That sentence fragment applies to a lot of stuff in the Raptors’ Game 5 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite heading into the contest tied 2-2, it felt like so much for Toronto had yet to happen. Was it frustrating to watch? You bet. Which made the outcome of Tuesday night’s game all the more satisfying.
Let’s touch on a couple key things.
Finally they made some shots. They, being Raptor players not named Kawhi Leonard.
Through the first four games of the series, the Raptors had taken 122 threes and hit on 30 percent of them. In the regular season, they hit on 37 percent of their three point attempts. Since the all star break, they hit on 42 percent of their threes.
Of those threes, 80 of 122 were of the catch-and-shoot variety, generally a better shot to take. They hit 27 percent of those. In the regular season, they hit on 39 percent of their catch-and-shoot threes. Since the All-Star break, they hit on 43 percent of their catch-and-shoot threes.
Furthermore, 70 of those 122 were classified as wide open, with the closest defender more than six feet away from the shooter at the time of release. They hit 31 percent of those. In the regular season, they hit on 41 percent of their wide open threes. Since the All-Star break, they hit on 46 percent of their wide open threes.
This was never going to last. And it sure didn’t.
In Game 5, the Raptors took 40 three point attempts. They hit on 16 of those, good for 40 percent. Better yet, this on a night where Kawhi Leonard went 0-of-4 from distance.
Matching Embiid’s Minutes
Finally the Raptors fully committed to directly matching Gasol’s minutes to Embiid’s. This ensured Serge Ibaka didn’t need to guard him at all, and freed his centre minutes to be played against lesser opposition like Greg Monroe or the smaller looks the 76ers have tried.
Throughout this series, Embiid’s success has largely (not exclusively, but largely) hinged on finding minutes where he can escape from the suffocating defence of Gasol. It’s no coincidence that when Embiid has had a good game — e.g. Game 3 — the Sixers have won handily. Their success is directly related to what they can expect on the floor from their big man in the middle. Here’s how things have shaken out so far over the series:
Scenario | Minutes | Raptors Point Differential
Embiid vs. Gasol: 118 MP, -2
Embiid vs. Ibaka: 39 MP, -38
Ibaka away from Embiid: 33 MP, +40
Gasol away from Embiid: 44 MP, +38
Embiid has been the key to the 76ers success — no matter what the Raptors do, they crush the 76ers when Embiid sits. But when Embiid plays, there is a drastic difference between how the teams perform depending on who is checking him. A direct minute match of Gasol to Embiid would be a checkmate move from Nurse.
And in Game 5, we finally saw it. After averaging nearly 10 minutes per game of Ibaka checking Embiid for the first four games, that dropped to a single minute in Game 5, a one possession late sub early in the game.
And so we got 30 minutes of Gasol matched up to Embiid (a good number of which also included Ibaka at PF), which the Raptors won by 14 points. And we got 10 minutes of Serge away from Embiid, which the Raptors won by 18 points. Cue the blowout win.
The above shooting obviously helped with that, but even applying the overall per-minute point differential above for those scenarios, the 30 minutes of Gasol-Embiid would pro-rate to -1, while the 10 minutes of Ibaka away from Embiid would pro-rate to +13. Comfortable win, even if the shooting struggles hadn’t lifted.
Really makes one wonder whether this series would already be over if the Raptors had taken this approach in Game 2.
That’s all I’ve got for now. We’re reaching a point where we’ve learned all we can from this series. If the Raptors take this approach in Game 6, they should win. If they do so and also get this shooting again, they win comfortably. We’ll see whether either of those things happen, but Nick Nurse has been gradually moving towards this rotation throughout the series, so there is no reason to think they will revert now.
All stats per NBA.com