Before tipoff, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors were both riding four-game hot streaks. For the Raptors, the streak came at a time when the roster was becoming whole again. The 76ers, on the other hand, are doing so without their star centre Joel Embiid, which has only further launched the discussion of whether or not Ben Simmons and Embiid can fit together in the long term.
Over the four-game win streak, Simmons has nearly averaged a triple-double — 23.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game. Additionally, he came off one of his best performances of the year against the Brooklyn Nets where he recorded 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists with five steals and two blocks.
Meanwhile, the Raptors have been scoring by committee over their four-game streak with each game — and, at times, each quarter — seemingly trading the hot hand. The one constant throughout the streak has been Norman Powell, who is shooting the ball with superb confidence and has averaged 23.6 points per game on .591/.529/.941 shooting splits since his return from injury.
The game itself was set to be a clash of titans, as each team has a win under its belt so far and the winner would take hold of the tiebreaker in the division with only one more game against each other on the season.
The clash did not disappoint.
Early on in the first quarter, the teams both looked prepared for war. The 76ers were moving the ball efficiently with crisp passes which stymied most of the defensive pressure from the Raptors.
In contrast, the Raptors had quick ball movement, but at times looked out of sync with each other. At just under the five minute mark, the 76ers had taken a 27-15 lead over the Raptors.
And yet just when things were ostensibly looking down, Nick Nurse inserted Lowry, Powell, Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol — a sizable lineup — and things began to turn both offensively and defensively.
The quarter was highlighted with an emphatic dunk in traffic by Powell.
Despite the turnaround, the Raptors trailed at the end of the quarter by nine, 36-25.
The second quarter started out with both teams trading runs; just as the Raptors began to catch up the 76ers would push the lead. Powell had another dunk of a similar vein to the first quarter, yet at halfway the 76ers led 45-39.
The quarter itself was a dogfight with quick whistles and scoring through scrappy play. Although the Raptors looked out of sync earlier, they began making plays together such as a nifty give-and-go between Gasol and Siakam that cut the lead to 46-41.
After a shifty pick-and-roll between Lowry and Gasol then another three by Gasol on the subsequent play, the Raptors finally had climbed the mountain and tied the 76ers at 46. With a few more defensive stops between the two, the teams ended the half tied 50-50.
Gasol led the Raptors with 12 points on 5-for-5 from the field, while Lowry and Siakam were next with 11 apiece. Tobias Harris had 11 for the 76ers and Simmons was more than halfway to a triple-double by tallying ten points, eight rebounds, and six assists albeit with six turnovers as well.
The momentum that the Raptors took into the half quickly diminished. The 76ers started utilizing a zone defense, which slowed the progress down in the first few minutes. On the contrary, the 76ers continued their inside-outside play breaking a quick 7-0 run after the start.
Offensively, the Raptors were marred by turnovers and misses at the rim by numerous players. Gasol was almost single-handedly keeping them in the game both with his defense and offense. After a timeout taken because the Raptors couldn’t inbound the ball, the 76ers held a firm, but small lead 66-58 with just under five minutes to play.
To close the quarter, however, “Steady” Freddy VanVleet ignited the crowd with two three-pointers (with one from way downtown) and the Raptors closed the quarter on an 18-6 run to take the lead, 76-72. His running mates Ibaka and Powell, additionally helped down the stretch and they had 10 and seven points, respectively, by the end of the quarter.
The final quarter could only be characterized as a playoff atmosphere. Hard fouls, sloppy offense, and near turnovers stunted both teams throughout. When things tightened up, however, the Raptors seemed in the zone as they broke up numerous plays by the 76ers and had a steal to transition dunk facilitated between Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ibaka, which garnered an and-one call from the officials.
The 76ers weren’t done yet though. If the Raptors were defined by anything in the game, it was their ability to take the ball to the rim when things weren’t flowing well. Of course, the 76ers were quite the opposite as they stayed with the deep ball, shooting well over half their attempts from beyond the three-point arc by the end. They shot relatively well from deep and it kept them in the game as it was only a six-point lead for the Raptors with three minutes left to play.
With 2:30 left, Nurse challenged an offensive foul call on Siakam and it was overturned. The overturn had Siakam go to the line where he made 1-for-2 from the line and increased the lead to seven. The very next offensive possession, Siakam quickly drove up the court and threw it back out to VanVleet who drained a three-pointer.
On the ensuing offensive play, VanVleet erupted again by way of another three-pointer—this time via step back—and the house raucously rose to their feet as VanVleet essentially put the final nail in the coffin. The Raptors would go on to win 107-95.
VanVleet finished the game with 22 points on 6-for-7 from three and added eight assists and five rebounds. Gasol finished a perfect 7-for-7 for 17 points and added five rebounds and three assists. Lastly, the bench combo of Powell and Ibaka both turned on in the second half and finished with 18 and 16 points overall.
Next, the Raptors travel to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks on Friday, January 24th. The Raptors will look to extend this win streak to six and develop further continuity with a healthy roster.