With their series tied at one win each, the Philadelphia 76ers welcome the Toronto Raptors to South Philadelphia for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. The first game was claimed by the Raptors, as Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam scored at will on Philly. The Sixers were the victor in the second meeting, powered by the heroics of Jimmy Butler and the well-executed adjustments made by coach Brett Brown, notably swapping Joel Embiid onto Pascal Siakam and in turn assigning Tobias Harris to Marc Gasol.
Kawhi Leonard has been a standout in the series so far, rounding into peak form and looking worthy of a Playoff MVP award if such an achievement existed. The Klaw is averaging 40 points on an utterly absurd true shooting percentage of 72.8% through the first two games against Philly. The silver lining for Brett Brown’s crew though is that Leonard’s production trended downward from Game 1 to Game 2:
While both of those box score lines are impressive from Kawhi, the ability to slow him down somewhat in Game 2 was a smaller victory within a huge win. Much of the praise for Leonard’s decreased effectiveness (if we can really call it that...) goes to Ben Simmons. Appearing as engaged as ever on the defensive end lately, Simmons visibly bothered Leonard and forced him into tough shots. Ben’s uptick in intensity has been a revelation — “Finally, THIS is the DPOY candidate-level D we thought Ben was capable of!” — and it has more than made up for what has been a so-so offensive performance as far as counting stats are concerned. If the Sixers are to take the series lead in Game 3, there’s a high likelihood it comes at least partially as a result of strong defense on Kawhi from Simmons.
While Kawhi Leonard’s Game 2 performance was a downgrade relative to that of Game 1, the opposite can be said about Jimmy Butler’s performance. After seeming reserved in the first meeting, Butler took the reins of the offense in Game 2, nearly doubling his field goal attempts from Game 1. Butler wrapped up a 30/10/5 night with a 12-minute, 12-point 4th quarter. It was a comforting resurgence for Philly fans, as many key Sixers have underwhelmed on the offensive side of the ball in this series.
Perhaps most notable of the underwhelmers: Joel Embiid. Embiid, who has been bogged down with injury and illness, has been solid defensively but he’s yet to find his groove as a scorer. If you hadn’t watched yourself, you wouldn’t have believed me if I told you the Sixers beat Toronto in a game in which Joel scored just 12 points, yet here we are. While this series may come down to a coaching battle, there’s a sense that Embiid rounding into form on the offensive end could give Philly a significant momentum boost. Returning to home court for Game 3 may give Embiid the adrenaline rush he needs to get going.
Embiid has shook the “will he or won’t he play” status, as he is listed as active for Game 3 rather than a game-time decision. But it just wouldn’t be a Sixers injury report without a game-time decision, and there are indeed two: Mike Scott and Greg Monroe. Mike Scott has yet to play in this series, and although they’ve gotten productive bench minutes, the Sixers would love to have their sixth man back. I can’t believe this is real life but Greg Monroe was a very valuable asset in Game 2, alleviating the need to play Boban Marjanovic, who does not exactly have the fleetest of feet. If Monroe can’t go, the Sixers are thin on options in Embiid-less minutes.
The most important matchup for the remaining games of this series very well may be Nick Nurse versus Brett Brown. Brown’s tactics in Game 2 were crucial to the Sixers’ success. It will be very interesting to see how Nurse responds in Game 3. (David Early laid out four counterstrategies Nurse could employ.)
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic