Ahead of the Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup of Sixers-Raptors, some of the excellent writers and analysts at our brethren site, SB Nation’s RaptorsHQ reached out for a “3 questions” series and some podcasts also. (Catch our own Brian Murphy on the first pod we did at that link). Be on the look out for answers to the questions they asked us ahead of the games on their site too.
Without further ado, here is RaptorsHQ writer, Dylan Litman. Follow him at his “Siakam/Trebek” fan account here @DylanLitman:
1) How confident are you in the Raps this series (percentage wise) and why?
As a Raptors fan, I’m generally cautious when it comes to predicting postseason success. This year more than any other year, my hesitance to declare the Raptors contenders is deeply rooted in past playoff-related trauma.
However, this is a far different team than seasons’ past. Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol are here to bury my sorrows deep underground, providing exactly what the Raptors have lacked in previous postseasons. Kawhi’s ability to take over the game on both ends of the floor, coupled with Gasol’s unmatched playmaking ability at the centre position raises my confidence level through the roof.
If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I’m 70% confident the Raptors will pull through with a series W. The 76ers are an immensely talented squad, but watching the Raptors decimate the Magic in the first round showed me what type of team they can be. When Toronto plays with passion and aggressiveness, there’s simply no stopping them; of course, whether they can string together four of those games against the 76ers is yet to be seen.
2) Fill in the blank: if the Sixers win the series, the biggest (non-injury) reason was because...
…Ben Simmons learned how to handle Kawhi Leonard’s gigantic paws on defense. This isn’t the only way the 76ers could win the series, but it would sure help if Ben Simmons could initiate the offense regularly without being pestered. Kawhi has terrorized Simmons all season long, culminating in Simmons calling Kawhi a freak on the defensive end a few months ago. Simmons is central to Philly’s offense; his impeccable passing ability draws in defenders and allows him to hit shooters (e.g. J.J. Redick) cleanly with a pass to the perimeter.
Philly’s offense can run through Joel Embiid in the post, but Simmons struggles playing off ball, especially against a hound like Leonard. Often, Kawhi interrupts Simmons’ dribble earlier than he anticipates with his quick (and abnormally large) hands, making for an easy turnover. If Ben can make quicker decisions with the ball this series, it would considerably lower his number of turnovers. As well, if Simmons operated more as a cutter this series, he could get the offense going early. The 76ers could take control of the series if their offense is running smoothly, which is predicated on Simmons’ effectiveness.
3) Who’s an X factor on each team you think might make or break this thing?
On the Raptors, I have Danny Green as an X factor. His defense is going to prove essential in containing Redick (both outside and on drives), and he’s capable of taking over a game with a flurry of threes. He didn’t have the best series against the Magic, though he didn’t need to score as much with Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard providing most of the offense.
Fred VanVleet didn’t have a great series, either. He was unable to find his shots against the Magic’s taller defenders. If he can match up against T.J. McConnell, it may help him find his shooting form. But, for Fred to be a real X factor, he’ll need to play more off-ball. He tends to dribble out the shot clock unnecessarily when in charge of providing the offense, even with Lowry on the floor. If he can utilize screens more effectively this series, he could provide a nice spark off the bench much like Norman Powell does (sometimes).
Can I name Joel Embiid’s health as an X factor? That might be cheating, but if he’s truly healthy, he will draw more double teams, leading to more outside shots. If Mike Scott plays this series, he could be a game changer for the 76ers. For some reason, it feels like if Scott were to play he would drop a random 24-point outing on the Raptors, leaving Toronto fans confused and dismayed. Lastly, Tobias Harris has demonstrated instances of excellent defense. If he can consistently guard Siakam even considerably well, he’ll easily emerge as the X factor of this series.