It was 18 years ago when Philadelphia and Toronto last met in the playoffs. At the time, Toronto was in the midst of the best run in franchise history, facing off against Allen Iverson — who would win MVP that season — and stretching the series to seven games. We all know what happened after that.
After all those years, both franchises have gone through their moments. For Philadelphia, it was “The Process,” when then-76ers GM Sam Hinkie undertook one of the most incredible (or disgusting depending on who you ask) tanking jobs to get franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. For Toronto, it was the unexpected winning with a band of castoffs, to regular season consistency, to playoff struggles.
This series holds big stakes for both franchises. With the decision from Sixers GM Elton Brand to fast-forward the timeline by adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, Philadelphia is going for it. Depending on how this series plays, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Brett Brown may all be somewhere else when the next season starts. In Toronto’s case, it’s all dependent on one player: Kawhi Leonard.
The history of a franchise can change drastically with the result from one series. Toronto has already seen postseason disappointment the past few years in this round, but with the LeBron James-sized void in the conference, this is the Raptors’ best chance to advance.
Now here are the details for tonight’s second round contest.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Philadelphia – Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto – OG Anunoby (abdomen – OUT), Chris Boucher (back – day-to-day)
Philadelphia – Mike Scott (heel – day-to-day), Joel Embiid (knee – day-to-day)
New Series, Same Struggles?
Toronto’s second unit was hot or cold for most of the opening round against the Magic. Fred VanVleet struggled the most, playing a little better in the Game 5 thrashing by posting seven points and 10 assists. If Toronto wants to create some separation in this series, the bench must play with some consistency.
76ers Head Coach Brett Brown is known to stagger his starters minutes, with either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid always on the floor. With the absence of OG Anunoby for the start of this series, matching up with Philadelphia’s size could be difficult, especially when Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry share the floor. If VanVleet can build off his last game and bring even half of Kyle Lowry’s playmaking, Toronto’s undersized backcourt will be a pain for the 76ers.
Gasol vs Embiid
Joel Embiid has almost always struggled against Toronto bigs, whether it was Jonas Valanciunas or now, Marc Gasol. For the Raptors, the acquisition of Marc Gasol seems to be getting better with time. Coming off a spectacular defensive series against Nikola Vucevic, Gasol is primed to continue his great play against Embiid.
We know Gasol’s defensive worth, but his ability to stretch the floor will be massive in this series. It’s important for Toronto to get Embiid as far away as possible from the rim. He’s among the best in the league in blocking and altering shots. Having someone like Gasol taking at least four 3s per game will keep Embiid honest and open driving lanes for the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam.
Control The Pace
When Brooklyn Nets’ veteran Jared Dudley called Ben Simmons “average” in the half court, he wasn’t lying. Yes, Simmons cooked him after that, but ask Simmons if he’d rather play in the open court and that answer would be a resounding yes.
Philadelphia’s half court action is one of three things. An Embiid postup, an Embiid/Simmons dribble handoff to Redick, or a high screen and roll with Harris/Butler as the ball handler. There isn’t much Ben Simmons can do in the half court, especially with Embiid packed in the paint. Toronto should look to pick up the pace when only Embiid is on the court, and do the exact opposite with Simmons on the floor. Toronto has shown they can create havoc in both slow paced games and faster paced game, so testing Philadelphia early in Game 1 could set the tone for the series.