The Sixers and Raptors both took care of business on Tuesday, closing out their respective series in classic blowout fashion. They’ll move on to face each other in the second round of the playoffs in what should be a clash of the Titans.
The Sixers are top heavy, with a starting five worthy of going toe to toe with the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, are well rounded and as deep as any other team in the league. Both teams have championship aspirations and will stop at nothing to make it to the finish line. Here’s what to expect in the upcoming war between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses:
Both these teams have players that enjoy the physicality of the game. People don’t call Kyle Lowry a bulldog for no reason and Serge Ibaka is no stranger to playing rough. Joel Embiid has picked up some technicals this season, including a couple in the postseason, and is one of the most dominant big men we’ve seen in recent memory. Jimmy Butler is about as scrappy as they come and Ben Simmons has been more than overwhelming for opponents. He answered Jared Dudley’s “average” comments with some of the best basketball of his young career.
Kawhi will treat you like his lapdog if you allow him to and former Defensive Player of the Year and “grit-n-grind” leader Marc Gasol will rough you up a bit. Oh, and Simmons and Lowry have a history. Remember the whole “meet me in the tunnel” incident that occurred in January last year?
Bodies will fly, tensions will rise and I’m willing to put money on it that there will be a few technicals and flagrants handed out as well.
As crazy as this may seem, Kawhi Leonard is 13-0 in his career against the Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, this is a slightly misleading stat since the Sixers were so bad for so long and Kawhi played with the Spurs for most of those games but that shouldn’t take away from how impressive that is.
With that said, the Raptors were 3-1 against the Sixers during the regular season. Leonard missed one of those games, which happened to be the one that the 76ers won. A big reason as to why the Raptors won those 3 games were because of Ben Simmons’ ineffectiveness.
Most teams like to sag off when Simmons is handling the ball because of his inability to shoot anything outside of the paint. However, that often leads to him being able to create momentum going downhill and taking it the rim or kicking it back out for a wide open 3. Kawhi Leonard did the opposite. He applied pressure on Simmons early, often making him pick up the dribble and forcing someone else to create. When Simmons frantically tried to get the ball out of his hands, it resulted in turnovers.
In the 76ers first faceoff against Toronto, Simmons committed 11 turnovers. In total, he had 25 turnovers in the 4 games that they matched up in. That’s simply not going to cut it in the playoffs when literally every single possession counts.
Then there’s the matter of Embiid versus Toronto’s big men. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are some of the best defensive big men in the league. Ibaka, despite not being the biggest center, is a pest. He’ll welcome the contact and will really make Embiid work for his points. He may not be the shot blocker that he was when he was with the Thunder but Embiid shouldn’t underestimate him.
Gasol is another story. He has a big body and is surprisingly quick for someone his size. He’ll force Embiid to think about taking more jumpers instead of trying to bully his way into the paint.
In 2 games between the big men this season, Embiid has only managed to shoot 6-18 from the floor and has had 7 turnovers when guarded by Gasol. He’s also had a measly 33% effective field goal percentage against Gasol. That’s not very good for someone who was a top 5 MVP candidate for 3/4 of the season.
Embiid will have to think twice before going into the paint when Ibaka and Gasol are on the floor. If Toronto can force Embiid to take more jump shots, they’ll have a much better chance of winning the series.
It’s no secret that the Sixers bench is bad. They have a few reliable pieces in Mike Scott, James Ennis and Boban Marjanovic but that won’t be enough to keep up with Toronto’s second unit. It will be even tougher for Philadelphia if Mike Scott is ruled out.
The Raptors bench averages 35.8 points per game and Philadelphia’s averages 31.7. While a 4 point difference doesn’t seem like a lot, it really does matter in the playoffs where a lot of games are decided by single digits. The 76ers are very top heavy but their bench guys will need to step up if they plan to beat Toronto. The same could be said for the Raptors, who will need their second unit to pick up the slack when Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry need a few minutes to rest.
It won’t be easy for either side to make it past the second round. They’ll need to take it one game at a time and play to their strengths. Both teams have a lot riding on the line and neither of them will want to go home empty-handed. The NBA world will be tuning in to see which heavyweight comes out on top.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports