While Kawhi Leonard and his frontcourt partner Pascal Siakam combined for 74 of Toronto’s 108 points, it was the Raptors’ defense that ensured their victory over Philadelphia in Game 1. The Raptors finished the night with 6 blocks and forced 14 turnovers, while their swarming defense held Philly to 11-32 shooting from distance. Philadelphia’s stars could not get anything going against Toronto, with Joel Embiid bearing the brunt of the Raptors’ efforts. Embiid found his endeavors in the post stymied by superb one-on-one defense by Marc Gasol and a slew of well timed double teams. Gasol was impressive against Embiid, consistently staying a step ahead as his counterpart progressed from one slow-motion post move to another. When Embiid checked out with roughly 7 minutes to go in the game, he was left with 16 points on 5-18 shooting and thoroughly cooked. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were equally putrid, shooting 4-12 and 6-17 respectively, with Harris’ 5 turnovers serving as a cherry on top of Philly’s turd sundae. Toronto turned those turnovers into opportunities, scoring 21 fast break points for the game.
The Raptors kept up the energy on the offensive side of the court, forcing the issue by taking advantage of Philly’s languid transition defense. Embiid and fellow plodding Sixers center Boban Marjanovic were ineffective against the Raptors attacking offense through the course of the game. Toronto attacked the Sixers big men on the pick and roll as Embiid was unwilling to step out and guard the mid-range. The mid-season addition of Gasol proved beneficial on offense as well. The veteran Spaniard has expanded the gravity of Toronto’s offense, drawing Philly’s big men away from the rim with his shooting and opening up driving lanes for his teammates. Gasol finished 2-4 from 3 and had 4 assists on the night. The Raptors made a concerted effort to get to the freethrow line, led by Leonard’s 10-11 shooting from the stripe.
It was Leonard who took it home for Toronto, hanging 45 on a Philly team that had no answer for him. A sequence with roughly 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter typified his efforts throughout the game when Leonard stuffed a lazy Harris drive leading to a fast break dunk for Siakam. On the next Toronto possession following a badly bricked Butler three point attempt, Leonard drew a double team on a drive and kicked it out to Danny Green for an open corner 3.
As the teams look forward to Game 2, the Sixers need to jump start their offense by manufacturing better looks for themselves. Philly’s possessions too often digressed into four players standing around watching Embiid move sluggishly in the post, only to be stopped at the rim or forced to kick the ball out for a contested 3. Despite Butler’s poor performance Saturday night, it would behoove Philly to rely more on the guard to generate half court offense. He’s their best one-on-one options and Toronto’s defense has too much speed and smarts to be lulled to sleep by Embiid’s efforts in the post. While the Raptors can’t rely on another 45 point effort from Leonard and need more scoring from players not named Kawhi and Pascal, their plan for the Game 2 can be the same as Game 1: create offense with their defense and attack the statues in the middle of the Sixers D. This looks to be a shorter series than a lot of us may have thought.