Here are 10 takeaways of the Toronto Raptors’ 119-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
One – the Raptors easily manage to win the Sixers in a statement. On a night when the Raptors had two small starters, a play-off spot already secured for extra rest for Fred Vanvalit and Ozi Anunobi, the Raptors were still able to outscore a Sixers team that was less than the sum of their parts. Philadelphia could not miss deep, taking 19 three drills as well as seven extra free throws, and yet the Raptors held them back to complete a celebration night at Scotiabank Arena.
Two – Pascal Siakam listened to MVP songs in his best performance of the year. In a game that included Joel MBD and James Harden, Siakam was the best player on the floor, finishing with 37 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. With no gaps in the dual center lineup, Siakam led the Raptors early on, in the second half of the third quarter he single-handedly led the Raptors 13-10 to the Raptors and back to the end. Out is the type of performance that answers all the skeptics. Siakam has consistently thrashed the playoffs by pushing the Raptors into the post-season this season and deserves all the praise that comes with it, including a second appearance on the All-NBA team.
Three – Siakam defeated an old enemy at Embed. In 2019, a crucial moment of the season was when the Sixers re-hired Embid to check Siakam, which disappointed him in such a way that Siakam deliberately gave MBD a trip that was out of character. Siakam did not understand how to score in MBD in the post, and did not believe enough to extend the jumper to the perimeter. This was rarely the case in this game, as Siakam went to Embed without any hesitation. A stepback for the mid-range jumper, he beats him with all his signature moves, including the spin move, and at the very end, Siakam lets Embed fly over a delicate head mimicry before completing the soft finger roll. Four of the raptors make up late in the game. But it was rarely singular, as Siakam has scored 26, 28 and now 37 in his meetings with MBD this year.
Four – Gary Trent Jr. has had a lot of easy time around without the annoying Mattis Thaibul. Trent Jr. fought hard against the Sixers last time, scoring just nine points as Thaibul repeatedly blocked his shot and lifted his pocket. Being unable to cross the border due to the lack of vaccination of Thaibul, Trent Jr. was able to go against Tires Maxi who is a defensive liability. Trent Jr. scored seven straight in the fourth quarter, twice where he landed on defense before finishing close to the MBD shot competition and one of three where he used a pump fuck that made Maxi jump out of the picture. Trent Jr. is a bit of a wild card, but he has the ability to go anytime and if he scores 30 or more this season, the Raptors are now 10-2.
Five – Thaibul will provide more range defense, but the only reason to have sixes in this game is to deny it. As usual, the Raptors hit the stars on the embed and harden, resulting in a three-opener for the supporting cast. The Sixers were able to start three shooters from Maxi, Danny Green and Tobias Harris who were completely non-shooters instead of relying on Thaibul for 13 Macs. But the inevitable impression of watching the Sixers is that they are stable. It’s either isolation for Embiid, or Harden taking a dozen dribbles before retreating. Maxi is much improved from fast and deep, but no one else moves and no one else even gets a chance to do a play. This makes them easier to protect. The only difference between the two games is when the Raptors held on to 88 points last month that the supporting cast got hot, and it still didn’t matter.
Six – Harden doesn’t look like the former MVP who carved out the Raptors separately. This version is slow and unable to create space which was its specialty. Even when he gets favorite matchups like the faded Malachi Flynn or longtime veteran in Thad Young, Harden still resorted to foul betting and stepbacks, including a deflating miss towards the end of the game where he fired an airball against Young. Raptors have adopted an innovative approach to protecting clever pick-and-roll combinations with Harden and Embiid. When the screen came up, the embedded defender was right with him that he was not given any place to roll or pop because he did not give any help to Harden, who was pressured to come down by his man to turn to a second player, while a third Raptors defender slides under the rim. Will wait to challenge Harden who inevitably tries to score less. Old Harden defeated the scheme by making a place to shoot in the alley with his faithful runner or by pushing the defender, but the basket seems to lack any of his explosions.
Seven – Precious Achievers’ conversion rate is moving towards his confidence. The emerging flash that he showed at the start of the season has now become the main theme of his game. Achiwa hit a three early in the game, which the Sixers persuaded him to run out of line. Achua drives the ball and swings back to the corner to assist Thad Young, who responds brilliantly. Achiwa was such a rhythm that he began to take increasingly bold shots, including a stepback three and a pull-up in transition in the fourth quarter that forced the Sixers to call a timeout. It may still seem strange to see Achiuwa splash three in 40 percent of clips since the All-Star break, but it does match the eye test. A Raptors came early enough in the game to watch the warmups, and you’re giving Achiuwa 10 triple shakes from the wing as if it had always been his role.
Eight – Nick Nurse started both of his centers, but quickly moved away from it. There was a slow start for reasons other than how the Raptors aligned, but the nurse’s choice to start with Khum Birch and Achiwa in place of the two injured perimeter players was rarely ideal. Birch being a completely non-factor in scoring allows Embed to move around freely as an auxiliary defender, making it very difficult for anyone to get into the paint. At one point Siakam kept Danny Green in isolation, but Birch came on screen which brought Embid into the play. And even after Siakam frantically pushed the birch away, the embedded is determined to build a wall against Siakam. The nurse again opened the second half with Birch, but he switched Achiwa for Chris Boucher and Birch was quickly dismissed. The Raptors won by 18 points without Birch in 35 minutes.
No – Scotty Burns was quiet for three quarters but survived the fourth. Burns led the charge with Siakam on the bench early in the fourth, popping three from the top, rising from mid-range, setting Achiwa with cross-court feed for three, and rolling in a basket. Lay-up to force the Sixers into a timeout. He later limited the win with a breakaway sting on Harden’s late turnover, where Siakam passed the pass to Burns who looked back at the green before a strong dunk. The pattern was the same for the Burns in the last two games and at other points of the season. He often starts quietly, before moving on to third or fourth double digit scoring quarters. Burns finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Ten – Green has finally got its ring from the 2019 Championship. Siakam and Vanvilit presented Green with her jewelry after her tribute video and she heard an exciting congratulations from Scotiabank Arena. It is strange that he waited more than 900 days for this moment, and even received another ring in it from the Lakers, but Green was able to enjoy the moment with friends and family. He also had his best game against the Raptors since his release, hitting six threes with a fiercely competitive shot in the fourth to help the Sixers keep pace. After the game, Green returned to the court wearing a shiny red jacket to take pictures with friends and family who had traveled to share with him at the moment.