few losses would have been considered more excusable than the one they seemed in line for on Monday.
But this team, man.
Toronto was aided early on by the Sixers embarrassingly stiff half-court attack. The Raptors helped illuminate that crumminess, stoutly standing up to a series of post-ups and overlong actions looking for a good look that was never coming. By the first timeout, the Raps led 13-8, holding the Sixers to just 3-of-9 from the field, with a couple of those buckets falling under the “total fluke” subheading. Nick Nurse adhered to what wasn’t broke in the late stages of last May’s second round, tethering Gasol to Embiid minute-for-minute. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the first look as the back-up centre when Philly skewed small, and as you’d expect by now, performed annoyingly and admirably. He finished with a dynamic 16 points and 10 boards.
For a time Philly broke loose from their half court drudgery and got their famed transition game humming. Philly lead 34-28 after one; Simmons had six assists. Embiid had zero (0) points.
It’s hard to properly dole out attribution for how the second quarter played out. Toronto’s defense was good, as it’s wont to be. But Philly’s offense was almost performatively awful. One sequence that saw the Raptors piss away what felt like a half dozen offensive rebounds to the lurching Sixers yielded Philly a positively Embiidian total of zero points.
Over a six minute stretch between 9:28 and 3:31 of the quarter, the Sixers offense handed Toronto a 10-0 run, as the Raptors climbed from a 39-34 hole to jump ahead by five. Eleven straight Sixers shots clanged out over that span. A successful Nick Nurse challenge in that window also properly riled up a spicy crowd for the first time on the night — more on that later. Toronto entered the half having conceded just 15 second quarter points, and holding on to a 51-49 lead. Embiid had zero points.
Nurse wins himself a challenge at 4:23 that turns an RHJ foul into a Simmons offensive foul!
The third frame passed by mostly innocuously. Simmons started the half with clear designs on attacking the rim, turning four straight drives into three buckets for his team. His eight points and four assists in the quarter helped claw the Sixers back within one, 81-80. More than anything it was a late-quarter outburst of progressively more contested threes that kept the Sixers in it. Harris and Richardson combined to hit 8-of-14 threes in the opening three quarters. Good thing, too. After 36 Embiid had attempted eight shots, and you guessed it — zero points.
The fourth quarter might go down as one of the most joyous stretches of 12 minutes of the post-Gay era.
With just over eight minutes to go, Joel Embiid walked to the line for a technical free throw, already 0-of-2 from the line on the night. Naturally, he bricked it, with the Scotiabank Arena crowd oozing rapturous delight. Seconds later, this happened.
Nick Nurse loses his mind. Richardson proceeds to miss all three free throws and then the crowd loses its mind. pic.twitter.com/u3uj4St8hK— GoatWorldSports (@GoatWorldSport1) November 26, 2019
A Terence Davis bucket after the three Richardson misses and the Bruno debut-ass crowd explosion put the Raptors ahead 88-87. Philly would rebound, and Richardson would redeem himself at least a little bit with a mid-ranger to put the Sixers up 96-91 with 4:03 to play.
Toronto’s response? Pretty nails.
First, Pascal Siakam perfectly diagnosed an Embiid-Simmons double team, hitting Gasol at the nail, who flipped it over to VanVleet for cantaloupe-flavoured three. Next up, a Siakam break down of Al Horford and and-1, with Embiid committing the foul, put the Raptors up 97-96. Then off a VanVleet turnover, Simmons — the best Sixer on the night non-Richardson division — committed the first of two inexplicable crunch time gaffes, rushing the play when he did not have to, and lobbing up a pass that Siakam swatted aside into the loving and tender arms of VanVleet. His free throws made it a three-point Toronto edge with 11 seconds on the clock, leaving plenty of time for the Sixers to methodically find a look.
Ben Simmons raised a middle finger to that idea.
The 76ers still had a timeout when Simmons fired that up pic.twitter.com/NJO92GT4vv— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) November 26, 2019
All with a timeout to burn...
All told, Toronto held the Sixers scoreless for the final 4:03 of action, ripping off their second 10-0 run of the nice in the process. And speaking of the process — Joel Embiid? Zero points on eleven shots.