Raptors vs. 76ers: Toronto look like team lacking answers in second straight double-digit loss to Philly

PHILADELPHIA — Two games into their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors look like a team starving for answers. After being completely outplayed by the Sixers and ultimately down by 20 points, 131-111, in Game 1, the main question heading into Game 2 was how would the Raptors react? Did they have a rebound performance in them in order to even the series?

Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

Despite a strong start (Toronto beat Philadelphia 33-32 in the first quarter) and a late run, the Raptors have once again been outplayed by what just seems like a deeper, more talented and more physical Sixers team. Just as they did in Game 1, the Sixers used their size and physicality to wear down Toronto in the Game 2 contest, and by the time the final horn sounded, the Sixers had snagged another win at double digits on Toronto. . This time the final score was 112-97.

OG Anunoby (26 points, three assists), Pascal Siakam (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Fred VanVleet (20 points, seven assists) all had their moments on Monday night, but ultimately their production paled in comparison to that of Philadelphia’s Principal Contributors. Tyrese Maxey continued his 38-point outburst in Game 1 with a performance of 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Game 2, while Joel Embiid wasted 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. All five Philadelphia starters scored in double digits — a stat that indicates the balanced effort the Sixers put in Monday night.

Embiid set the tone for the Sixers early by consistently using his size to shoot fouls and reach the line. He shot 12 free throws in the first quarter alone and finished with 14 total attempts from the line. As a team, Philadelphia shot 30 free throws, compared to just 12 for Toronto. It seems that Nick Nurse’s plan to publicly criticize the officials after Game 1 didn’t have the effect he hoped.

“I don’t care if you’re 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, if you beat him on the spot and he crushes you, it’s a foul,” Nurse said of Embiid on Saturday night. “I thought he threw three or four elbows to the face. He was called for one. We’re going to stay in there… If we’re legal defensively then we have to call them or we don’t have a chance. Period Nobody can keep this guy if they’re just going to let him crush you over and over again. We’ll stay here and we’ll see.”

You can’t fault Nurse for trying, as it became apparent early in this series that his team was overwhelmed. On paper, the Raptors have no one who can match Embiid. The prevailing idea on the show was that maybe Toronto’s schemes would work to frustrate the MVP runner-up and in turn limit the Sixers’ success, but that didn’t happen, thanks in large part to the casting of support from Embiid.

All the attention given to Embiid has allowed other guys to thrive. Maxey scored 61 points over the first two games of the series, and Tobias Harris (46 points over the two games) was a big contributor at both ends of the court. James Harden has been relatively quiet (36 points, 20 assists in the series so far), but he still demands a lot of defensive attention.

For the first 96 minutes of the series, it was basically a “choose your poison” type scenario for Toronto. Pay too much attention to Embiid, and the other guys will beat you. Focus more on Maxey, et al. and Embiid will have more freedom to do what he’s been doing all season.

So where do the Raptors turn now? They were down 2-0 before back-to-back games in Toronto, and their opening two performances provided little cause for optimism. They weren’t a particularly deep team to start with, and the injury of rookie stallion Scottie Barnes depleted their depth even further. There is no secret weapon at the end of the Toronto bench that Nurse can turn to. No one on the roster will suddenly reach Embiid’s size overnight, and Maxey will continue to be faster than anyone placed in front of him.

Perhaps the Raptors will find some comfort in the fact that Philadelphia will be without its top perimeter defenseman, Matisse Thybulle, in Toronto due to his COVID-19 vaccination status. However, Thybulle has largely been a non-factor in the series thus far. He only played a total of 29 minutes – and scored eight points – in the first two games after Philadelphia preemptively replaced him in the starting lineup with Danny Green for continuity reasons.

The Nurse has long been praised for his ability to adapt and adjust on the fly, so perhaps he’ll come up with a different approach that will turn the series around in Toronto. With the way the first two games have gone, it certainly seems like a daunting task.

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