The Philadelphia 76ers got their first win in Canada against the Toronto Raptors for the first time in years in game two, and they defended South Philly, tonight, in game three. The Sixers opened the first half with back-to-back 32-point quarters and got a dominating fourth quarter on the defensive end to take a 2-1 series lead with a 116-95 victory.
Game three was a tale of two players: Joel Embiid and Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard has been the end all/be all for the Raptors since coming over in the trade from San Antonio. So far in these playoffs, he has averaged over 30 points per game for a team that beat the Orlando Magic in round one and find themselves trailing in this series. Tonight was a lot of the same as the San Diego State alum finished with 33 points in 36 minutes.
Kawhi was on his usual level – which is another level. I must present his shot chart tonight because it was insane:
Towards the end of the third quarter, Leonard either scored or assisted on the Raptors last seven possessions to bring the Raptors to within eight to start the fourth.
The Sixers got a dominant counter from their big man, Joel Embiid. In just 28 minutes, Embiid had 33 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. The difference between the two stars of this game was simple: back up.
Going into this series, the Raptors were supposed to have a slight edge when it came to bench performers and other supporting cast mates in the starting five. (Note, I said SLIGHT edge.) Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors backups weren’t much of a factor. Pascal Siakam – who had a lights out game one but an off game two – didn’t have the kind of game he had in the series opener for the second straight game even though he did finish with 20 points off 15 shots.
Danny Green started the game hot going 3/3 from deep, but only finished with 13. Kyle Lowry was neutralized and was not a factor at all scoring just seven points in 37 minutes and the Raptors were -28 with him on the floor. (I won’t jinx things by saying that Lowry has become his playoff pumpkin self because I know the second I do that, he’ll drop 40. I’m not falling for the old baby on the corner trick, Kyle.)
Compare that to the help Embiid got.
Jimmy Butler scored 22 points. Tobias Harris added 13 and eight rebounds while doing some prime yeoman work in the paint against Marc Gasol – who finished with just seven points. JJ Redick added 15 points going 5/9 from the field (3/6 from three). Ben Simmons had just 10 points and seven rebounds, but for the second straight game, his primary defensive assignment was Leonard. Guarding someone like Leonard when he is on one kind of takes away your energy on the offensive end.
At the start of the fourth, the Raptors were only down eight, but in the two minutes Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse sat Leonard down, the Sixers went on a 10-0 run, and that was all she wrote. The Raptors never regained momentum, and by the middle of the fourth quarter, Embiid was windmilling basketballs and playing to the crowd.
It was a good night.
It had to be a good night. Teams that win game three are about 74% likely to win a best of seven series, so being up 2-1 with one more game in Philadelphia versus the adverse is a good thing.
Brett Brown said that despite his impressive offensive performance, it was Embiid’s defense (five blocks, etc.) that he found more enjoyable.
I go to defense. That’s what interests me the most to date with this series. When we talk about whatever we’re going to talk about, my mind goes straight there. He is our crown jewel defensively, and I suppose offensively, too. But certainly defensively. And his rim protection and blocking shot ability tonight stood out as much to me as anything in an incredible performance.
Speaking of enjoying themselves, when Embiid was asked about his fourth quarter windmill, Embiid simply smiled before saying that when he’s smiling, it basically means he is engaged and having fun.
That’s what we like, Joel.
Have fun at your opponent’s expense.
Game four is this Sunday, and there’s a chance (a CHANCE) that the Sixers will be up 3-1 going back to the north.