December 3, 2023

76ers fail to maintain the lead in final quarter in loss to Raptors


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The Philadelphia 76ers have some major travel struggles as they loose to the Raptors on Sunday night, even in a game that didn’t take place in Toronto. The Raptors are playing at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixers fell to the Raptors, 110-103, dropping to 20-11 on the season.

I his return after a stomach illness, Ben Simmons posted 28 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, while Joel Embiid recorded 25 points and 17 rebounds after scoring a career-high 50 the game prior. Danny Green had five steals and two blocks, but he fouled out with 6:40 remaining.

On the Raptors side of things, Fred VanVleet (23 points and nine assists) and Pascal Siakam (23 points and eight assists) were standouts for Toronto/Tampa Bay (I’m just going to go with Toronto), and Chris Boucher’s five-for-six night from beyond the arc hurt the Sixers big time.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday night’s loss:

Simmons picked up where he left off after illness

Playing in his first game since scoring a career-high 42 points against the Utah Jazz, it seemed none of Simmons’ offensive aggression went away during his illness-related absence.

He scored five of the Sixers’ first seven points by pushing the ball ahead in the open floor whenever possible and plowing through contact to get to the basket.

Simmons maintained that approach throughout the entire first half, shooting six for eight from both the field and the free throw line. He was sharp on defensive, too.

Following his 10-for-14 evening at the foul line, Simmons is 22 of 27 on free throws over his last two games. For a guy who struggled with free throws, this is a good sign.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse mentioned before the game that the way potential All-Stars play against his team typically impacts how he votes for the Eastern Conference’s seven reserves, which will be announced Tuesday night. It seems Simmons boosted his case for being on Nurse’s ballot with his performance Sunday, fingers crossed.

Raptors end Embiid’s 30+ point streak

OG Anunoby (by the way this is the greatest first name ever) took the opening tip-off against the five-inch taller Embiid as the Raptors tried to slow down the All-Star starting center by immediately sending players whenever he caught the ball anywhere near the basket. Familiar face Aron Baynes also factored into Nurse’s diverse defensive game plan and started the second half, though true one-on-one chances were very rare for Embiid. While he wasn’t nearly as good as normal in the mid-range and shot six for 20 from the floor, Embiid’s decision-making was alright when being double teamed. 

Toronto’s defensive scheme was in favor of three-point opportunities for the Sixers. The team attempted 37 and made 11, its the most three-point attempts in a game since Jan. 14. Embiid’s passing led to several good possessions in which the Sixers threw the ball around the perimeter and forced Toronto to scramble. To give the Raptors some credit, they are a strong defensive team on those types of possessions. 

Tobias Harris had a pretty rough first quarter, shooting one for nine from the floor while being scored on a couple of times guarding Pascal Siakam. None of the shots he attempted were bad, but his misses allowed Fred VanVleet’s stretch of four three-pointers to switch the momentum in Toronto’s favor during a 20-two run to end the first quarter.

Harris was better after the first, recording 13 points on six-for-17 shooting and seven assists in the game. The Sixers could’ve used a more effective third scoring option, especially when Embiid and the whole team were struggling to produce down the stretch. 

The bench continues to fail

Shake Milton returned after sitting out five games with a left ankle sprain, and he was the Sixers’ first substitute. He replaced Simmons, who head coach Doc Rivers later played with the four members of the Sixers’ second unit. It’s become clear to Rivers that using all-bench lineups is dangerous with the current bench. 

“We’ve got to have Tobias, Joel or Ben with that unit,” River said Friday. “And when we don’t, sometimes you just look at the lead. Tonight was one of those things where honestly, I was just looking at the score. You could see it’s going to be one of these games where it’s going to come down to the end. We used the second unit in the second half to get to eight minutes. That’s what we were trying to do.”

Isaiah Joe was part of the rotation once again, while Furkan Korkmaz did not appear until Matisse Thybulle picked up his third foul (and a technical) early in the second quarter. 

Korkmaz’s place has felt weak for a while, especially so after he’d made only three of his last 19 field goals entering Sunday’s game. His defense and decision-making have certainly not been positives either. He was zero for two in two first-half minutes against Toronto. 

Joe played several strong defensive possessions when matched up with Norman Powell, tracking him well off the ball, eliminating potential driving angles and taking a charge on one play where Powell tried to power through the rookie. 

Speaking after the Sixers’ shootaround Sunday morning, Joe credited the Sixers’ veterans for helping him adjust to not having certainty about his playing time in the NBA. 

“Even when I come in, take some shots and miss them or make them, they’re always keeping me up and telling me that this is just part of the job, it’s part of the game,” he said. “Just working every day, continuing to grind, and everything else is basketball — nothing changes.”

Unlike Simmons, Milton did not hit the ground running in his return as he missed his first five field goals before knocking down a three-pointer from the top of the key in the third quarter. Milton later drained two more threes and finished with nine points on three-for-11 shooting and two assists in 29 minutes. 

The 20-11 Sixers and the 16-15 Raptors will conclude their two-game mini-series Tuesday night.

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