A big test lies ahead for the Toronto Raptors as they will begin a two-game homestand against the East’s best: the Philadelphia 76ers. With the season condensed to 72 games and with only three divisional games to be played, these two meetings will be the final time they meet in the regular season. The 76ers already beat the Raptors once, 100-93, back on December 29.
The Raptors are coming off an ugly 86-81 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night but the story coming into this one is whether or not Kyle Lowry will play. As of yesterday’s 8:30pm injury report, Lowry was listed as doubtful with his thumb injury, but head coach Nick Nurse hints that he could play.
Raptors list Kyle Lowry as doubtful for Sunday vs. Sixers (though Nick Nurse said there's a chance). Sixers say Ben Simmons is probable, as is Shake Milton.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) February 20, 2021
What we do know is North Philly’s Finest loves to play against his hometown team, so it would come as a surprise if Lowry is indeed held out of tonight’s contest. That’s potentially good news as the Raps will need all the help they can get against Philly’s man in the middle, and arguably the current MVP leader, Joel Embiid.
Joel Embiid has averaged 35.2 points with a 66.4 TS% over his last 9 games.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 20, 2021
Coming off a 50-point, 17-rebound, 5-assist, 4-block outing against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, Embiid has definitely shown he is the MVP this season. He is leading his 76ers to a 20-10 record while averaging 30.5 points on .547/.400/.853 shooting splits, to go along with 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 steals and blocks per game. We’ll get to more on him in the keys to the game.
Fortunately, the Raptors do get their rising two-way threat in OG Anunoby back. He missed last game’s Timberwolves contest due to “injury/load management” — and deservedly so!
og locked up giannis last night and is load managing tonight. he’s really kawhi.— alex (@steven_lebron) February 20, 2021
The 76ers, meanwhile, are waiting on Ben Simmons. He missed the last two games but is probable tonight after a (non-COVID) illness. Before his two-game absence, Simmons had a nice little five-game stretch where he put up a career-high 42 points in a loss against the NBA’s best, Utah Jazz. During that five-game run, he averaged 22.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game. If he goes tonight, the Raptors will have to keep Simmons out of the paint, where he gets the bulk of his points.
Ben Simmons tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 16, 2021
42 PTS (career-high)
He is the first Sixer with a 40p/10a game since Allen Iverson in 2006. pic.twitter.com/HDp7Q89r0w
For now, let’s hop right into the game details followed by the three keys to the game below:
Where to Watch
TSN3/TSN4, 7:00 p.m. ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Philadelphia — Matisse Thybulle, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (doubtful - thumb)
Philadelphia — Ben Simmons (probable – illness), Shake Milton (probable – left ankle sprain)
Watching the 76ers’ last game against the Bulls, the Raptors may be in trouble. Embiid got anything and everything he wanted in the paint in his 50-point performance. He casually waltzed in for layups, posted up with ease, hit turnaround jumpers, and got to the line at will. Just take a look at his 50-point burger performance here:
The Bulls are no defensive interior threats whatsoever, and unfortunately the same could be said of the Raptors. Yes, Chris Boucher blocks shots, but the team as a whole has struggled to defensive rebound, and they don’t have the presence of Marc Gasol to bottle up Embiid one-on-one. However, unlike the the Bulls, the Raptors can’t rely on and execute theri defensive schemes — that gives them a better chance in limiting Embiid. The key will be to force Embiid outside the paint and build a wall to prevent him getting in there. If nothing else, Embiid can be enticed to shoot if the defense sags off him. It’s something the Raptors will have to remember.
Of course, Embiid also dominates on defense, so the Raptors will need to constantly move the ball, get the Sixers’ defense shifting side to side, and come at him from the weak side. This is easier said than done, but we have seen at times when Toronto’s ball movement has been fluid with VanVleet and Lowry facilitating the show.
Times like these are when the Raptors would love to have the Bench Mob from the 2017-18 season back. In their game against the Timberwolves, the Raps barely got any production from their reservesm with only 17 points of their 86. The Raptors were carried by the starters, especially Norman Powell with a season-high 31 points. This was the case in their second recent game against the Milwaukee Bucks — Toronto’s bench got them just 17 points.
If the Raptors want to make this easy on themselves, they’ll need to have something come from the bench. In fact, Toronto may go big to match up with Philly’s size by starting Aron Baynes, so this could boost the bench’s production with Chris Boucher and DeAndre’ Bembry leading the second unit.
That said, coach Nick Nurse should avoid running an all-bench lineup. The Raptors did this against the Timberwolves — while, yes, on the second night of a back-to-back and shorthanded — but this is not something to try against the East’s top teams. Expect Nurse to stagger the lineups with one of VanVleet, Siakam or Anunoby on the floor at all times.
Let the Paint Dry
Philly’s new General Manager Daryl Morey went out and acquired sharpshooters Seth Curry and former Raptor Danny Green in the offseason to bolster their three-point shooting from a season ago. It still hasn’t resulted in anything of significance for the Sixers, as they rank 28th in the league in threes made with 10.3 a game and haven’t become an aggressive threat from out there. Obviously, Curry and Green can’t singlehandedly change that on their own, so Philly continues to be a force where they always have been: in the paint.
The 76ers with Simmons (if he plays tonight), Tobias Harris, and Embiid run their offense through the paint and it has resulted in an efficient scoring load for the team. Philly ranks 10th in the league in points in the paint with 47.8. Luckily for the Raptors, they’re no. 2 in the league in opponents points in the paint, holding teams to only 40.9 points per game. The numbers suggest that the Raptors’ interior defense may be able to slow the Sixers a tad.
Look for the Raps to go big with a possible frontcourt lineup of Pascal Siakam-Boucher-Baynes at times during tonight’s contest to slow Embiid’s dominance in the paint. If Simmons does play, look for Lowry (if he plays tonight), Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and DeAndre’ Bembry to neutralize the 6-foot-10 point guard. The Raptors are certainly capable of it, but limiting the two Sixers stars from getting in the paint should have them in a good spot to secure the win and move to above .500 for the first time this season.
All stats were provided by NBA.com/stats/