Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 110-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
One — Disorganized: This would have been a blowout win for the Sixers, except they wet the bed in the last six minutes by committing a handful of silly turnovers against the Raptors’ full-court press. And not to take anything away from Toronto’s spirited finish, but a fake comeback hardly makes up for three quarters of total dysfunction. The Raptors had little idea of what they wanted to accomplish on either end of the floor, and unsurprisingly, it resulted in their third straight loss.
Two — Disappeared: Pascal Siakam got onto the scoresheet late with a handful of hustle plays while the Sixers were choking, but this was arguably his worst game of the season. Simply put, Siakam wanted no part of the action, and was a ghost on both ends. Siakam faced stiff opposition in the form of Al Horford, who is a great defender, but a superstar should never disengage and feel overwhelmed. Siakam had no idea how to get his shot off, and he just stopped trying altogether. His defensive effort was also uncharacteristically poor, as Tobias Harris repeatedly blew by him despite being the slower player.
Three — Pains: This is Siakam’s first turn as a No. 1 option, so growing pains are to be expected. In many ways he is a victim of his own success, as he gave the impression with his strong play to start the season that there would be no delays in his progression. But there is no such thing as instant results, especially against the best teams in the league. Siakam is facing the NBA’s best defenders, he’s seeing double teams, every coach is drilling his players to sit on his spin move, all while Nick Nurse is also asking him to clean up the defensive glass and play 40 minutes a night. Exhaustion might be getting to him, and managing his energy is a balance that Siakam must learn in order to be successful in this role. But what he can’t do is lose confidence, because so much of what got Siakam through the first month of the season was his swagger. He went at everybody — results be damned — and the Raptors followed his lead. He’s backed off over the last week and that needs to stop.
Four — Decent: With Siakam struggling, the onus fell on Kyle Lowry to generate offence. His own numbers were excellent — Lowry finished with 26 points, six rebounds, and five assists in 38 minutes — but the offence isn’t meant to function around Lowry. There was a noticeable drop in ball movement, and the supporting cast failed to receive shots in rhythm. This isn’t to blame Lowry, who was the most productive player on the night, but it’s just not a winning formula. The Raptors are at their best when they attack as a team around Siakam exploiting mismatches.
Five — Stellar: It’s a shame that OG Anunoby’s best game of the season was wasted in a loss. Anunoby roared out of the gate with two threes and a bully-ball layup over Harris, and was strong throughout as he finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Anunoby saw his minutes cut in favour of Norman Powell in losses to Miami and Houston, and he delivered an emphatic message to the coaching staff. Anunoby is the best on-ball defender on the team, and unless the Raptors are desperate for offence, Anunoby should be penciled into every closing lineup. He is too important to this team’s present and future to take a back seat.
Six — Troubling: Fred VanVleet left the game in the first quarter with a knee contusion. He explained post game that he picked up the injury in the loss to Houston, but wanted to try it out. Evidently, it was bad enough that VanVleet and the medical staff pulled the plug. VanVleet has been rock steady for the Raptors all season, and it would be a crushing blow if he were to miss extended time.
Seven — Curious: After holding Joel Embiid to zero points in their first matchup, Nurse decided to abandon the strategy of mirroring Marc Gasol’s minutes. Embiid still wasn’t great (he scored 10 points with seven turnovers) but he was able to outmuscle Serge Ibaka for deep position and easy layups, whereas he didn’t manage a single look against Gasol. It just didn’t make sense strategically, as Ibaka matches up well with Al Horford while Gasol is clearly an antidote for Embiid.
Eight — Sloppy: Granted, it wasn’t exactly clear what the Raptors were trying to accomplish for most of the night. Nurse’s help-heavy defence can stifle teams, but only if there is commitment and conscientiousness in equal measure. But instead, the Raptors made silly decisions such as double-teaming a benign threat like James Ennis in the corner, which unsurprisingly resulted in one of a handful of open threes for the Sixers.
Nine — Intriguing: This isn’t a surprise given that it was the title-saving adjustment that edged the Raptors past the Sixers in last year’s playoffs, but the jumbo lineup with Gasol, Ibaka, and Siakam in the frontcourt is key to beating the Sixers. Nurse pulled it out late in the fourth quarter with Anunoby and Lowry as the guards, and the Raptors promptly mounted a furious comeback. Toronto’s size is an issue on most nights, but most times they can get by on schemes and execution. But against a team of giants like the Sixers, they just need to make the concession.
Ten — Foreshadowing: Tomorrow’s game against the lowly Bulls suddenly becomes important. Ideally, the Raptors ride out the energy from their fourth-quarter push and let off steam with a blowout. But if they struggle again or even lose, then it’s time for reexamination.
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