Last night, just before the Sixers blasted the Brooklyn Nets into the offseason, the Toronto Raptors did the same to the Orlando Magic, meaning the Sixers and the Raptors will be facing off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Raptors have had quite a spectacular season, racking up 58 wins during the regular season. That win total comes in second to only one (the Milwaukee Bucks). What makes their regular season even more impressive is that their best player, Kawhi Leonard, suited up for just 60 games. A major factor in the Raptors’ success this year has been Pascal Siakam, who is as deserving of the Most Improved Player award as anybody in the league. Just take a look at his year-to-year growth in production from ‘17-’18 to ‘18-’19:
Toronto doesn’t just have top-end talent either — they are DEEP with experienced veterans. The addition of Marc Gasol at the deadline has given the Raptors a starting lineup of Kawhi, Pascal, Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green. Their bench is as trusty as any reserve group in the league, with options like Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell. In other words, the Raptors pretty much have no bad options as far as personnel goes. They’ve got a ton of guys who excel on both ends of the floor, making them a tough game plan.
There will be two key matchups that I’m interested to watch develop, though these players may not be matched up exclusively (I imagine Pascal will get opportunities to guard Ben Simmons and Danny Green could switch all around the perimeter):
- JJ Redick vs. Danny Green
- Tobias Harris vs. Pascal Siakam
Danny Green is having a hell of a season, bringing it on both ends of the floor. He gave Joe Harris a run for his money for the title of most proficient three-point shooter in the 2018-2019 season, with Green connecting on 45.5% of his threes. And Green has been as bothersome as ever on defense. I’ve already talked about how valuable Siakam has been to Toronto — the Sixers will need that sort of impact out of Tobias Harris if they are to keep up with the Raptors.
The most important question of this series for Philly, aside from the health of Joel Embiid, is in regards to Ben Simmons. Which Ben Simmons are they going to get? Will we see an aggressive Ben Simmons who is locked in defensively and able to counter sagging defenses with purposeful off-ball action? Or will our worst fears about playoff Ben resurface? Ben will likely often be guarded by Kawhi Leonard — a frightening proposition for even the most engaged Simmons.
The Raptors took the season series over the Sixers, winning three out of four games. But the Sixers are a very different team than they were in many of those exhibitions. On the surface, Toronto appears to be the deeper and more talented team and they’ll have the home court advantage. But if the Sixers are at their very best, they can run with the Raptors. Can Philly bring their A game consistently or will the lack of chemistry rear its ugly head?
Depending on how this matchup plays out, it could be a franchise altering series for Philadelphia.