Did you have a queasy feeling in your stomach coming into tonight’s game? Well, Joel Embiid did before tip-off tonight. Up until minutes before game-time the 76ers had no idea if the big man would suit up as ‘gastroenteritis’ was the culprit of his discomfort. Amir Johnson had to be activated as an emergency center and Zhaire Smith turned to dust with a Brett Brown snap of the fingers. Thankfully, Embiid was able to go, but how effective would he be?
Let’s just say that there was no (stomach) flu game for Joel-Hans.
There were quite a few questions coming into game from individual performances to coaching adjustments. The latter was on display at the outset as Ben Simmons became Kawhi Leonard’s primary defender and Joel Embiid primarily defended Pascal Siakam instead of Marc Gasol. While the 76ers started off slow, their defensive strategy began to pay dividends by forcing Toronto into tough shots. While sloppy, the 76ers did enough on the other end to build a double-digit lead.
Now, what if I told you that Greg Monroe and James Ennis gave the 76ers some huge contributions off the bench? Yes, I said Greg Monroe!
Another adjustment Brett Brown made coming into this game was benching Boban Marjanovic in favor of Monroe. In 11 minutes, the big Moose put up 10 points, 5 boards, and oh my god I can’t believe the 76ers got positive contributions out of Monroe. Meanwhile, James Ennis, the lone wing off the bench tonight, made some huge shots in the first half to help build the lead. The team needed every one of his 13 points. In fact, the 76ers’ bench out-scoring the Raptors’ is one of the biggest reasons Philly was able to escape with the lead.
Why were they so important? As mentioned, Embiid’s “flu game” resembled that of a guy that was laboring through sickness than a superhuman effort. Shots weren’t falling and he looked a step slow or out of control. Through coughs and grimace though, Embiid’s impact was still felt on a defensive end. The strategic switch allowed him to not only limit Siakam but also play more help defense.
Despite the 76ers great effort, missed opportunities and turnovers made a 13 point lead at halftime feel uneasy. Unfortunately, those fears came to fruition as the Raptors stormed back on coattails of one Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was near unstoppable as he made tough basket after tough basket through and around contact. Ben Simmons played valiantly tonight as Leonard’s primary defender. Make no mistake, Simmons’ defense was legitimately amazing. But Kawhi Leonard is a former Finals MVP for a reason. For most of the 2nd half, it felt as though the Claw was the only thing pulling the Raptors back into the game.
When the fourth quarter hit, the score got uncomfortably close. A double digit game shrunk to one possession. Then, “The Closer” arrived.
When the 76ers made the early season trade for Jimmy Butler, it was with this type of game in mind. Butler was steady throughout the night, ending with 30 points on 22 shots (4 of 10! beyond the arc). But when the 76ers needed their closer, he delivered in the fourth answering Kawhi’s big baskets with some of his own. What looked to be a dagger 3 came off an impossible Embiid pass to Butler at the wing. Up 7 with a few minutes to go, the 76ers got this right?
No, we’ve been trained for this. Kyle Lowry hit 2 clutch 3 pointers of his own down the stretch. For a moment, it looked like the 76ers were going to blow this game, only up 1 with under a minute left. And then...
prob·lem— Sherwob Holmes (@WorldWideWob) April 30, 2019
1. a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. pic.twitter.com/uWPg4aB6hn
Joel Embiid, who struggled all night on offense, made up for it all with one huge spin move and lay up. One defensive stop later and the 76ers have tied the series up 1-1.
All things considered, this felt like a huge team win. Despite some struggles from guys all over the line up, everyone stepped up at some point in some way or form. Whatever it takes!
Odds & Ends
- Brett Brown deserves some credit for his adjustments this game. The defensive assignments really helped stymie players not named Kawhi. Toronto will no doubt have a counter punch on Thursday. But, this was a good showing by the coach after a lackluster Game 1.
- I only briefly mentioned him but Ben Simmons was sensational on defense. His ability to recover is absurd. Let’s be totally honest, no one is going to “stop” Kawhi. But, if he’s going to make tough, contested shots, you tip your hat. Not allowing him to get others involved, however, is what tilted the game in the Sixers favor tonight. It’s going to be a struggle on the offensive end for him unfortunately (Kawhi is really really good). But 44 minutes of efforts like tonight may just be what the team needs for this series.
- Tobias Harris fell into foul trouble early and had a tough time finding any rhythm. Thankfully, he made an important mid range shot in the closing minutes to help sustain the lead.
- JJ Redick ran around a lot and went 2 for 8 from beyond the arc. But he didn’t get killed defensively, so we’ll call tonight a win.
- Jonah Bolden got a few minutes tonight at the 4 spot. He hit a corner 3 and then proceeded to take 2 more 3’s as if he had the greenest of green lights. He did have an offensive rebound off a missed FT in the guts of the game. It’s not going to be pretty at all times but the name of the game right now is stealing some minutes while getting positive contributions... any positive contributions.
- Greg Monroe sustained an ankle injury in the 2nd half that brought Boban out of cold storage for a few minutes. After proceeding to get toasted, Amir Johnson got his first run of the series. Thankfully, the Sixers didn’t completely implode!
- No Furkan Korkmaz or TJ McConnell in this game. Someone collect the Infinity Stones and snap Zhaire Smith back into existence.
- Game 3 is on Thursday at 8PM EST on ESPN. See you then!