The Philadelphia 76ers have passed their first test against the Brooklyn Nets in five games, taking the series 4-1. After game one, the Philadelphia crowd was loud in booing their own team, something that I had no shame in stating that I didn’t agree with. However, for the rest of that series, the Nets were persona non grata. The Sixers made easy work of the Nets as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Boban Marjanovic, and Tobias Harris were real standouts in those wins. The storyline drama from Jared Dudley has disappeared and the Sixers are looking onward towards a big challenge at hand with the Toronto Raptors.
The Toronto Raptors mirrored the same success that the Philadelphia 76ers had in their first round match up with the Orlando Magic. While the Magic did win the first game, the Raptors regained control and didn’t look back over the next four games to win the series in five games, 4-1. It is clear that this series is going to test the fortitude of the Sixers. These Raptors are absolutely a better team on paper than the Nets. With players such as Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors have the starting lineup to match up with the Sixers head-to-head. If we are talking about bench depth, the odds are in the favor of the Raptors as well.
During the 2019 season, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors have played each other four times. In that regular season series, the Raptors won three of those games. In their first meeting, the Raptors were victorious 129-112. The Raptors outscored the Sixers for the first three quarters while Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam both recorded a double-double.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both recorded a double-double for the Sixers as well, but the real story this game was the turnovers. Simmons was a liability with eleven turnovers on his own. The Raptors starting lineup had just twelve turnovers total. In this game, the Sixers also had Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup. Very different from the current lineup for round two of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
The second game of the 2019 season, the Toronto Raptors were once again victorious against the Philadelphia 76ers, outscoring the Sixers in two of the quarters played to a 113-102 win. Jimmy Butler recorded a double-double and Joel Embiid recorded a triple-double, but it wasn’t enough to get the only thing that matters, a win. Again, turnovers told the story here. The Raptors had only nine total turnovers from their starting five while Ben Simmons had seven on his own. The trend here is clear.
If Simmons can limit turnovers, the Sixers have an opportunity to win games against better teams. The only other stat that the Raptors outplayed the Sixers in this game besides the turnover battle was in free throw percentage. This was a game that the Sixers could have won if the execution was there!
The third game of the 2019 regular season is when the Philadelphia 76ers got the one win they had against the Toronto Raptors. Quick note, Greg Monroe was a starter for the Raptors in this game and is now on the Sixers playoff roster. If Brett Brown is smart, he should be working alongside Monroe to game plan for the Raptors since this is the closest thing he has to an “inside man.” The trend I pointed out earlier about the turnovers happens to be the outlier here in the Sixers win. Ben Simmons only had one turnover and the Sixers starting five only totaled six. It is important to note that the Raptors did not have Kawhi Leonard suited up to play, nor Marc Gasol. Joel Embiid recorded a triple-double, as did Simmons on the way to a 126-101 win.
In the Philadelphia 76ers final meeting against the Toronto Raptors, I point right back to the Ben Simmons turnover conundrum. He had six in this game compared to the nine that the Raptors starting five had in all. The Raptors won this game, 119-107. In this game, the Raptors current starting lineup was at full force, however, the Sixers playoff lineup was not. In these four games, the Sixers lineup changed quite a lot while the Raptors have remained more constant with their roster, which I would give the advantage to the Raptors for team chemistry. Chemistry is an important component going into the NBA playoffs, which is why I believe the Raptors do currently have the advantage. Serge Ibaka had a double-double in this win and Joel Embiid had a double-double in this loss.
The projected starting lineup for the Toronto Raptors is as follows: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka. The projected starting lineup for the Philadelphia 76ers is as follows: Ben Simmons, JJ Reddick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid. This can be a very evenly matched series that goes deep towards seven games, but it is dependent on how Simmons reduces his turnover issue.
If you had to ask me my prediction, I have to say that I am going to pick the Raptors in six games. It is a tough pill to swallow picking against my team, but I want to be completely unbiased. However, this is a winnable series for the Sixers as long as Simmons can be turnover conscious and careful with the way he produces in games. Embiid is going to play game one, so this isn’t a game-time decision. While the Raptors do have notable talent coming off of the bench, I think the Sixers can match that with heart and hustle from players such as TJ McConnell. We’ll see!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports