As the Sixers started their preseason without Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, facing a Raptors team energized by their return to Toronto after more than a year away from home, they wound up losing their first game, 123-107.
The Sixers shot just 8-of-34 from three and struggled to create offensively against the Raptors’ host of athletic, rangy wings and forwards. As the Raptors shot 50 percent overall (they scored easily against super small lineups with Georges Niang at center) and hit 15 triples at a 44.1 percent clip, the game wasn’t close after the Sixers lost their early lead. The Raptors had plenty of contributions from their young guys as well, from Scottie Barnes showing off his disruptive defense and energy as a playmaker and finisher, to Justin Champagnie adding 17 points off the bench. OG Anunoby led the way with a well-rounded scoring night to finish with 21 points.
Heading into Thursday’s rematch, the Raptors have a few more players sidelined. Khem Birch (health and safety protocols), Chris Boucher (finger dislocation), Pascal Siakam (shoulder rehabilitation) and Yuta Watanabe (calf strain) are all out.
For the Sixers, Matisse Thybulle is questionable with right shoulder soreness. Grant Riller suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in Monday’s loss, and will undergo surgery and be re-evaluated in two weeks. Meanwhile, Harris and Embiid are both off the injury report this time. Doc Rivers said at Wednesday’s practice that he expects them both to play.
As a result, we should also get our first glimpse at some new lineup combinations, such as a Niang-Embiid frontcourt and Embiid getting more run working with young guards like Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton and Isaiah Joe.
Even though the Sixers didn’t get off to the best start to open their preseason, there are some positives to take away from Monday’s loss as we start looking ahead.
Andre Drummond wasn’t as strong in the second half, but his Sixers debut went about as well as any fan could have asked for. In 24 minutes, he tallied 19 points, 14 rebounds (5 offensive), 3 assists, and 4 blocks. While he did have 5 turnovers (from miscommunication with teammates at times, or simply forcing unwise reads), Drummond still made a few neat passes from the top of key, rolled to the rim with energy, and bullied Toronto’s small lineups on the glass as you’d expect.
Seth Curry and Isaiah Joe also stood out. Curry’s aggression rose in the second quarter as he started hunting for more shots (including threes off the dribble) and he finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 17 minutes. Joe made the most of his 25 minutes, scoring 18 points, shooting 4-of-8 from three, and adding 3 steals and a block.
It will be huge for the Sixers’ offense if Curry can maintain the aggressiveness and increased three-point volume he reached late last regular season and in the playoffs, now that he’s many more months removed from dealing with COVID. And as for Joe, if he can keep showcasing his high-level shooting, sharp defense, and improving handle/playmaking (as he did on Monday and in Summer League), his case for minutes this year will only grow stronger.
Paul Reed provided some more active, encouraging play in the preseason opener. His energy didn’t let up as he grabbed 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks in his 22 minutes, showing off his mobility on the perimeter and ability to deter shots around the rim.
If Reed can limit his fouls, keep developing his jumper (he didn’t hesitate to attempt 2 threes on Monday), and operate in a limited offensive role with screening, dives to the rim, spot-ups, and occasional drives, he could contribute a few more minutes this season. As Embiid’s preseason minutes will be heavily limited, keep watching Reed closely.
Then there’s the not-so-positive end of the spectrum. Apart from a team’s expected preseason miscues — like defensive breakdowns, or communication errors and errant passes on offense — Shake Milton had a shaky performance on Monday. After an excellent few weeks to open last season, Milton’s play has been up and down since. He’s best as a complementary guard and off-ball shooter. When he’s tasked with a lot of ball-handling responsibility, he’s had some struggles. Milton doesn’t have too much burst, craftiness with the ball, or advanced playmaking to comfortably lead an offense. With Ben Simmons holding out, though, the Sixers have no choice but to deal with a rotation short on ball-handlers.
Of course, you can’t take much from one preseason game. But concerns about Milton’s play in more of a lead role are fair when looking at his career overall. It will be interesting to see if he can settle down at all on Thursday and find his footing in the coming weeks.
When: 7:00 pm ET, October 7, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic