Well that went about as expected, which makes it all the more frustrating.
After changing Joel Embiid from questionable to probable before game time, the Sixers ruled him out just before tip. That is a story for another post.
I wrote tonight’s preview as if the game would be a blowout. I thought it would be. Blowouts are easy to watch. Your team is down a bunch but the writing is on the wall very early on. You expect and accept the outcome and move on. When you are up 22 into the 3rd quarter, that’s how the other team should feel. Of course, that was not the case tonight.
The Sixers came out of the gate strong, and the Raptors opened up flat. A back-and-forth first quarter ended with the Sixers holding a slim lead, and that lead just exploded from the middle of the 2nd quarter to the first third of the 3rd quarter. It was exciting for a while. The Sixers led by 22 at one point. 22! Then, in true Sixers fashion, that lead completely evaporated in the rest of the 3rd quarter. Here’s a video summary of the rise and fall of the lead:
As it happens with this team, a bench squad was sent in with a lead in the third and it completely and quickly vanished. The hole left by Embiid and a sidelined JJ Redick was so blatantly glaring in the 3rd and early 4th was so obvious that asteroid that’s spying on us could see it from space. But it’s not the missing JoJo and JJ that lost this game. It’s the complete and utter lack of depth from the team. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has been essentially useless, Jerryd Bayless only makes shots in the first half, and while Amir Johnson and Trevor Booker work hard, they do you no favors on the shooting end.
The officiating was rough down the stretch, but in what game this season*, league-wide, has that not been the case? Those are things you have to work through, and make sure you aren’t in the position where you can argue that it cost you the game. A couple of blown calls don’t mean a damn thing if you’re up 15. They mean a lot when you’re down 3. You can’t put yourself in that hole.
We did get to see the aggressive Ben Simmons we felt we were missing again tonight, which was nice. Sure, he had 7 turnovers - which, in basketball terms, is “incredibly bad” - but he again seemed to get at the rim at will, follow up his own misses, and play solid defense. He ended the game with 20 points (the team lead), 6 rebounds, and 4 assists on 9-of-14 from the floor. Robert Covington dropped 19 after definitely subbing himself out to use the bathroom in the first quarter, and Richaun Holmes led the bench with 15/7/2, a block and a steal.
DeMar DeRozan ripped the Sixers to shreds from the very beginning, scoring a career-high 45 points on 6-of-9 from long range. Roughly once a week it seems like an opponent comes into the Wells Fargo Center and sets the basket on fire, putting up career high numbers. Tonight was DeMar’s turn.
But since it’s the holiday season, I want to end this on a positive note. Dario Saric played out of his mind tonight. The Sixers have lost 8 of 9 and look like a mess right now, but Dario has not checked out. He has not played passively. He put up the only legit triple-double alert I can remember from his career, and finished just an assist shy of posting one. Dario scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and notched 9 assists all while shooting 70% from the floor, blocking 2 shots and taking 2 balls away from the Raptors. It’s a shame that effort happened in a game like this, but without Dario playing the way he did, this game would have been out of hand well before it was.
*Just as I was finishing this, Brett Brown’s post-game presser began and Brett made more than a few comments about “checking the footage” and looking at what the foul calls were.