Before we begin, I want you to know I wrote about five different ledes, all trolling Joel Embiid for his zero-point performance. But I try to be nice around these parts, and besides, Sean Woodley is outdoing himself on Twitter, and I can’t compete with that!
So yes, Joel Embiid failed to score against the Raptors last night. Let’s credit the Raptors defense, their composure, and the versatility up and down the roster for making that happen — and for coming up with what might have been their biggest win of the year.
Let’s get to the thoughts:
It’s not all Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol, obviously, deserves a lot of credit for slowing down Joel Embiid. I do sometimes think he’s gotten a little too much credit for the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals victory — Embiid’s on-off numbers suggest that offensively, the 76ers were pretty dominant whenever he was on the floor, regardless of whether Gasol was there or not. Then again, Embiid was 18-for-49 from the field once Nick Nurse started matching Gasol to Embiid’s minutes in Game 4 of that series, so Gasol clearly affected Embiid’s scoring.
But back to last night — in addition to Gasol, credit has to go to Nick Nurse, and Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby as well, for the double-teams and traps the Raptors sent Embiid’s way. No matter where Embiid was on the floor, the Raptors sent someone to frustrate him and get in his grill; particularly on his spin attempts, he was presented with a wall of bodies every time (Anunoby even took a charge on one). Some of it’s on Embiid too — he was definitely passive at times — but all in all, that goose egg is a result of great team defense from Toronto.
Philly is So Big
It really is impressive to see the size of this Philadelphia lineup. They made Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell look tiny at the opening tip. And, early on, I think the size did affect Toronto on offense — it looked like, even though the Raptors were moving the ball and getting good shots, they were rushing those shots to get the ball in the air before the length of the Philly defenders could catch up.
That size did mean we got almost 10 minutes of Marc Gasol and Chris Boucher together, and even a minute-and-a-half of a Gasol-Boucher-Pascal Siakam-Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-Terence Davis II big lineup! (They played the Sixers even in those 90 seconds.) It’s always fun to see Nick Nurse experiment.
Size Matters Not
Fred VanVleet might have been the smallest guy on the court last night, but he played huge. You just know VanVleet wanted to have a better showing than he did in the playoff series against Philly, and he came out and put those memories behind him almost immediately.
Fred VanVleet has more points in tonight's game than he had in the entire 7-game series against Philadelphia.— Anthony Doyle (@Anthonysmdoyle) November 26, 2019
Sure, he still had a few roll off the rim — a recurring problem — but he wasn’t afraid to drive, had no hesitation on his jumper, and even had a spectacular finish inside off a nice hesitation move on Josh Richardson.
He finished with 24 points on 15 shots, eight assists and two steals. (He scored 14 total points on 3-of-24 shooting in seven games against Philly in May.)
Giving Norman Powell Confidence
I’d also like to give Fred the nod for helping Norman Powell break out of a funk last night. Norm was having a rough one — he started 1-for-9 with one assist and one board, and just as Twitter was starting up a “geez, get Norm outta there” movement... he got stripped by Ben Simmons, leading to a Philly fast break.
That’s where our guy Steady Freddy comes in.
VanVleet broke up the Philly drive, stealing a Ben Simmons pass intended for Tobias Harris. As VanVleet led a 2-on-1 the other way, Powell floated to the left corner; VanVleet could have looked him off, but instead, fired a pass to Norm who rose and canned the three in rhythm.
VanVleet also assisted on a late Powell three that cut Philly’s lead to 94-91, and Powell collected two huge rebounds in that closing 13-2 stretch.
I love that VanVleet showed that confidence in Powell, even as Powell was struggling.
The Ball Does Not Lie
Let’s give it up for last night’s crowd, they were loud and fully engaged all night — and never more so than following the egregious foul call on Terence Davis with eight minutes to go that put Josh Richardson on the line for three shots.
He missed all three. And the crowd got louder after each one.
this is on the short list of best Raps moments of the decade and I don't think this is recency bias talking https://t.co/kNGDw76yLg— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) November 26, 2019
It truly was an incredible moment, and really does speak to the playoff-like atmosphere in the building. This might be a genuine rivalry at this point! You love to see it.
Man, I got through five thoughts and I didn’t even get to talk about this play:
I love everything about that play. Siakam drawing the D. Taking it back out, and the D with him. Finding Gasol. Gasol knowing exactly where VanVleet is. VanVleet stepping into the gap and draining the shot.
It was a perfect play, from a perfect night.