Nobody would have faulted the Philadelphia 76ers for dropping the first two games away in Toronto. After all, the Sixers had not won in Canada since 2012. There are quite a few stipulations that come with that statistic, most notably Philadelphia was not exactly trying to win games for the majority of that time. Regardless, Philadelphia pulled off an all important victory against the Raptors on Monday night and did so in stark contrast to their performance in Game 1. The 76ers defense forced Toronto to settle for difficult looks and prevented second chance opportunities with strong rebounding. Brett Brown, however, deserves a great deal of credit for the adjustments he made in the span of one full day to turn the tide in the series, but there is still a worry about the inconsistency with which the Sixers have performed this postseason.
Jimmy Butler was the standout player in Game 2. He took the game by the horns and single-handily led the 76ers to victory. Joel Embiid was struggling with illness throughout Monday night’s game. Ben Simmons was relatively quiet in the scoring category only shooting 3-for-6 for a total of six points. Tobias Harris has struggled with shooting thus far in the Conference Semifinals with a conversion rate of under 40%. Philadelphia needed Butler to exercise his quality to go toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard who has simply been astonishing this postseason. The test for Game 3 is how Nick Nurse will attempt to stifle Butler’s productivity and ultimately force one of Philly’s other stars to produce.
Philadelphia has been held to under 100 points for the first two games of the series. In round 1 against the Brooklyn Nets, the 76ers lowest points total was 111. Through the entirety of the regular season, Philly averaged 115.2 points. The Raptors have been able to stymie the effectiveness of the 76ers’ offense during the first couple of games. Marc Gasol, who was brought in via trade specifically to counter Joel Embiid in the post, highlights Toronto’s awareness of the importance of this series. Following a disappointing Game 1, Brett Brown knew that the only way to get level in the series was to turn to an emphasis on trying to defend more effectively than Toronto.
Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard combined for 74 points in Game 1, which accounted for 68.5% of Toronto’s total points. Brown could have lost his job had he not made adjustments to prevent a repeat of Leonard’s and Siakam’s dominating performance. Ben Simmons took charge with his defensive responsibility in Game 2. He, along with a second defender occasionally helping out, restricted but did not completely prevent Leonard from playing a pivitol role in the game. It is impossible to guard the difficult shots that Leonard made during Game 2. Embiid took charge of defending Pascal Siakam instead of attempting to guard Marc Gasol. Regardless, Siakam and Leonard combined for 56 of the Raptor’s 89 points in the second game, which is still a significant portion of Toronto’s total.
Toronto’s shooting was abysmal in the first half and did not begin to take shape until the 3rd quarter. The bench was poor, the supporting cast, besides Lowry, missed multiple easy shots. Philadelphia cannot expect the same lackluster production from the Raptors in Game 3. Nurse will be doing everything he can to now counter Philly’s Game 2 response. Ultimately, that is the underlying storyline through all playoff matchups. It is a constant battle of adjusting to the opponents adjustments. For example, Nick Nurse should try to get more out of Gasol if Brown continues to try to have Tobias Harris guard the big man. If Philadelphia continues to attempt to double up on Leonard at opportunistic moments, then expect the supporting cast to sink more open shots.
Game 3 will be an intense battle as the pressure continues to mount on both teams. On the one hand, Toronto is attempting to end years of constant disappointment in the playoffs. On the other hand, Philadelphia is trying to live up to the potential that was ascribed to them following bold moves by General Manager, Elton Brand, to win now. Brett Brown should be lauded for the adjustments he made following Game 1 and should their defensive superiority carryover from Game 2 then the 76ers will get behind the intense atmosphere offered by the home crowd and take Games 4 and 5.
Photo Credit-Unsplash: Abhishek Chandra