The 76ers threw several adjustments at the Raptors.
Enough stuck to allow Jimmy Butler to play hero.
Philadelphia built a 19-point lead in the first-half then – thanks to several big shots by Butler (30 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) – stayed ahead despite multiple Toronto pushes, prevailing 94-89 in Game 2 Monday.
In best-of-seven series that open with a split in one location, the team that began with homecourt advantage has won 59% of the time. The Raptors will have a chance to retake the series lead in Game 3 Thursday.
The way they improved throughout tonight’s game suggests they will.
It took time for Kawhi Leonard (35 points, seven rebounds, six assists) to find his spots against a Philadelphia defense shading closer toward him after his dominant Game 1.
But it was mostly too late. Especially on a night Toronto shot just 10-for-37 (27%) on 3-pointers.
With the loss out of the way, expect Raptors coach Nick Nurse to more aggressively adjust, not just respond to the 76ers’ changes. Gasol should more closely shadow Embiid, who worked Serge Ibaka. Fred VanVleet (-18 in 18 minutes) can get a quicker hook when he becomes a defensive liability due to his height. Toronto can pull Greg Monroe, who played well tonight, into more pick-and-rolls.
Of course, the 76ers can play better, too. They shot just 10-for-35 (29%) on 3-pointers themselves. Embiid can get healthier (his stomach, probably not his knee). Philadelphia won’t necessarily have to rely on another disastrous stint from Boban Marjanovic, who was -5 in just 1:25 after Monroe left due to a sprained ankle.
Both teams should perform better. It just seems Toronto’s paths to improvement, which are already well underway, are clearer.