If there’s one truth in the NBA Playoffs, it’s that you need your best players to make plays.
Joel Embiid made them last night — a whole bunch of ‘em.
Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam didn’t.
The Raptors now fall to 0-3 in the series, and will have to win four straight games to make it to the second round.
The winning three was the last of several incredible shots Embiid made on the night; the Raptors’ defense was the best its been all series, but Embiid made elbow fadeaways, bailout threes, desperation leaners — and a monster jam on Siakam, too. He finished with 33 points and 13 rebounds, and although the Raptors forced him into six turnovers, he came through when it mattered.
On the other side, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam combined for just 24 points total, and only three in the fourth quarter — and neither player scored in OT.
Conversely, the Raptors got big contributions from several other sources — most notably Precious Achiuwa, who scored 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting. But Achiuwa also missed two free throws at the end of regulation that could have sealed the deal. Continuing with that theme — OG Anunoby scored 26 for the second straight game, but also missed a big free throw in OT that would have given the Raptors a one-point lead.
Gary Trent Jr., meanwhile, finally shook off his illness and dropped 24.
Tyrese Maxey scored 19 for Philly, including the first four in OT. James Harden also dropped in 19, and had 10 assists and 6 boards, before fouling out in the final minute of regulation.
The fourth quarter was a see-saw affair that saw the two teams trade three pointers like prize-fighters trading haymakers in round 12 of a championship fight.
After VanVleet hit a three to break an 84-84 tie, Embiid answered with a triple of his own.
Then Trent Jr. drained a three, only for Danny Green to answer the other way with a triple, tying the score at 90… only for Anunoby to put the Raptors ahead 93-90 with another three.
An Achiuwa offensive rebound and outback gave Toronto a 95-90 cushion with two minutes to go, but a Maxey drive and a Harden layup — blocked by OG Anunoby, but counted after a goaltending review — brought Philly back within 1. Harden then hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Achiuwa missed his pair, setting up the overtime.
After the game, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he thought the team did a really good job on Embiid, and he made tough shots. “He made three threes, two of them were pretty tough,” Nurse said. “For the most part out guys were executing what we were trying to do.”
“Nothing you can do against shots like that,” Precious Achiuwa said of Embiid after the game. “Fadeaways, spin arounds, he just hit a bunch of tough shots. You just gotta live with that.”
The Raptors were once again without Scottie Barnes, who missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle — but who might be back on Saturday. It was also Toronto’s first home playoff game in almost three years, and the crowd — while not the loudest its ever been, not even close — was still pretty solid. It definitely felt like a playoff game (and it felt good to be back home for one, even if the outcome wasn’t what we wanted).
Most notably, Embiid was booed ferociously throughout the entire game; James Harden and the officials got their share also, but it was Embiid who really bore the brunt of the Scotiabank Arena crowd.
Embiid getting the boos usually reserved for former Raptors who left under less-than-ideal circumstances— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) April 21, 2022
On two separate occasions, the boos devolved into a “F**k Embiid” chant, which, let’s be honest, is a little harsh, y’all! And sure, there were the usual Embiid flails and flops, but for the most part, Embiid played like the MVP candidate that he is, and delivered for his team.
Defensively, the Raptors looked like themselves for most of the game — a first for this series. There was some slippage in the second half (a slightly tighter whistle after halftime didn’t help) but the Raptors forced 24 turnovers, had a +9 fast break point advantage, and a +7 second-chance points advantage.
“I thought we fought really hard,” Fred VanVleet said. “It took us two games to get there, but I’m proud of the guys; our defense was a lot better.
“But closing out a game, executing down the stretch — probably as bad as it gets.”
The Raptors were just 9-for-24 from the field in the final quarter and overtime, and the offense mostly looked stuck in mud. Philadelphia frequently switched to zone, and the Raptors didn’t move the ball around the perimeter with enough urgency; nor did the effectively force the Sixers to switch their weaker defenders into guarding the ball. As a result, the Raptors forced a lot of isolation looks, and the shots just weren’t dropping for Fred and Pascal (9-for-29 combined on the night).
“That’s about as tough a loss as I can remember here, for my time,” Nurse said. “if we pull that out we have a series. Now we have a big hole to dig out of.”
Nick did say he was really proud of the way Achiuwa played. “You get out there and play this game, you’re gonna get put in situations like that, and you live and die with them,” he said. “The first one looked good, didn’t get the bounce. He’ll improve in that area. We don’t want him to live in that play, he was really effective and forceful tonight.”
“He’ll lose some sleep over the three throws,” VanVleet said. “We all do, we’ve all been there.”
“It’s a learning experience,” Achiuwa said of stepping to the line for the big free throws. “I’m just looking forward to moving on and getting better.”
Moving on isn't something the Raptors are going to do, without a near-miracle; after all, no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the NBA Playoffs.
Does that mean we shouldn’t be without hope? Well, our friend Louis Zatzman is keeping us going with this one...
this is really setting up the fairy tale, never-before-done "3-0 comeback" that is kinda the last thing Doc Rivers needs on his playoff resume https://t.co/RpVtWKqlF7— Louis Zatzman (@LouisZatzman) April 20, 2022
Game 4 goes Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.