Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 109-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
One — Split: It's not easy to take back-to-back wins from a good team, and the Sixers bounced back in a major way with a wire-to-wire win. Unlike when the Raptors doubled the Bucks, the Sixers made tangible adjustments that proved useful. Their spacing was much better, and spacing is everything when the Raptors are constantly sending double teams toward Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Raptors made it tough and were closing in for most of the second half, but there just wasn't enough time left. Still, it was a strong effort from the Raptors who could have taken both games from the conference leaders if they shot even an average night from three.
Two — Sluggish: The Raptors put themselves into a hole by starting off the game without any energy. Of the eight quarters from this set, the first quarter tonight was a clear aberration. The Raptors trailed 37-18 and were nearly matched in scoring just by Furkan Korkmaz who had 16 points on four threes and a three-point foul. The Raptors were too slow to rotate out to the perimeter, which is how a 31-percent shooter like Korkmaz put on a credible Klay Thompson impersonation. The Raptors still had three full quarters to climb out of the hole, and Nick Nurse did point to how the Raptors won the final three by 12 points largely on the strength of their defense, but the offense wasn't able to match their effort.
Three — Misfire: Although the Raptors were out-shot 30-13 in free throws (following a 35-18 disparity in the first game), the result largely came down to three-point shooting. The Raptors got plenty of open looks, with the quality not being all that different from the Sixers' attempts after the first quarter, but Philadelphia managed to hit six more threes. Norman Powell is stuck on automatic of late, but he clanked an open look during the Raptors' comeback. Terence Davis had a clean look from the corner that would have cut it to seven. OG Anunoby couldn't find the mark. Credit the Sixers for doing a better job against Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet, who made 10 threes in the first outing but combined for just four tonight, but shooting variance was a huge decider of this game.
Four — Incompetence: Officials are human, and humans make mistakes. That's why there are three referees assigned to each game, not just to cover the whole court, but to provide backup if someone misses an obvious infraction. The fact that all three referees missed Simmons' mid-air hack against Powell, a play that left Powell crashing against the stanchions after being ripped out of mid-air, is more than egregious. Forget seeing the play on the ball — how about using your ears? Two arms smacking together sounds nothing like the ping of a hand on the ball. And what makes this worse is that there was no review, no flagrant assessed to Simmons as there should be, no free throws and possession for the Raptors, and to top it all off, Powell was given a technical for arguing his case. It's pathetic.
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 24, 2021
Five — Sharp: Pascal Siakam has a reputation of being loose with the handle, as he can sometimes look unrefined and unsure when he looks to drive. However, there were several instances where Siakam was not only able to get to his spot, but to also drop his defender with a quick crossover. It's nothing fancy, most of them are just quick switches of hands, but with Siakam already being so quick and so long, he doesn't need to waste dribbles to create a huge amount of space. Siakam dropped Simmons on two occasions, which is damn impressive against an All-NBA level defender.
Six — Stingy: VanVleet wasn't allowed to impact the game with his scoring, and it took a miraculous running banked-in three to get above double-digits. But this was perhaps his most disruptive effort defensively. VanVleet finished with four blocks and two steals, and forced another two jumpballs that don't even show up in the boxscore. VanVleet was a constant pest against Simmons and Embiid, and on the play previous to Simmons' hack on Powell, VanVleet managed to get three strips on Embiid on the same drive before finally tying him up.
Seven — Rusty: Anunoby has yet to find his touch from three since returning to the lineup after a 10-game absence. Anunoby is 4-of-19 from deep in four games, after shooting 2-of-7 tonight. He was in the groove of his life before the injury, rattling off an eight-game stretch where he hit 61 percent from deep on six attempts per game and showed zero hesitation in letting shots fly even with a defender closing out. Anunoby's outside shooting becomes absolutely crucial against opponents who can shut down the rim and put size against VanVleet and Siakam, as Anunoby is generally the one left open when the defense needs to help. The good news is that his interior scoring has remained strong, as Anunoby is good for at least a couple of awkward finishes each night.
Eight — Solid: Powell says he meditated to recover from his scary fall, and while he may or may not be serious in giving that answer, Powell was able to regain his focus and to finish strong. He was hot to start, connecting on two catch-and-shoot threes, and while his shot abandoned him after that, Powell was consistently able to punch through gaps and score at the rim. That's no easy feat against a Sixers defense that is typically impregnable in the paint with Embiid and Dwight Howard on patrol, and yet Powell was fearless. Even with defenses starting to key in on Powell, he is still managing to get to his spots, read the defense, and adapt his game. He looks like an entirely different player of late.
Nine — Comedy: Aron Baynes had the play of the season against Embiid. You have to see it.
this is the greatest play i have ever seen pic.twitter.com/rhWoeswQnJ
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 24, 2021
Ten — Toughness: Jokes aside, Baynes was once again up to the task against Embiid, holding the All-Star center to 3-of-13 shooting. The Raptors still opted to bring Baynes off the bench, which is strange considering Baynes also shined in the first meeting, but that might suggest the Raptors are firmly committed to their smallball look. In any case, Baynes did exactly what he was brought in to do, which is to wrestle with giants like Embiid and Howard. Baynes took his fair share of blows, but he also dished it out in equal measure.
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