The Toronto Raptors have seen their season take an upswing. Two wins over the Bucks and a win each over the Nets and the Sixers has everyone re-imagining the Raptors of old — a rag tag group of underdogs, willing to use basketball IQ and pure hustle to hang in with any competition. Even without Kyle Lowry, who was once again sitting tonight with a thumb issue, Toronto has remained steadfast in their winning ways. Coming into Tuesday, they were above .500 for the first time all season.
Sometimes, though, the other team is good too. Give the Sixers credit: after a demoralizing loss on Sunday, they looked every bit the favourite in the East on Tuesday. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, especially, turned their games up significantly for Philadelphia, as the two combined to score 38 points, all the Sixers starters scored in double-digits, and the road team won 109-102.
The combination of Harris and Simmons don’t always take headlines for the Sixers and were maligned for their poor play two years ago in a seven-game series against the Raptors. Tonight, they thrived off the extra attention thrown at Embiid by Toronto. Harris went 8-for-12 from the field and had five assists; Simmons went 5-for-11 and had seven assists and nine boards. Both got to the rim seemingly at will and demoralized Toronto inside, as the Raptors couldn’t quite find the balance between going big to protect the rim and going small to defrost their offense.
Shooting woes were the Achilles’ heel for the Raptors tonight. Losing the first quarter 37-18, Toronto shot just 36.7% from the field before halftime and 25% from three. Their splits would improve to 43/30 by the end of the game, but an 11-for-37 night from distance came with plenty of misses at bad times. The Raptors were constantly climbing back into the game, but just couldn’t make the shot to get it to a one or two possession game at critical points.
Still, the Raptors were pests. Through their shooting woes, Toronto had a strong defensive game. Fred VanVleet had four blocks and two steals. Aron Baynes (among others) held Joel Embiid to just 3-for-13 shooting. OG Anunoby did this to Danny Green.
It wasn’t a win, but it felt cool nonetheless. The last minute of the game featured the Sixers continuously flirting with blowing a ten-point lead, so the Raptors spent two timeouts and about 15 minutes of real time messing with the Sixers — sticking just close enough to make them think it wasn’t over.
Hell yeah another timeout— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) February 24, 2021
In the end, Norman Powell led all Raptors in scoring with 24, but needed 19 shots to get there. Pascal Siakam ended up being the most efficient Raptors starter from the field, making 9-of-18 shots to score 22 points. It was an off-night for Fred VanVleet, even with some spectacular defensive plays, who went 4-for-14 for 12 points. The bench magic that Toronto summoned on Sunday wasn’t there for them on Tuesday, either. Nick Nurse played Matt Thomas four minutes, but otherwise only played eight guys — six of those scoring in double-digits.
Early on, the Raptors fed off the playmaking of Fred VanVleet. He fed Norman Powell for two early threes, including this one, to kickstart the offense.
The Sixers had a boost of their own, though, in the form of Furkan Korkmaz. With Seth Curry sitting out with an injury, Korkmaz was thrust into the starting lineup and thrived right away. Hitting early threes as part of a 10-0 Philadelphia run, Korkmaz would go on to have a 5-for-11 night from distance, punishing missed Toronto rotations or any over-helping on the Sixers’ big guys inside.
The Raptors looked for an answer to the extended Sixers run in the first, but couldn’t come up with one — digging themselves a 19-point hole at the end of the frame. Nick Nurse’s response was to go supersized to start the second, playing a lineup of DeAndre’ Bembry, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Aron Baynes, and Siakam in that transitional time. While the defense of this unit was solid, the offense just wasn’t there — a few hustle plays were able to whittle the Sixers lead down to nine, but it was short-lived.
Toronto would transition to a “best five” lineup of their core four and Boucher, but missed a few open looks that would’ve cut the lead into a manageable place. That 25% shooting mark from distance really haunted them.
Oh, and this happened to Aron Baynes.
Aron Baynes best moment as a raptor pic.twitter.com/inYTBDC5TX— North Squad (@NorthSquad6) February 24, 2021
In the third quarter, the Raptors starters kept struggling with their shot, but defense and transition led them to an extended 22-7 run. The OG block shown above led to a Powell transition hoop, which ended up being the moment of greatest hope for the Raptors — the Sixers lead was down to six.
Philadelphia responded, though, pushing the lead to 13 and continued to push back through the fourth quarter. Korkmaz, Harris, Shake Milton, and Danny Green combined to make 14 triples in the game for Philly, as they ended up winning that category by a cool 18 points. It was more than enough to make a difference.
The Raptors will only have 24 hours to shake off this loss, as they take on Miami tomorrow night.