The Toronto Raptors defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night, in part because Chris Bouchers’ chin was in the right place at the right time.
Clinging to a 90-88 lead with seven seconds to go, Boucher stepped in to block a potential game-tying James Harden drive. As Harden prepared to release a running lefty layup, he brought his right elbow up — right into Boucher’s kisser.
The shot came up short, Boucher sprawled to the court — and the officials called Harden for the offensive foul. After review the refs upgraded it to a flagrant-1, and the Raptors sealed the game at the free throw line, eventually winning 93-88.
The game-sealing play was cathartic for the Raptors, who were on the wrong end of several questionable calls on the night, including a very similar call against Boucher on what looked like a clean block of a Harden drive in the third quarter.
Boucher played 22.5 of the final 24 minutes — he started the second half for Precious Achiuwa, to balance the Raptors’ scoring — and finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, a block and a steal. He also drew a charge on Harden earlier in the fourth, part of a 13-5 Raptors run that opened the final frame.
Boucher’s young teammates in the frontcourt — specifically Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa — were also fantastic on the night, much as they were on Friday night. Barnes finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Achiuwa with 21 points and nine boards, as well as some sensational defense on both Harden and Joel Embiid.
But also like Friday — where a botched inbounds play between the two may have cost the Raptors the game — the pair were a little shaky down the stretch. They combined to miss 3-of-4 free throws in the final 15 seconds, setting up Harden’s potential game-tying drive.
Thankfully, the Raptors escaped with their sixth straight road win.
Without Fred VanVleet — resting his sore knee on the front end of a back-to-back — Pascal Siakam was the engine that drove Toronto, as he racked up 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Gary Trent Jr. was ice cold (just 2-for-13), but stole a ball from Embiid late as the 76ers looked to tie.
Pascal basically doing 28-10-5 in wins vs Jokic, Lebron, Embiid, Phoenix in the last 10 days.— TooMuchHoops (Brad) (@Too_Much_Hoops) March 21, 2022
Embiid led the 76ers with 21 points and 13 points, but as they usually do, the Raptors threw a ton of different defenders and different looks at Embiid, and held him to just 6-of-20 shooting. James Harden finished with 17-9-8, but missed all four of his three-pointers and had six of Philly’s 10 turnovers.
Toronto’s D was sensational on Harden and Embiid in the final frame; the two combined to shoot just 2-of-6 and combined for five turnovers in the quarter as multiple Raptors swarmed either player as soon as they had the rock.
If Sixers fans don’t like it maybe they should have their two transcendent half court players get them a single good half court look in the last few minutes.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) March 21, 2022
This is just Philly’s third loss with Harden in the lineup; they were 8-2 with him coming in to the game. The win also moves the Raptors to just one game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the sixth seed.
The Raptors used an inspired defensive effort — and a monster effort on the offensive glass — to turn around an ugly start. Trailing 37-20 after one, the Raptors won the second quarter by 13 and the final quarter by 10 (we’ll get to third in the minute), and turned a +15 (!) offensive rebounding advantage into 18 second chance points and a +20 field goal attempt advantage.
raptors had 3 players with 5 offensive rebounds (precious, khem, boucher). sixers as a team had 5 offensive rebounds.— William Lou (@william_lou) March 21, 2022
I mean, who needs scorers when you can just take 25% more shots than the other team, right?
The Raptors didn’t have the energy early, as they got out-hustled for loose balls, didn’t get back in transition, and the defense was soft at the point of attack. The 76ers shot 60% from the floor in the period, including 4-of-8 from downtown, and raced out to a 18-8 lead.
During the run one could clearly see Philly’s new identity on display; one centered on James Harden keeping the defense on its toes, Embiid dominating in the paint, and Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey being opportunistic from behind the arc and on cuts. It’s a far cry from the 76ers of the past couple of years, where it often seemed like the five players on the floor had no idea where they were supposed to be on offense.
On the other end, it was the Raptors who didn’t know what to do on offense; early on we saw a lot of Raptors waiting around for something to happen — or taking matters into their own hands and forcing things, usually with 12+ seconds on the shot clock.
After one such miss — a Trent three-point attempt, where no other player touched the ball — Trent knocked a ball away from Embiid at the top of the key, and had a chance to run — but Embiid was the only player who dove after he ball, while Trent and Barnes just reached for it. But Embiid got it, and tossed it to Thybulle who found Tyrese Maxey, who in turn drained the corner three as the shot clock expired.
That prompted a Nick Nurse timeout, but coming back, the Raptors immediately turned it over, and Maxey raced out to a dunk the other way with no Raptors back, giving the 76ers a 28-12 lead.
From there? Well, I’m not going to say it was “all Raptors” — we still have that third quarter to talk about — but Toronto owned the second, with Boucher scoring the team’s first seven points, and then midway through the frame Achiuwa scoring eight straight points (including back-to-back threes, both assisted by Siakam), to cut Philly’s lead to 52-49.
March 21, 2022
The Raptors then took the lead on two Trent free throws, and a Barnes putback bucket gave them the 57-54 halftime edge.
But then: the third quarter. It was an especially ugly one for Toronto. After stretching their lead to 63-58, the Raptors went completely cold, and a 12-0 Sixers run flipped the lead to 70-63 Philly, before a Siakam three stopped the bleeding. For those doing the math, it was a five-minute stretch in which the Raptors missed 12 straight shots.
Amazingly, though, despite the horrific play — along with the 5-for-24 shooting, the Raptors also committed six fouls and three turnovers in the third, a period in which they scored a total of 12 points — they finished the frame only down five, 74-69.
In the fourth, an unlikely hero — Armoni Brooks — provided an early spark, draining two threes as the Raptors scored more points (13) in the first 4.5 minutes of the fourth than they did in the entire third (12) — and they did it with Siakam on the bench!
Philly managed to take a one-point lead, 86-85, with three minutes to go, but two Trent free throws and an Achiuwa layup put the Raptors back out front for good.
Up next: The Raptors take on the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City tomorrow night.