The defence was sensational, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam were nearly perfect on offense, and the Toronto Raptors showed everyone once again: This is a different Raptors team than we’re used to seeing.
Let’s jump right into the thoughts from last night’s Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Game 1 Hump, Done
Before the playoffs began, Kawhi Leonard dropped a casual “what hump?” when asked about the Raptors’ past playoff struggles. He may have gotten a taste of those struggles in Game 1 against Orlando, but there were no humps to be seen last night. His performance was awe-inspiring.
45 points on 23 shots with 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a (monster) block.
Philadelphia has no answer for the type of clinical effectiveness Leonard uses to dispatch opponents. Brett Brown and his team spoke of sending more help after the game, but, from where? Leaving more space for Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol to pick apart your defense doesn’t seem wise, and if you wanna leave Danny Green open in the corner, go for it.
And sagging off Pascal Siakam? Dude had 29 on 15 shots last night! Sure, go ahead and give him more room.
One thing I noted last night was that Joel Embiid was giving Marc Gasol little to no space on the perimeter, to take away his passing; seemed like a decent choice but it opened up the lane for Siakam and Leonard. I suspect we’ll see Embiid sagging back a little more in Game 2.
Speaking of Gasol and Embiid...
The Gasol versus Embiid Hype... Was Real
There was a lot of talk leading up to this game about how Marc Gasol had handled Joel Embiid so effectively in the past.
Joel Embiid vs former DPOY Marc Gasol (with career numbers in brackets): 5 games, 2-3 record, 14.0 pts (24.3), 4.4 turnovers (3.7), 34% FG (48%), 1-16 3P (32%).— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 24, 2019
Ben Simmons vs 2-time DPOY Kawhi Leonard: 3 games, 0-3 record, 13.0 pts (16.4), 8.0 turnovers (3.5), 53% FG (55%).
I wasn’t sure that’d be the case here; the playoffs are a different animal, after all, and Embiid has a better cast around him than he’s ever had before.
But I was wrong, Embiid couldn’t do a damn thing with Gasol on the floor:
I'm not saying the Raptors have to match Gasol's minutes to Embiid's going forward.— Anthony Doyle (@Anthonysmdoyle) April 28, 2019
The numbers are saying it for me. pic.twitter.com/wREpM0C1ks
Embiid finished with 16 points on 18 shots.
Matching the Match-Ups
The 76ers have a funky rotation that sees their starters, including Embiid, play more minutes when other teams traditionally go their bench minutes. Nick Nurse said pre-game he was going to stick to his own traditional rotations, and I was worried that was going to cause problems, as the bench has been... underwhelming.
The results were mixed, I guess; Embiid was far more effective against Serge Ibaka than he was against Marc Gasol, and the Raptors’ three primary bench players were all in the negative plus-minus before garbage time began (Fred VanVleet ended up at +3, while Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka were -7 and -9 respectively).
Yet despite this, the Raptors won easily, as their starters were so dominant against whoever was on the floor for Philly — starters or bench players — it didn’t matter.
toronto starters in game 1: 146.5 / 112.2 / +34.3 in 21 minutes— Sean Woodley (@WoodleySean) April 28, 2019
I’m not sure Philadelphia has an answer for this, rotation-wise, other than to hope their starters play even better against the Raptors’ bench players. As for Toronto: I’m sure those bench-heavy units will continue to be cringe-worthy, but as long as they’re not complete disasters, I can’t blame Nick Nurse for sticking with what works.
(But a few more Gasol-on-Embiid minutes would surely put my soul at ease...)
Jimmy Butler Ain’t Who he Used to Be
The Raptors have certainly had their problems with Jimmy Butler over the years, but I have to wonder if that Jimmy Butler exists any more. Early on, he got caught watching the ball as Pascal Siakam simply ran past him for an alley-oop dunk, something Butler never would have allowed happen in the past. I was (pleasantly!) surprised to see it.
Such lackadaisical play was the story of the night as Butler struggled on both ends overall; Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam cooked all comers, so Butler isn’t alone there, but even on multiple possessions guarding Kyle Lowry Butler looked slow.
Even with all that, I’ll admit I was a little concerned, with an 11-point lead heading into the fourth, knowing what Butler can do in fourth quarters. But he only took three shots, missing all of them, in the final period.
If Butler doesn’t bring his A game — or if his A game doesn’t exist anymore — the 76ers are in big trouble.
Running versus Rebounding
One of the more interesting match-ups in this series will be Philly’s desire to crash the offensive glass versus Toronto’s desire to get out and run. Last night, both teams did both things well!
The 76ers are a great offensive rebounding team, and they hauled in 13 offensive boards last night. It led to 14 second-chance points.
Toronto, meanwhile, scored 21 fast-break points, as they looked to run whenever they did get a rebound — and after Philly makes, too.
It’ll be interesting to see if either team changes this approach in Game 2; will Philly abandon its strategy to get back in transition, or will Toronto have Lowry, Danny Green and Siakam crash the glass a little more?
I can’t help but notice that, out in Denver last night, the San Antonio Spurs lost a game in what might be described as a very “Raptors-of-old-like-way”, with a brain fart that cost them a chance stay in the game... while the Raptors won a game in a very un-Raptors-of-old-like-way, by simply dominating on both ends and never letting up (in a Game 1!).
Suffice to say... it’s a very pleasant change.