Coming into tonight’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors were shooting just 28 percent from downtown in the last two games. They made 11 threes on 33 percent shooting this time, but that slight improvement wasn’t enough. Philadelphia’s 14 threes (including five from rookie Matisse Thybulle) outpaced the Raptors as poor shooting and costly turnovers made a late Raptors comeback bid fall just short, and the Sixers came away with the 110-104 win.
Kyle Lowry and Tobias Harris led all scorers with 26 points apiece. OG Anunoby chipped in 19 points and 10 rebounds while Pascal Siakam overcame a poor showing in the first three quarters to finish with 16.
Things started well in the first. The Raptors’ perimeter shooting started off hot, with OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry nailing three out of five threes within the first six minutes. Even Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got into the mix a few minutes later and drained a three, his first of the season.
On the other end, Tobias Harris’ 11 quick points overshadowed another poor Joel Embiid start. It took Embiid a little over two minutes to record his first point of the season against Toronto; he also had two quick turnovers and a missed free throw before sitting.
While Philadelphia’s offense was fast-paced (kick-started effectively by Ben Simmons), the Raptors were keeping up just fine. But a few costly errors in the final minute of the first — a flagrant foul on Terrence Davis II on a Mike Scott three-point attempt and another four-point play completed by Matisse Thybulle — gave the Sixers a five-point lead entering the second frame.
Unfortunately, those final seconds of the first quarter were a microcosm of what came in the second. Toronto quickly made it a two-point game, but just like the first, turnovers and defensive errors at critical times cut the momentum Toronto had built. The Sixers would end the half on a 20-9 run and take a 15-point lead, outscoring Toronto by 10 in the quarter.
A disastrous second quarter would only get worse, when it was announced that Fred VanVleet would not return to the game due to a right knee contusion; evidently, said injury was sustained against Houston and despite feeling well pre-game, it flared up in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam’s struggles continued, as he started the half 2-for-8 with just four points. Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby led Toronto with 10 and 15 points respectively, amounting for 80% of all of Toronto’s three-point makes.
And yes, the shooting. Toronto ended the half shooting 5-16, just 31%. They were 1-for-8 in the quarter and didn’t hit a three for the final 8 minutes of the half.
Defensively, Toronto couldn’t keep Tobias Harris under wraps. After scoring 11 in the first, he added another seven to lead all scorers with 18.
The Raptors picked up the pace in the third, scoring a quick seven fast break points, but things soon followed the first half script. A brutal two-minute stretch mid-way through the third ballooned Philadelphia’s lead from 10 to 18. With the score 53-63, Toronto missed a free-throw, followed by a three from Thybulle. Another turnover on the next possession lead to a fast break score for the Sixers; Siakam then missed a layup, and another Thybulle three deflated any hopes of a run. The Sixers counter-punched every run the Raptors made, and Toronto would enter the final frame down 18, 86-68.
Finally, midway through the fourth, the Raptors began to flip the script. Down by 20 points, Nick Nurse rolled his starters back out, went big with Serge Ibaka in place of Fred VanVleet (making Kyle Lowry the only Raptor shorter than 6’8 on the court), and rolled out a zone defense.
And it worked! Philadelphia struggled offensively, had 11 fourth quarter turnovers and was outscored 26-13 over the final eight minutes.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, and the clock ran out on the comeback.
Philadelphia stays perfect at home and ties the season series 1-1. After an abysmal performance in the first matchup, Joel Embiid played slightly less abysmally as he finished the night with 10 points (on only seven FG attempts), eight rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers. Philadelphia won this game in spite of Embiid’s performance, which was an impressive feat on the second night of a back-to-back. However, someone still finished with zero. Marc Gasol finished scoreless including shooting 0-for-4 from deep. He did still finish with the highest +/- for Toronto.
The main story of this contest boils down to three things: First, everyone not named Lowry and Anunoby forgot how to shoot for Toronto. Second, Matisse Thybulle has a bright future in this league. And third, no matter how locked in you are in the fourth quarter, you cannot expect to win in a tough building when you string together only six minutes of positive defence.
The Raptors fall to 15-7 on the season and head to Chicago tomorrow night, looking to snap their first three-game losing streak in more than a year.