Despite having to endure watching Kawhi’s dominant Game 1 performance, Sean Kennedy of Liberty Ballers was nice enough to answer some questions for us before Game 2. (Check out my three answers on LB over here.)
Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler all struggled offensively in Game 1. What can they do to get it going against the Raptors tonight?
Jimmy Butler can’t settle for mid-range jumpers and has to work to attack the rim and hopefully draw more fouls — the four free throw attempts we saw in Game 1 isn’t going to cut it for a guy who is one of the better players in the league at getting to the line. Though Toronto has plenty of athletic defenders to throw at him, Butler has always operated at his own speed with the ball in his hands, with herky-jerky moves to create space for himself around the basket that can catch even top-notch defenders off-guard. The Sixers need to see more of that Monday night.
Then, when you look at Tobias Harris’ 6-of-17 shooting line, it’s easy to write him off as having a terrible night offensively, but I didn’t have a problem with much of his shot selection. As one of the team’s few true floor spacers, the Sixers need Harris pulling the trigger from the outside at a moment’s notice. He’s also proven himself as an efficient weapon in the mid-range, so I’m fine with the plays when he ducks in and uses his backside to keep the defender behind him while pulling up for a 12-footer. A couple more of those shots will fall eventually. The main note I would have for Tobi (offensively, anyway, he got cooked all night on defense) would be not to let Kyle Lowry get in his head. Twice, Harris was whistled for an offensive foul because he threw an arm out when Lowry was bodying him up. You know the referees are going to side with the smaller player in those circumstances so don’t play into Lowry’s game.
Finally, Joel Embiid has to do his best to establish deep post position before the defense is set. Embiid is used to getting the ball and easily backing defenders down with his enormous 7-foot, 250-pound frame, but Marc Gasol is too strong for that to be a viable option, and it led to plenty of flailing, out-of-control shot attempts from Embiid Saturday. Honestly, given their head-to-head history coming into this series, Gasol continuing to stymie Embiid in Game 1 was the number-one reason I’m much more pessimistic about Philadelphia’s chances to advance.
Kawhi Leonard was unstoppable last game, knocking down jumpers over well-positioned defenders all night. Do you think the 76ers have a backup plan up their sleeves to guard him differently this time around? If not, what can they do to defend against supplemental scoring from Pascal Siakam?
In Game 2, I fully expect the Sixers to switch their defensive assignments and have Jimmy Butler on Kyle Lowry, and Ben Simmons on Kawhi Leonard. Per NBA.com, Kawhi was 4-of-9 from the field and scored 10 points on the 27 possessions where Simmons was his primary defender. That’s good production, but not the “Ice Dragon leveling a 1,000-year-old magical wall” level of destruction Leonard inflicted on the rest of the Sixers Saturday. Tobias Harris is much too slow to contend with Kawhi, and Kawhi seemed able to rise up over Jimmy Butler whenever he needed to get a shot off. Those couple extra inches Simmons provides, combined with the speed we saw from Ben in shutting down D’Angelo Russell in Round One, seems to be the best shot the Sixers have to slow down Kawhi. That and their good friend Regression to the Mean.
You wouldn’t know it by glancing at the box score, but Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol were a +25 and +29 on the night respectively. How do you think the Raptors benefitted from their presence on the court in Game 1?
You don’t need to look any further than Joel Embiid’s 5-of-18 shooting performance to see Marc Gasol’s impact on the game. Look a little further, though, and Gasol’s performance was even more impressive. Per NBA.com once again, Embiid shot just 1-of-8 from the field against Gasol, as the big Spainard completely stifled The Process at every turn. To win this series, the Sixers need Joel to be the best player on the floor and he didn’t even win his individual matchup in Game 1.
As for Lowry, he didn’t force things himself and got the ball into the hot hands on offense, and his stout post defense kept the Sixers from being able to exploit any size advantage when either Butler or Harris were trying to back him down on the interior. Lowry’s ability to play bigger than his stature allows Toronto to maintain its switchable defensive scheme.
We’d like to thank Sean for his thoughtful answers! Make sure to check in with Liberty Ballers for more 76ers content throughout the series.