The second round is upon us, and with it comes the swing of the pendulum back to the side of the once defeated. On Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers handed down a complete dismantling of the Toronto Raptors, 116-95.
Joel Embiid scored 33 points to go with 10 rebounds, five blocks, and three assists on his way to one of his best performances in these playoffs. The big man was battling some injury issues heading into the first round, but his solid play helped the more athletic and larger Sixers dominate Toronto physically in Philadelphia.
To that end, the Sixers were +10 on the rebounding side of things, and a whopping +14 in assist differential. Philadelphia shared the ball masterfully, with all five starters scoring in double-digits. That was mirrored by Toronto struggling from the 3-point line, shooting just 25.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Kawhi Leonard, apparently fully healthy and ready to go for the postseason, scored 33 points to go with just four rebounds and three assists. Leonard also had five turnovers, and the only other Raptors who scored in double-digits were Pascal Siakam with 22 points and Danny Green with 13.
Philadelphia clamped down on the rest of the Raptors roster, with the old “bench mob” in Toronto not being able to contribute in the way they have expected n the past. Of particular note was how poorly Kyle Lowry played, adding seven points with five rebounds and five assists. Lowry was -28 on the night.
The Sixers now lead this series, 2-1, and the answer for why that’s the case could just be found in Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.
Many wondered whether Brown would be able to make the kind of adjustments needed in a playoff series like this, and against a foe like the Raptors. Indeed, Brown has been the subject of speculation that he could be on the hot seat if Philadelphia lost this playoff round.
Instead, it appears that Brown and his staff have taken to dismantling what the Raptors do best, even if it means letting Leonard get his.
That’s great news for Sixers fans, who have wondered if Brown was flexible enough not only to get them out of this round, but to take them to the next level. There’s no doubt that this season in Philadelphia is an all-out hunt for the NBA Finals, and brown could be one of the most important factors if they are going to advance to that far.
Philadelphia has another game at home on Sunday, and that should be enough time to adapt for Toronto. Or so you would think.
First-year head coach Nick Nurse has the same questions floating around him as Brown. The issue in Toronto has been whether Nurse can perform on this level and make a championship run.
The Raptors are an interesting mirror to the Sixers in that way. This season is all about getting to the Finals, and keeping Leonard at all costs. If they don’t, it could finally be time for a tear down in the Great White North.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Sunday’s matchup will be one to watch, not just because tensions ran a little high during Thursday’s game. Instead, what it might teach us is how much these coaches are ready for this stage, and which might be remain in their respective cities next year.
Game 4 is on Sunday at 12:30 pm on ABC.