The series opener Saturday night between the Sixers and Raptors was an absolute trainwreck from Philadelphia’s perspective. However, our neighbors to the north have to be feeling good about themselves as we ready for Game 2 tonight in Toronto. To try and remember what optimism sounds like, I caught up with Dylan Litman (@DylanLitman on Twitter) of SB Nation’s RaptorsHQ for the latest in our “3 questions” series. You can read the first edition between Dylan and our very own Dave Early prior to Game 1 (ah, simpler times).
Although Toronto won Game 1 in the first round against the Wizards last year, the loss to Orlando had to evoke those uncomfortable familiar feelings regarding series openers. After drubbing the Sixers Saturday night, do you feel the curse can finally be put to rest?
After Game 1 against the Magic, I felt as if the Raptors would never put their past behind them. A part of me knew that the ‘curse’ was simply a statistical anomaly, but it still seemed so painfully real. However, after watching the Raptors dismantle the Magic in five games, I was overcome with an unusual feeling: confidence. Since losing the first game of the playoffs, Toronto has given me every reason to believe in them.
Kawhi Leonard is a monster, and Marc Gasol adds so many new dimensions to the once-predictable Raptors’ offense. In previous years, Toronto would come out flat to start almost every playoff series. Opposing teams would do their homework beforehand, figuring out how to contain DeRozan and forcing Toronto role players like Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll to make their shots (spoiler alert: they didn’t).
Now, the Raptors are playing a style of basketball that adjusts night to night, but still relies on the same principles that are built to last in the postseason. As long as they play with defensive aggressiveness, while properly utilizing multiple playmakers in Gasol and Lowry on the offensive end, I’d like to officially proclaim that the Game 1 curse is over.
Do you now feel much more comfortable about anything within this particular matchup that you had reservations about entering the series, or are you still taking a one-game-at-a-time mentality about things?
Before the series, I was mildly concerned about the Gasol-Embiid matchup. Sure, historically Gasol had bested Embiid, but they’d never faced off while surrounded by their current personnel. While those worrisome thoughts aren’t gone completely, they’ve definitely taken a back seat in my mind.
Embiid shot just 1-8 against Gasol last night, which is a great start. Still, to confirm what I believe to be true regarding Gasol’s defensive prowess, I’d like to see him do it again after the 76ers have had a chance to adjust their game plan.
Before the series, I believed that if Ben Simmons could withstand Kawhi’s claws he would kick start Philly’s offense. In Game 1, Simmons scored 3 out of 4 times against Kawhi. Yet, as it turns out, Simmons’ individual success didn’t translate to team success. The Raptors were able to stifle most [of the Sixers’] surrounding shooters, lowering the potential impact of Ben Simmons’ drives by limiting kick out options.
Where does Kawhi Leonard’s Game 1 rank in the pantheon of Toronto Raptors playoff performances?
It probably ranks in the top 20-25, though I can’t be sure – it’s so hard to choose because there have been so many dominant performances! Of course, I’m joking. The Raptors have always been a roaring dumpster fire come playoff time. There have only been a couple performances that give this one a run for its money.
I was only five years old when Vince Carter dropped 50 on Allen Iverson; while I don’t remember it vividly, I’d like to think I understand the lasting impact of that performance. Kawhi’s Game 2 against the Magic (37 points, 15-22 from the field) spurred a new willingness to believe in this team. However, Kawhi’s 45-point outburst against the 76ers showed me that he doesn’t fear anyone. Depending on how this series shakes out, Kawhi’s Game 1 could easily emerge as the best performance in Raptors history.
So there you have it, folks. The Sixers were the victim of arguably the best playoff performance in a franchise’s history. Terrific! Thanks again to Dylan and RaptorsHQ, and hopefully, we will be able to ask some questions about things they might be worried about heading into Game 3.