No Kyle Lowry? No problem for the Toronto Raptors. They snapped a six-game losing streak and continued their dominance of the 76ers, notching a 114-103 win behind a standout performance from DeMar DeRozan.
Despite the best efforts of Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson and the rest of the Sixers lineup, DeRozan poured in 35 points and did his best to make up for the absence of Kyle Lowry. The formula for Sixers games has tilted since the trade deadline, with defensive regression traded for a boost on the offensive end. A number of contributors emerged off the bench tonight, with newcomers Thomas Robinson and Ish Smith chief among them.
Robinson provided his usual dose of tenacity attacking the glass, and was rewarded on the score sheet for his efforts, notching 13 points in 15 minutes. Sitting for much of the fourth seemed rather curious and it's a shame we were unable to see him paired with Nerlens Noel in crunch time, but Brett Brown let it be known that a blow to the head had something to do with that.
Smith continued to make his case for more minutes, shooting an efficient 8-13 and racking up nine assists in 27 minutes. I found that number hard to believe when I checked the box score -- it always feels like Smith struggles to finish -- but his ability to get into the paint and keep the ball moving was evident throughout.
Brett Brown re-emphasized how important that ball movement is to their team philosophy. He asserted in his post-game presser that, "once we get static and we're an iso team, it's going to be a long night." Without a dominant scorer, the Sixers thrive when they're striving for great shots rather than settling for the first open-ish look.
One of the primary benefactors of that ethos is Noel, who continues to make strides on the offensive end. A month or two ago, 7-7 from the field and 3-4 from the line would have seemed totally out of reach. But he's finding his way, slipping into open spaces under the rim and utilizing his speed in the face-up game.
Brown made sure to give a shout out to Noel not just for his play, but influence on the team away from the bright lights. "I'm really proud of his evolution and development, and he's really starting to grow as a leader aside from what you see on the court."
None of this was enough to get a victory, but it's a performance the coaching staff can swallow after a fairly ugly performance in Indiana. One night after amassing just 10 assists as a team, the Sixers racked up 32 assists on 41 made shots. If they're going to go down, doing so as a team while fostering individual growth is the way to do it.
Odds & Ends
- Jerami Grant's performance was a bit of a mixed bag, but you continue to see glimpses of what might be. I thought he showed some flashes as a ball-handler and creator out of the pick-and-roll tonight, setting up Robinson and Furkan Aldemir for a couple easy layups on dump-offs. He also hit his usual quota of highlight dunks and blocks, despite falling on the wrong end of a DeRozan poster. One thing I really love is that he has no fear at either rim -- he's not afraid to get stuffed or dunked on despite some major car crashes at the rim.
- Luc Mbah a Moute is frustrating to watch on offense sometimes, but it is a pleasure to watch him work on defense. Did his usual jack-of-all-trades thing and even held up Jonas Valanciunas in the post at one point, despite giving up inches and weight to the young center.
- Speaking of Valanciunas, get this weak stuff out of here:
- Furkan Aldemir, the man who is seemingly afraid to take a jumper, hit a J from the foul line at the end of the first quarter. That it came just after the buzzer sounded is cruel. Let that thing fly, Furkan.
- Noel is now shooting 61 percent from the free-throw line this season, surpassing the team's stated goal for the year. Two thumbs up.