The Philadelphia 76ers (51-26) closed out the final full month of the regular season with a home matchup against the Toronto Raptors (38-39). The Sixers went up by as much as 24, lost the plot for a bit and pulled out a 117-110 win.
Let's break down the Sixers' win over the Raptors.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 25 points, 12 rebounds, assists, 7-13 FG shooting
Facing a defense eager to shut him down at all costs, the big fella was still hard to stop when he was able to get a step on his defenders. Despite some early foul trouble, he looked good on the defensive end for much of the night. He was guilty of some brutal turnovers, too, but made enough tough shots and defensive plays to get Philly the W.
James Harden: 23 points, 3 rebounds, 11 assists, 9-14 FG shooting
Harden was already under injury watch heading into the home stretch of the regular season and Doc Rivers' admission about his Achilles injury will only add to that (as will his own comments about the injury from Monday).
Tonight's performance is one you should come away extremely happy with. Not only was he cooking but it looked like he was able to handle the Raptors' physicality. That second quarter was outstanding.
Tyrese Maxey: 13 points, 0 rebounds, 6 assists, 5-8 FG shooting
Maxey maneuvered his way into the paint routinely. Rather than test the defense at the rim, he got up shots from outside the restricted arc and converted a good number of them. His playmaking paired with his turnover avoidance was key, too.
Paul Reed: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3-5 FG shooting
The Victory Tour is going full steam ahead. He chipped in with rebounding, defense, passing, scoring and even free-throw shooting with a perfect 5-5 line at the stripe. Philly not only survived the Embiid-less minutes but (at least in the first half) thrived in them with Reed on a tear.
Raptors player notes:
Pascal Siakam: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 5-15 FG shooting
Siakam has given the Sixers tons of problems this season, averaging 28.0 points, 10 rebounds and 8.3 assists on 50/42/75 shooting. In his final game against Philly this season, the star forward was good but far from great. He muscled his way to the paint to put constant pressure on Philly and used his patented spin move to get free for short jumpers but didn't shoot very well.
Scottie Barnes: 29 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, 13-19 FG shooting
Barnes' defense popped in this one as he created a bunch of turnovers that led to easy points and spent time guarding both of the Sixers' superstars. He was one of the keys to Toronto's offense for other reasons, too, as he got his teammates involved, crashed the offensive glass like nobody's business (notching seven OREBS) and missed only a few shots.
With Tobias Harris out due to a non-Covid illness, De'Anthony Melton was bumped into the starting lineup and came out ready to go. He got the game started by picking off a pass, scoring on a layup on the ensuing possession and capping off strong ball-movement sequences on assists to P.J. Tucker in the corner for three. Barnes guarded Harden and Jakob Poeltl guarded Embiid while Melton guarded Barnes and Tucker guarded Siakam.
In December, Embiid ruffled some feathers when he said that the Raptors care more about shutting down the opposing star than winning the game. Indeed, Toronto's defenders locked their eyes on him and stretched their arms out to cut off his space to work. His gravity opened up the space for others to cut and shoot, leading to a hot offensive start in which he only contributed two points.
Toronto stormed back with a pace-pushing run, using advantages in numbers and mismatches to steal points in bunches. The Raptors leaned into their mismatch hunting by picking on Georges Niang defensively, inviting him to a one-on-one dance out in the open. On the other end, turnovers held the Sixers back, allowing the Raptors to swing points in the other direction by giving them fast breaks. Toronto's requirement for all its rotation guys of having long, rangy arms (for everyone except VanVleet, anyway) paid off at first.
But the Sixers bench — also featuring athletic guys with long arms — found good results by making the extra pass after feeds from Harden and running in transition. In what I would claim to be one of his very best stints of the season, Paul Red anchored the defense, kept the defense honest by rolling hard to the bucket and made some hot-potato passes that led to buckets. Perfect shooting from Danuel House Jr. and Jalen McDaniels helped a lot, too.
The backups created a momentum that the non-Harden starters continued, going up by 20 with over three minutes left in the half. The Beard was balling out as he let the game come to him, dishing the ball out to either get an assist or force defensive rotations and picking his spots to call his own number. His incredible performance in the first half helped the Sixers go up 77-57 at the break.
The Raptors opened the half with a roam-style defense, placing OG Anunoby on Embiid and Poeltl on Tucker. The low physicality made it harder for Embiid to get to his spots in the post. It did enough to hold the Sixers scoreless for the first three minutes of the half. Part of it was that they missed wide-open shots. Harden even hit the side of the backboard on a wide-open corner look.
Free throws from Harden snapped a 12-0 Toronto run and six straight points from Maxey (a floater and a four-point play) helped put the fire out. Both sides displayed good ball movement but only Toronto was able to get something out of it. The Sixers had just 22 points in the third quarter after a whopping 46 in the second thanks in part to slipping back into turnover proneness.
After Niang got tested on defense and allowed a drive that led to a three, Doc Rivers made the right call to let House have his minutes in the fourth quarter. The Sixers still could not buy a bucket. They were holding on for dear life and were able to slow down the bleeding thanks to some emphatic blocks from McDaniels and more tremendous play from Reed. He did blow a dunk on his final play but otherwise had a very impressive showing.
Up by five with under seven minutes left and the starters in, the Sixers still looked flummoxed by Toronto's defense. It gave them plenty of reasons to with quick rotations/switches and contests on every shot. Harden broke the seal with two critical buckets, dusting Barnes on a drive-and0-kick to Tucker and then Anunoby for a tight layup. The cushion from those two plays and some big defensive stops paved way for a win.
- Raptors fans being treated to mid-game news that their head coach needs to take a few weeks to reevaluate his job and the team after the season is a rough development. Maybe it's not super troubling but it's not what you want to see in the middle of a playoff chase.
The Sixers' next game is a big one: a road matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night.