Imman Adan and Asad Alvi look at reasons for optimism ahead of Game 2 and where Toronto has to tighten up in order to even their best-of-seven series with Philadelphia.
IMMAN ADAN: So, I want to ask you because I know that there are some Raptor fans that are thinking, hey, it's just game one. It's the curse. We've been there, we've done that, let's look forward to game two. But then there are some other Raptor fans that are really worried with what they've seen today. Their camp that you fall into, and can you give anybody therapy if they're in group two?
ASAD ALVI: I don't-- in terms of the actual basketball that was played, the Raptors are never going to play defense that poorly again in this series. If that was just-- the Sixers had a game plan. They countered a lot of the Raptors' offenses, and the Raptors basically went out there to try and play their own game. And they didn't have the-- whether it's experience or whatnot-- they didn't have the live counters, defensively, to kind of deal with that.
And they'll look at tape, and I'm sure they'll adjust. And they'll be more focused for game two. They were just-- defensively, there's no way that the Raptors going to give up 70 points a half.
IMMAN ADAN: No.
ASAD ALVI: For the rest of the series, that's not what this team is. It's not what this team has shown. And it just played up his own talent. A lot of the times the Raptors' defense was failing them in transition, which is something that they've been very good at especially in the second half of the season, is shutting down transition with all their size, right? So, I'm not terribly worried about that. I'd look good. Like OG and Pascal did not have issues scoring the basketball.
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah.
ASAD ALVI: And OG did look very good, especially in that fourth quarter, he got loose for a little bit. I don't know what happened there in the third quarter with the rotations where OG basically sat for the entire back half of the third. I think the plan for Nick was try to buy OG some minutes 'cause he's still coming back. The Raptors looked like they were hot. Fred was hot, and they had it down to 12 at one point with a minute or two left.
IMMAN ADAN: It got close.
ASAD ALVI: And it was like, if you could have it within 12 going to the fourth quarter, then you play OG and Pascal for the stretch run. You try to make comeback, right? And that math didn't end up working out for him just because of how horrible Gary Trent Jr. was.
IMMAN ADAN: Down at 12 for a minute.
ASAD ALVI: But yeah. So, I think looking forward, there's no way the Raptors played defense that poorly. Again, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey getting loose like that, Tyrese Maxey is going to be a problem. But I think the Raptors have enough to at least make him not have a 40-point night on them.
And I think the defense on James Harden was fine. James Harden hit a couple of step back 3's, but let's be honest. Outside of him taking advantage of the Raptors' poor defense, like just helping off their shooters, James Harden wasn't really doing much downhill. He got the free throw line a bit. He got cheeky with a couple of fouls.
The Raptors are going to clean that up most likely. There's a couple lazy regions, but you clean that up. I don't think James Harden was-- I don't think James Harden either proved or disproved his ability to be able to take over the game tonight.
IMMAN ADAN: OK.
ASAD ALVI: If that step back 3 is hitting for a couple more games, all right, maybe we'll see. But I think there's a lot of hope for the Raptors in that sense. The part where it kind of kills the Raptors, and this is the thing, is these injuries. Because realistically, the Raptors are going to need one of Scottie or Thad available just to have enough bodies--
IMMAN ADAN: Both.
ASAD ALVI: --to pull off. I don't even think they need both.
IMMAN ADAN: I do!
ASAD ALVI: Realistically, they do need both. Ideally, you want both, but for the team that they have-- because they have OG back now, right? So, OG is a very capable and very high-minute guy. If you have Fred, you have OG, you have Pascal, you have Precious, that's four guys who you can run your defense with, right? You need to add that fifth, and that fifth is usually going to be Scottie. If not Scottie, then it's going to be Thad. And then you're hoping that Gary Trent Jr. never has that bad of a game ever again.
IMMAN ADAN: Let's look at game two. What are you expecting to see from game two? Let's put-- you may get one of Thad or Scottie but probably not having them both ready for game two.
ASAD ALVI: I'm going to take good guess. I'm going to say Thad's probably going to be available. A sprained thumb kind of sucks. He can't grip the ball, especially because it's on a shooting hand, but I'm sure he's going to ice the crap out of it. They'll probably put some needles in it, do some acupuncture. Wrap it up with some shoestring, he'll be good to go. He only needs to give them 10 to 15 minutes.
I think what you see is you probably see Precious start. One of Precious, or Khem. Really depends on which one. I think Nick might go with Khem starting just so you can bring Precious and Boucher off the bench together. And that'll kind of give you a more normal Raptor starting lineup. I don't know if they'll be able to press the same advantages, but you should be seeing more Pascal, more OG operating in the middle of the floor, hopefully. And, hey, OG with more usage. Tonight he looked pretty good.
IMMAN ADAN: He did.
ASAD ALVI: He had some great plays. He was toasting-- he got James Harden on those switches, and he was destroying James Harden off the dribble.
ASAD ALVI: And I'm not mad at the idea of a more traditional Raptor starting five. We've seen it in the regular season. They started the two bigs versus the Sixers, and that did not work well to start off. And then we saw a smaller starting lineup, the one that the Raptors normally throw out there, against the Sixers today, and did not start off really well. So I kind of like the idea of moving to a more traditional starting five with a big out there so the Raptors don't just look so small.
ASAD ALVI: Yeah. And, again, it's just going to come down to can the Raptors, by the end of the second quarter, be caught up in the game.
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah because they lost their Embiid minutes today which is--
ASAD ALVI: That's unbelievable, right? And that's where your rotations are messed up, sure, but that's very directly on some of your bench guys. Your bench contributors that are coming in-- when Embiid's out, that is the entire time for Precious, Boucher, Gary Trent Jr. to kind of go off, right? Because the rim opens up, the offensive rebounding chances open up, and that just never happened both times. And they let Tyrese Maxey get loose on the other end. So, to lose the Embiid minutes both times tonight, that's unacceptable. I don't think you should-- if that's going to happen, the series is going to be pretty quick.
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah.
ASAD ALVI: But I don't see that happening again. So, game two, I think the Raptors put out a much better performance. Think it's going to be a close game. I don't know if the Raptors end up winning it, but it's going to be, definitely, a closer game going down to the fourth, and then it just comes down to what the execution looks like down the stretch. And I'll be honest, as good as Philly is when they're front running, and they're ahead, I have major questions about them when it's a close game, and they need to execute down low. Because, again, Joel Embiid, even tonight, second half of that game started looking pretty sluggish. Presses were blowing--
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah.
ASAD ALVI: --by him, getting attempts at dunks. And he started looking sluggish, so let's see how much-- because how many minutes did they play again tonight? Doc basically played Embiid and Harden as much as he could tonight. Harden played 40 minutes Embiid played 37, right? So, and that's-- you're in a blowout. So, when we're talking about game two, game three, game four, again, the Raptors' big benefit here is that Harden and Embiid are not known for their longevity, playing big minutes. So the heavier those minutes get, the heavier those legs, get that's where the Raptors have their chance to really steal a game.
IMMAN ADAN: Yeah, I'm completely with you on that. I think the Sixers are one of the better teams when they're out in front. They like to celebrate. We'll get the airplane arms from Embiid. They're a great front running team, but when they get punched in the mouth, I think, as everyone sort of pointed out, that's when the wheels fall off very quickly for a team like this. And so we just have to wait for the Raptors to make their first punch, and I'm hoping that we see that in game two.