What Strategies Should the 76ers Prepare for vs. Toronto?

March 23, 2022, Los Angeles, California, USA: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a layup during their NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday March 23, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

With the 2022 NBA Playoff matchups set, the Philadelphia 76ers will face off against the Toronto Raptors in the first round. This series will be tough for the Sixers, as they will be without Matisse Thybulle for games in Toronto due to his vaccination status. The Toronto Raptors also present a set of unique challenges for the Sixers.

The Raptors have been on a surge as of late and won the season series (3-1) against the Sixers. The Raptors’ first victory (115-109) came in November without Joel Embiid in the lineup due to Covid-19. The Sixers had a chance late in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors pulled away in the final minute. The Sixers took the next matchup in Toronto behind a dominating performance from MVP candidate Joel Embiid. In the next two games, which the Raptors won, the 76ers had double digits leads and blew them in the second half.

Toronto gave the 76ers trouble this season due to their athleticism and length. The Sixers have very few athletes on their team, and it can affect how both James Harden and Joel Embiid are defended. Raptors’ Head Coach Nick Nurse has used a couple of different strategies this season against the Sixers, and Doc Rivers and the Sixers need to prepare for and counter these strategies.

Here are a few strategies that the Sixers should expect to see from the Raptors:

Half-Court Press

In the most recent matchup with the 76ers, the Raptors used a half-court press in the second quarter to slow down the Sixers’ offense. They used the press to take the ball out of Harden’s hands and make the Sixers start their offense later in the shot clock. The Raptors didn’t get any turnover off the press, but it did take the Sixers out of what they wanted to do, starting offensive possessions with 16 seconds or less left on the shot clock. The Sixers’ coaching staff needs to prepare for this and determine how they want to attack the Raptors after they break the press.

Double and Triple Teams

Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors like to double and triple-team Joel Embiid throughout the entire game. Sometimes it is a double team from the defender near the entry pass, and sometimes it is a weak side double team. There is also normally a third defender waiting for Embiid whenever he makes a move to the lane. Embiid has done a tremendous job of improving his passing this season, and he will have to continue to trust his teammates to make open shots. Spacing will continue to play a huge part in the success of the Sixers this postseason. 

Trapping the 76ers’ Ballhandlers

During the last meeting, the Raptors trapped James Harden on a number of possessions to get the ball out of his hands and into someone else’s. The 76ers need to be ready for this strategy and take advantage of the numbers with two defenders essentially out of the picture while one tries to recover to their man. If the ball is in Embiid’s hands, we can trust that he will make the right play as he has improved his decision-making on the short roll this season. 

It’s plain and simple; the 76ers are more talented than the Raptors and should win this series. With the Raptors knowing they are less talented, they will pull out all of the gimmicky strategies to swing the series in their favor. Doc Rivers will need to prepare for these strategies and be quick to make adjustments if needed. Preparation will be the key to winning this series.