After a series chock-full of newfound confidence, the Raptors are finally advancing to the second round, playing the 76ers in the postseason for the first time since 2001. David Early of Liberty Ballers was kind enough to answer some questions for us before the series begins:
Last series, Marc Gasol shut down Nikola Vucevic with impeccable positioning in the post and quick hands. How do you envision the matchup playing out between Gasol and superstar Joel Embiid?
I was pretty excited when the Sixers landed Tobias Harris. And I was almost comparably disappointed and a little scared when Toronto brought in Marc Gasol. Joel is just 6-for-18 in the 62 minutes they’ve battled head to head this year. He was just 4-for-12 in 38 minutes during the 2017-18 season. He’s been very effective. Gasol brings a similar skillset as Al Horford, who as you probably know, has been the biggest challenge for Embiid over his short career.
Forcing Joel out of his comfort zone (the paint and the free throw line) and into lots of long and mid-range shots is the key, and Marc knows it. Then on the other end, being able to knock down open 3s has really limited Embiid’s sometimes other-worldly rim protection ability. Embiid’s health will be the biggest key to this series. If he’s really limited, it won’t be a close series. If he’s close to 100%, it probably goes 7. He’s that impactful. If he’s healthy, I think Nick Nurse will probably resort to doubling him and then Joel will have to prove he has the vision to pick apart the half-court traps.
The Bucks lived with Gasol shooting 3s when he was in Memphis and he went 6-of-12 from deep, I believe. The Sixers hate giving up 3s but they may have to test Marc, otherwise the pick-n-roll game could crush them.
The Raptors have yet to play the 76ers in their current form, complete with Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic. How have the new guys morphed Philly’s game plan on both ends of the floor?
The Raptors haven’t played them but they haven’t played too much together themselves either! We’d all be guessing. They’re a +71 in 49 playoff minutes. That’s good. They were a +82 in 293 reg. season minutes. I think they’ll pose some problems, especially if they can get Siakam or Gasol chasing 30 feet out, or Lowry matched up on Harris or Ben down low. But the Mike Scott injury is really big because the less faith Brett Brown has in his bench, the more he looks to stagger his starters’ minutes. And that will play into the Raps hands... errr claws.
Do you think we’ve seen the best of the 76ers so far, or have they yet to peak during these playoffs?
I’m holding out hope that Joel can “play himself healthy.” He improved as the Nets series went on which was weird and surprising. I don’t know what to make of his tendinitis. It’s the Sixers, so there is always part of me wondering what the REAL issue is, since the team sometimes doesn’t tell us. But if he can get back to the level he was playing at in March then certainly, the team will have more chances to gel and against better competition. It’s maybe a cop out, but if he’s healthier than he was last series, they’ll hit a higher level than they have at any point since the February trade. Whether or not that’s enough to beat a really great team like Toronto, I don’t know. LeBron should have come to Philly, then I’d like our chances even more.
Big thanks to David for speaking with us! If you want to check out more Sixers-related content throughout the series, make sure to visit Liberty Ballers.