It’s not every day that your favorite team gets victimized by a “Swatterboy” who would make toothpicks feel a bit husky, but that’s exactly where many of us sit at this moment. The Philadelphia 76ers lost 110-103 to the Toronto Raptors last night, after their nine-point lead was incinerated by Chris Boucher late in the third quarter.
The 6-foot-9, 200-pound backup center hit not one, not two, not three (?), not four (???!!!), but FIVE STRAIGHT THREES over a five-minute span in the game. The Sixers were feeling good, up 82-73 in Tampa Bay, only to look up after 300 seconds of action and see that Toronto had tied the game of 89. Five made field goals comprising 15 of the Raptors’ 16 points came in that stretch, with a Fred VanVleet free throw being Philly’s only respite from the Boucher barrage.
The Sixers still hold the East’s best record at 20-11, though their lead has shrunk all the way down to a 0.5-game margin in front of the surging Brooklyn Nets. Here’s a look at the stretch that doomed the Sixers in their 11th loss of the 2021 season.
No. 1 — A miscalculated gamble from Thybulle gets the ball rolling
Pretty basic mistake that seemed trivial in the moment but allowed Boucher to whet his appetite from deep. Matisse eyed a backcourt interception and after failing to get it, he’s left trailing the dangerous VanVleet. Tobi and Shake fail to communicate properly as they both seek to stop FVV driving into the paint, and ‘Tisse peels to De’Andre Bembry after he sees Harris leave him open. Thybulle gives a decent stunt to make Boucher hesitate, but it’s not enough to prevent the early 3 for the trailing big.
No. 2 — Fred VanVleet’s hands must be on steroids
It’s common knowledge on super nerd NBA Twitter that FVV has the best defensive hands of any NBA guard. He is an absolute menace to large dudes trying to post up and drive the gaps in peace, tearing away the ball almost like he’s a black hole of steals. The Wichita State alum straight-up ripped Embiid on a drive, got the fast break started and found Boucher on the trail again, rewarding the big for how hard he sprinted down the floor.
Curse you Fred VanVleet. The Sixers would have gotten away with this possession if it wasn't for you and your meddling bear trap hands. pic.twitter.com/yJt6AxEkHV— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) February 22, 2021
No. 3 — Dwight Howard made a huge mistake (drink)
The Raptors’ offense had stagnated due to their own lack of initiative and some good dribble drive defense, leaving the Sixers in good position with Pascal Siakam trying to isolate versus Mr. Perimeter Defense himself, Ben Simmons. Spicy P meanders into the mid-range, appears to be relegated to a bad shot, only for Dwight to get caught cheating for a defensive rebound. He drops down all the way into the paint once Siakam shot fakes, completely abandoning the hottest man in the building at that moment.
Assistant Coach Sam Cassell summed up the lapse on Howard’s part pretty accurately.
No. 4 — Some curious choices in pick-and-roll coverage
De’Andre Bembry may be shooting 42.1 percent from 3 this season, but he’s doing so on limited volume (only 2.8 3PA per 100 this season) and he’s a career 27.9 percent shooter from deep. Therefore, I would not advise Seth Curry to go over the ball screen, forcing Dwight to veer over to Bembry, and leaving Boucher the bomber open yet again. Howard could have played that pick-and-roll game of cat and mouse a bit better, and his effort to recover to the very threatening Boucher is non-existent, but he’s not the primary culprit in this breakdown. Shake Milton showed good off-ball awareness to jump out and do his best to contest Boucher. Unfortunately, Shake fell victim to the long-standing basketball truth that being shorter than your opponents kind of matters!
No. 5 — A very rare slip up for Ben Simmons
Tobias Harris and Danny Green getting beat off the dribble by quicker drivers is expected from time to time. Seth Curry getting bullied in the post by bigger wings (read: OG Anunoby last night) is going to happen. But Simmons? He, along with Joel Embiid, is usually rock solid on the defensive end in every facet, making this gaffe particularly strange and frustrating.
It’s just my outside observation here, but it appeared as though Ben assumed that Siakam was stepping up from the free throw line to the arc to set a ball screen for Bembry, and he locked his focus on those two and missed the rub screen Siakam was setting on Boucher in his periphery. The screen connects on Tobias, the Raptors have good five-out spacing to keep all help away, and dagger number five is on its way through the hoop. Tough scene.
No. 6 — Sixers fix their previous error, but the secondary option gets them
The very next possession, Toronto came down and attacked with the exact same play, only this time Ben and Tobi were on high alert and snuffed it out. But no matter, the Raptors simply flowed into their next option, and due to the Sixers’ increased intent on stopping Boucher and some bad body positioning from Shake Milton, got an easy layup.
Shake jumped too far out on the pin down for Terence Davis, almost as if he were trying to cheat the passing lane for a steal, and is now stuck behind his man. Tobias has help responsibility as the low man, but he was so concerned with Boucher that he didn’t turn his head to see the incoming attack until it was too late for his slower, ground-bound prowess as a rim protector.
Overall, it was a very poor and lackadaisical stretch of play that the team needs to evaluate and correct as they battle the Raptors once again on Tuesday night.