I wish the Raptors could play the Sixers more often. Even with them struggling to find an answer for Joel Embiid due to the injury to Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors just own the Sixers in so many other ways. Kawhi Leonard owns Ben Simmons. Danny Green clamps Jimmy Butler, the Raptors long, active perimeter defenders prey on the Sixers overly ambitious passing. Plus, Kyle Lowry always gets up for games in his hometown Philadelphia. Tonight, everything fell into place in the Raptors vs. Sixers matchup. Joel Embiid dominated, recording 37 points, but it didn’t matter, as the Raptors led comfortably for most of the game to earn a 119-107 win.
The Raptors started strong, with their ball movement being the early highlight. Lowry pushed the ball hard in transition and hunted for his bigs on the roll, as he recorded 3 of his 6 assists in the first 6 minutes of the game. His backcourt-mate Danny Green pitched in as well, slinging an impressive bullet pass to Norman Powell in transition for a three-pointer.
As a result, the Raptors jumped out to an early double-digit lead despite a relatively inauspicious start from Kawhi Leonard. The lead threatened to evaporate when the bench entered, with Joel Embiid going to work against an understandably overmatched Greg Monroe, but Delon Wright changed the momentum back in the Raptors favour with a couple of hustle plays and a pretty finish over Embiid to close the first quarter.
The bench was up and down to start the second, getting a couple highlight plays from OG Anunoby, including a pretty Pascal-Siakam-esque spin move, but also committing a few too many turnovers.
Lowry was re-entered to settle things down midway through the quarter, and changed the texture of the game with his shotmaking, draining deep threes whenever defenders sagged off. He would finish the night 5 of 9 from distance, his best three-point shooting night in what feels like a long time. Led by Lowry and Serge Ibaka, who drilled his midrangers and finished tough shots around the basket, the Raptors were able to put up 72 points in the half and grow their lead to 17.
Just a kid from North Philly pic.twitter.com/B4CkjZ6DU7— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 6, 2019
The Raptors ran into some adversity to start the third when Ibaka was hit with his fourth and fifth personal fouls in quick succession. With Greg Monroe entering in Ibaka’s place the fouls continued to pile up for the Raptors, as they found themselves in the bonus with over 8 minutes left in the quarter. Though the Sixers paraded to the line and ground the pace to a halt, the Raptors eventually got a counterpunch from their defence, as Kawhi Leonard forced multiple turnovers to create the transition opportunities the Raptors needed to re-establish their lead. Leonard struggled from the field all night, ending 3/11 from the floor, but he was still able to make a positive impact through his defence, and ended up leading the Raptors in scoring with 24 points due to his own ability to get to the line; he finished 16/17 from the stripe on the night.
The fourth saw the Sixers come out with a surge, as the Raptors started to bend under the stress of mounting foul trouble. Leonard had closed the third quarter with the bench, and Lowry and Ibaka had four and five fouls respectively. As such Nick Nurse attempted to squeeze in a stretch of all bench minutes. This meant Greg Monroe guarding Joel Embiid. Monroe, to his credit, would finish with an efficient 10 point and 7 rebounds, but the Raptors still struggled immensely with him in the game, as Embiid both drilled threes in Monroe’s face and pump-faked him into oblivion. The bench minutes saw the Sixers turn an 18 point lead into a single-digit game.
Then the starters re-entered, and the Raptors finally started to get stops again. They helped Ibaka by doubling Embiid in the post, forcing turnovers and misses. Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam took the Raptors home, Leonard by bulling his way to the free throw line, and Siakam by getting on the offensive glass and finishing some tough one-on-one baskets. The lead grew back to double digits and the Raptors ran out the clock for a 119-107 win.
It was nice to finally see the Raptors have a game where it felt like almost everyone played well. The Raptors had a balanced attack, with 6 players in double-digits, and three with over 20 points. Ibaka, who had 20 and 10, earned his 7th consecutive double-double. Norman Powell had 14 on 5 of 6 shooting and continues to play well off the bench. Lowry, who finished with 20 points, was much more aggressive hunting for his shot than he typically is when playing alongside Leonard. In a rough stretch of schedule this game was a reminder why, just a few months ago, everyone was so excited about this team.