Are The Sixers Too Hot For The Raptors to Handle?
We live in a very reactive era. Whether the topic we’re covering is political, social or sports related, “the public” tends to react and sometimes overreact right away to most news. The moment any "breaking" news drops, everyone gets their twitter fingers ready to unleash on their touch screen keyboards. I happen to be part of this reactionary crowd during most of my first decade with social media. As I matured and as society grew, that reactionary trait became clear. However, as much as I am able to identify this social norm as well as admit to being part of the problem, THIS is not one of those times. The Toronto Raptors have managed to go down 2-1 in their second-round series against the 76ers. The dust from that ugly game 3 loss has partially settled, memes have been dropped and many more are expected. The fans have voiced their frustration and the reporters have asked their questions.
Philly was crude with their approach. They came out of the gate aggressive, using energy from their crowd to go along with an early run that would last the entire game. The Sixers dropped 64 points in the first half. Their best player, Joel Embiid came out of his shell in this series and finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds. He managed to rack up 5 blocks including some impressive swats against Siakam and Leonard. Although it was the big man who asserted his dominance in game 3, he was not the defining factor to their 20+ point win. The win boils down to everyone around Embiid. The so-called “others” on the Sixers were once again miles (or kilometres) ahead of the Raptors’ supporting cast. Yet again, the Raptors bench were heavily outplayed, being outscored altogether by only one of Philly’s bench players for the third game in this series. If it happens for 1 game, its a fluke. 2 games in a row would raise some concern but no doubt still confident the production is right around the corner. A third time in a row, however, that hurts. It's like they say, "fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me." They always reckon that the third instance will be a charm however for the Raptors bench squad, it was the same nightmare they had experienced for two previous contests. The bench attributed 15 points to push their tally to 30 total bench points in 3 games vs Philly this series.
If these bench issues continue, the Raptors are in big trouble. It's not rocket science to assume that, even though its 2-1. Ibaka and VanVleet have become non-options essentially almost attributing to the success of the Sixers. Defensively the pair have been atrocious with Ibaka struggling every time he’s matched up with Joel Embiid and VanVleet is struggling to chase down JJ Redick to the three-point line every game while both have taken hiatus’ offensively. Norman Powell is no different, the guard dropped a stinker on Thursday night with 6 points. With Anonoby out, the assumption would be that the players would each pick up their game knowing they need to collectively make up for being a man down. Instead, our supporting cast has moved toward the other direction. Everyone has taken a considerable step back. Not the type that is just a ticking time bomb waiting to slingshot you back to success on your way to championship glory. No, this is for real. When the Raptors run plays it looks like one giant confusing play that ends up turning in to isolation for whoever has the ball. I'm no self-proclaimed “sports genius” but that the most difficult way to win games if you’re doing that every time up the court against a quality team with great players and a formidable system. Tell me if you have seen this before. Lowry dribbles the ball up, Gasol enters for the pick, Lowry rolls, passes it to Siakam who just ran through an off-ball screen. Pascal pump-fakes the ball, defence expects it and he has to then pull back and enter his isolation mode with 10 seconds left now because of the abandoned play. If you’re having raging PTSD, worry not because you’re far from alone. Whether its Siakam, Lowry or whomever, the Raptors seem to consistently shoot themselves in the foot with their very safe way of playing which evidently results in worse chances. We are slowly morphing back to the Raptors of old, where almost every half-court set was an isolation play followed by an extremely difficult shot. If we continue on this path, we will almost certainly be going home in 5.
So what do we do? Are we simply just incapable of beating this team? A team that we’ve owned multiple times, even without Kawhi. The short and simple answer would be, No. The proof is in the pudding. Although it may seem like aged pudding, its still f**king pudding. The Raptors have shown they are more than capable of beating the 76ers at home and most significantly, on the road. However, the differences between those games and the ones we are currently participating in have little to do with the star players and more to do with the supporting casts. In those game that the Raptors were victorious, the confidence was sky-high. Nobody looked timid to take a shot, there were no confused faces. Players were making cuts, driving hard and making their 3-pointers with confidence. That was what made us the x-factor of the east. The depth of the Toronto Raptors with the likes of Serge Ibaka, VanVleet, OG, Norman Powell along with seasoned role players like Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Marc Gasol made it easier for our superstars in Siakam and Leonard to produce. This team runs through a system however every man in each position is important. Those that expect Kawhi to carry every person's load is either trolling or has never carried anything even remotely heavy in their lives. Sure we go where Kawhi takes us, however, the load cannot be completely on his shoulders. He must be assisted immediately or the Raptors are going to fall in a “gentleman’s sweep” (4-1 loss).
The Raptors can turn this series around. Although Philly looks better every time they play, they do still rear weaknesses. The likes of Jimmy Butler who I predicted would have to be a top contributor if the Sixers were to beat the Raptors and Tobias Harris who plays his role with great sustenance are outplaying our key players entirely. However, there are still ways the Raptors can turn this series around and finish it potentially in 6 if not 7. It begins with Kyle Lowry, who has once again had an overall disappointing post-season. Philly is clearly too good and way too smart to lose only when the bench shows up. We need Kyle to have 2-3 fantastic games in a row if we wish to win this series. His absence of this series, in particular, has added a considerable amount of fuel to an already very large fire. Those that blame Kyle for all of our wows, however, are not paying attention to the play of our Bench and Danny Green. I will not even begin with the play of Gasol. I found myself looking at the television bewildered, wondering if we really did get the best of the trade with Memphis. If the Raptors aim to win this series and especially game 4 which will be once again a rabid Philadelphia atmosphere, they will need to do it through the energy and production of their bench, the experience and push from their key players and the leadership and clutch dependence will come from the stars. If the Raptors simply play Raptor basketball, we can beat this Philly team as many times as we please. The matchups favour the Raptors and the records speak for themselves however it is up to this team to either step forward like they never have and assert their experience and dominance in this series or fall victim to another year where the Raptors exited the playoffs in disappointment. Will this be the beginning of a movement forward and upwards or the start of the post-Kawhi era.