Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 100-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
One — Brutal: Three games in a row, the Raptors have lost the lead in the third quarter, and three times they have lost to start the year. This was shaping up to be a great performance: the Raptors had the Sixers pinned with their defense, and held a 13-point lead. But for the third game, they fell into a deep offensive slump, compounding empty possessions with bad turnovers, and they never regained control. It’s still early, but frustration is mounting. Losing in this fashion comes with the price of losing confidence, and it could spiral.
Two — Boneheaded: The third quarter killed Toronto’s momentum. Fred VanVleet was pressed into a turnover just bringing the ball up the floor. That was compounded by Pascal Siakam’s decision to blindly drive into three defenders in the paint. The two of them couldn’t generate any offense without Kyle Lowry on the floor, and it breathed life into the Sixers. Lowry checked in to try and stop the bleeding, but force-feeding passes to Alex Len on the roll went nowhere. Throw in some missed blockouts and lazy fouls, the lead was gone, and their offense never recovered.
Three — Frazzled: Even after losing the lead, the Raptors still had a prime opportunity to come away with their first win of the season. What they needed was for someone to spark the offense, but nobody was up to the task. Lowry had occasional flashes — the usual foul-baiting and rushed layups — but nobody else joined him. Siakam made a midrange shot over Simmons but was otherwise invisible. VanVleet barely saw the ball and was struggling anyway. Toronto’s centers in Len, Chris Boucher, and Aron Baynes flubbed every chance they got, while getting pulverized by Joel Embiid on the other end. The Sixers didn’t even need to close the game out so much as they just waited for the Raptors to choke.
Four — Frustration: Siakam lost his composure towards the end. He committed five fouls in the final seven minutes of the game, which is just unacceptable as one of the leaders of the team. There is no excuse for lazy defense in a tight game, regardless of how fickle the whistle may be. After taking his sixth foul to stop the clock with 26 seconds left, Siakam headed straight down the tunnel to the locker room. There is no excuse for that. Being a leader means staying composed and committed in the face of adversity, and Siakam was noticeably rattled.
Baynes fell for an Embiid fake twice on this. Bush league. pic.twitter.com/QBK04VT3Md
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) December 30, 2020
Five — Bottled: Siakam had his moments, draining a handful of jumpers from the midrange and hit 4-of-9 from deep. But that doesn’t really matter when Simmons had Siakam completely walled from the paint on single coverage. Siakam’s only basket in the restricted area was a cutting dunk where the defense lost track of him in transition. He didn’t record a single assist, nor did he really ever beat the defense to create a chance for one of his teammates to score. Siakam also didn’t attempt a single free throw, which is always going to drag down his efficiency. His spin moves are taking him away from the contact almost by design, and Nick Nurse pointed out that Siakam lacks the physicality his finishes.
Six — Dominated: Marc Gasol’s absence is being felt across the board, and it was most obvious in the matchup against Joel Embiid. Baynes and Len were physical, but lacked Gasol’s ability to outwit Embiid. Both players did a decent job of contesting Embiid around the rim, but Embiid baited them into silly fouls and that paced the Sixers’ otherwise anemic offense. Embiid shot 16 free throws, which is more than the Raptors took as a team (14), and got Baynes to bite on a fake to set up the final dagger. Baynes being out of position put VanVleet into help rotation, and that left Seth Curry wide open to nail a three that put the Sixers up five after Siakam’s late contest proved useless.
Seven — Clever: Nurse pulled a rabbit out of his hat by dusting off journeyman forward Stanley Johnson as his backup small forward. Nurse correctly predicted that Johnson’s physicality would be useful in guarding Simmons, and Johnson was up to the task. He chested Simmons on the drive, absorbed the contact without needing help, and it stifled the Sixers’ halfcourt offense. Johnson’s scoring was a bonus, and it gave the Raptors some real moments of delight. He nailed a corner three to stop the bleeding for the Raptors in a cold spell in the third quarter, and flew in from beyond the arc for a putback dunk in the fourth quarter. Johnson is a matchup player who won’t feature on most nights, but he came in prepared and energized and Nurse will think of him the next time he needs a stop.
Eight — Perfect: OG Anunoby had his best game of the season and played his role beautifully. He set the tone for the Raptors’ defense by swallowing up Simmons, and was excellent throughout. He collected five steals, a block, and was much more involved in the offense as compared to previous outings. Anunoby picked out VanVleet with a crosscourt pass from a clever drive along the baseline, and fired without hesitation from the three-point line. Anunoby is at his best playing on instinct within the flow of the offense, rather than trying to force specifically rehearsed moves. He won’t always score 20 points, but he is capable of being this dominant on defense on a consistent basis regardless of the opponent.
Nine — Struggling: Norman Powell put together another lifeless performance even after getting called out by Nurse in Monday’s practice. Powell started well, hitting two threes and generally playing with good energy, but he completely disappeared in the second half. The Raptors are running plenty of plays for Powell, and he is getting a fair share of open looks, but the shots just aren’t falling. His finishing around the basket has completely regressed as compared to last season, and it must be beyond frustrating for the coaching staff that Powell can’t ever seem to shake his bad habits. This is Powell’s sixth season with the Raptors, and yet he’s still making the same mistakes that he did as a rookie.
Ten — WTF: Powell’s errors are especially glaring when the shots don’t fall, because he really doesn’t do much else on the floor, and his awareness is just lacking. Just look at the play above, where Powell makes an extra effort to run the length of the floor only to save possession for the Sixers while also giving them a fresh shot clock. Embiid threw an errant pass out of the post so it was to be a turnover, but even if Powell was under the assumption that the Raptors had somehow tipped the pass, the Sixers would still be inbounding from their own baseline with six seconds left on the clock. So why did he pick up the ball?
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