The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers met again last night, and it was a different story from when these two teams met on Monday night, as the 76ers ran away with an easy 125-113 victory. The main difference: The presence of Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris.
The return of the 76ers’ two best players (well, without you-know-who) made a huge difference, not just in talent level, but in the way it opened up the court for the rest of the Sixers. Philly got all the open looks they wanted and subsequently shot the heck out of the ball (54% from the floor, 18-for-37 from downtown), which had the domino effect of stalling Toronto’s transition offense (17 fast break points — but eight of those coming in garbage time).
That, in turn gave us our best look yet at Toronto’s halfcourt offense, and, well, it was probably about what you were expecting: Pretty ugly. Without the creativity of Pascal Siakam or a centre that can space the floor, it’s pretty easy for this team to get bogged down — which means a lot of forced late-clock shots and long threes.
But we can’t just blame the offense for this one. The Raptors were a half-step too late on their rotations tonight, leading to over-agressive closeouts that Danny Green, Seth Curry and Harris simply sidestepped into easy looks. The Raptors will surely be working on that in practice tomorrow.
If you’re looking for positives, look no further than OG Anunoby, who led the Raptors with 22 points, and racked up 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals as well. The comfort level and confidence that OG is showing on the offensive end is a delight to see; he’s draining threes off the dribble, backing defenders down, attacking from the wing and dishing out of double teams. Is it always pretty? Nope. But he’s getting it done out there.
Fred VanVleet added 17 for the Raptors. Georges Niang led all Philly scorers with 16.
The game really turned in the second quarter, much like it did on Monday — but instead of the Raptors bench being the catalyst, it was Philly’s starters. Things started off just fine; Svi Mykhailiuk made an impact early in the quarter, with a beautiful dish to a cutting Scottie Barnes for a dunk, then a three-pointer from the wing that cut Philly’s lead to eight. Mykhailiuk and Barnes connected twice more in short order, but once the 76ers brought their starters back in, Philly blew this one open.
OG Anuoby did his best to keep the Raptors in it, showcasing some tantalizing glimpses on offense — a couple of above-the-break threes, including one off the dribble, and a nice drive, stop-on-a-dime turnaround fadeaway.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Raptors simply gave the Sixers whatever they wanted on their end. Philly nailed 12 threes in the first half, and it felt like 10 of them were wide open (and Danny Green missed two other wide open triples, too). How’s this for a stat: The Sixers scored 44 points in the second quarter, and all 10 Sixers that played in the quarter scored, but no one scored more than six points. Pretty balanced attack, I’d say!
The Raptors found themselves down 16 at the half, and despite Anunoby and VanVleet both playing the entire third quarter, coudn’t make up any ground. By the fourth, we were well into garbage time as none of the veterans on either team returned to the floor.
For the Raptors, Mykhailiuk was once again a positive, scoring 11 points and being active on offense. Nick Nurse mentioned post-game that he was impressed with Mykhailiuk’s ability to fly off screens, get his feet into the paint and make plays for others. Mykhailiuk, for his part, spoke post-game to his chemistry with his teammates; even though it’s only their second game together and the team has a lot of young guys, he can see his teammates learning from their veteran teammates.
Justin Champagnie also had another solid game, slithering into open spots for his teammates to find him. Precious Achiuwa, meanwhile, did a solid job keeping Embiid out of the paint, forcing the Sixers big man to get his touches farther from the hoop. Embiid had just four points on five shots in eight first-quarter minutes,
Gary Trent also made his preseason debut in the second quarter, and quickly showed that he didn’t pick up the passing bug in the summer — he got two threes up before he even broke a sweat. He finished with 12 points on 12 shots in 22 minutes. To his credit, Trent said postgame that he knows his role and on this team his role is to score — especially when he’s coming off the bench.
As always with the preseason, it’s easy to get excited about positive results (like Monday!) and it's tempting to toss out results that don’t go the team’s way (like tonight!). Ultimately these early games are about conditioning and coaches getting extended looks at new players. To that end, the Raptors are getting themselves into shape, and guys like Mykhailiuk, Champagnie, Scottie Barnes and Achiuwa and making their presence felt. And, it’s a chance for the coaches to see where they need to focus their efforts in the coming days. Coach Nurse said as much after the game, where he mentioned the offense, both in terms of shot selection and making the most of transition opportunities, as well as taking care of the ball, as points of emphasis for the team.
The Raptors are back in action on Saturday night, when they travel to Boston to take on the Celtics.