The Toronto Raptors have very suddenly and quickly climbed toward the top of the Philadelphia 76ers‘ greatest rivalries list. Despite residing within the same conference, there had been relatively little drama between the two squads for the better part of nearly two decades.
Before the arrival of Joel Embiid marked the end of the process, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors weren’t really competitive at the same time after the turn of the new millennium.
While Philadelphia was in the thick of reaping Sam Hinkie’s harvest, Toronto built themselves into a regular-season powerhouse behind the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Raptors President Masai Ujiri was able to take that core over the top by rolling the dice on an all-or-nothing trade, moving for Kawhi Leonard, coming off of a career-threatening injury.
Ujiri and Toronto happened to take that leap at the exact same time that the Philadelphia 76ers decided to go all in on their star pairing of Embiid and Ben Simmons. In the span of one calendar year, the Sixers traded for both Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, building a new powerhouse and title contender in the Eastern Conference.
That seismic shift in talent into the Atlantic Conference culminated in one of the most memorable second-round series in NBA history, as Philly and Toronto waged war in a seven-game dogfight. The world will not soon forget Kawhi Leonard’s shot that tiptoed around the rim before ultimately falling to send the Raptors into the Eastern Conference Finals and effectively ending the Jimmy Butler era for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers were able to get revenge in last year’s playoffs, as they downed the center-less Raptors in six games. Despite giving up three 30-point outings to Embiid in the series, Toronto did little this past offseason to try obtain more size in hopes of slowing the Cameroonian MVP candidate in the future.
What they did add was more 6’7-6’10 forwards, having signed Otto Porter Jr., Josh Jackson, Juancho Hernangomez, and DJ Wilson in free agency — none of whom have a puncher’s chance at stopping Embiid on the low block.
Toronto’s switch and trap-heavy defensive schemes may have given them the edge in last year’s regular season — the Raptors won the season series, 3-1 — but when the game slows down in the playoffs, Embiid’s size advantage proved too great an uphill climb for the undersized Raps to overcome. That should be the case in this next season as well, unless Toronto can acquire a true big man by next season’s trade deadline.
Philadelphia 76ers/Toronto Raptors Quick Stats
- The Philadelphia 76ers struggled to guard Pascal Siakam in the regular season last year, as he averaged 30.3 points — his second-highest output against any team in 2021-2022 — on 51 percent shooting from the field.
- The Sixers did a great job shutting down Fred VanVleet in the playoffs. In four games, he was held to just 13.8 points per game, 35 percent shooting from the floor and 33 percent from deep.
- Joel Embiid wasn’t the only one who took advantage of the Raptors’ lack of size in the postseason. Paul Reed excelled in his 60 total minutes played, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a defensive rating of just 105 points allowed per 100 possessions during his time on the floor.
October 26, 2022: PHI @ TOR
October 28, 2022: PHI @ TOR
December 19, 2022: TOR @ PHI
March 31, 2023: TOR @ PHI