The Philadelphia 76ers lost Game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday by a score of 108-95. Although the Sixers showed a solid fight, Toronto led the game for most of the contest. If Philadelphia is going to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and fulfill the expectations of their fan base, then they are going to have to make serious adjustments going into game two and beyond.
In the first half of Saturday’s game, Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam outscored the 76ers’ starting five by a score of 49-40. Philadelphia simply could not find a way to shut down Toronto’s two best players and neither Leonard nor Siakam slowed down at any point in the game. Philadelphia simply lacked the size and the length to consistently cover all of Toronto’s threats between Leonard, Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. During much of the game, Tobias Harris was tasked with defending Leonard and struggled greatly as Leonard had the moves to drive into the paint, but also shot 42.9 percent from beyond to tally a total of 45 points on the night. No one could stop Siakam either, and both Joel Embiid and backup center Boban Marjanovic couldn’t find an answer for Gasol’s contested shooting ability. The game was a true nightmare for Philadelphia defensively.
Toronto, however, was able to create successful schemes against the Sixers. For much of the first half, J.J Reddick was limited in the amount of good looks he was able to get from beyond the arc, as he went 0-4 in the first half. Although Reddick did open up his scoring in the third quarter, there wasn’t much of a collective offensive effort from the 76ers. Philadelphia went 39.3% on field goals compared to Toronto’s 51.9%, and while neither team shot the three point ball particularly well, Philadelphia will need to do better than 34.4% from three point land if they want to stop this high powered Toronto offense.
Ultimately, if the 76ers are going to win this series, they’re going to have to shoot lights out on three pointers consistently and often to match Toronto’s numerous scoring options. Harris and Reddick need to get open and make their chances when they get them, while Embiid is going to need to dominate the paint by getting fouls and putting up close to 30 a night. Jimmy Butler is going to need to improve on his ten point, five assist and three rebound stat line by unselfishly running the offense when he is at the point and becoming more of an auxiliary player than one who feels he has to put the team on his back. Finally, the Sixers are going to hope that players like Mike Scott (whose presence was surely missed during game one) and James Ennis can step up big, as the bench is going to need to keep scoring at least 20-30 points a night to support the offensive starters.
As hard as it is to say, this game may come down to Brett Brown’s ability to coach at a high-caliber level. The Sixers have a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about that, but what’s more important is how it’s utilized. Brown is going to have to figure out a scheme that rotates the starting five enough to keep at least three starters on the court at all times, and when they’re on the court, somebody has to limit Leonard’s high-percentage chances. Philadelphia hasn’t won in Toronto since 2012 and this series may very well come down to a game seven in Toronto if the Sixers can win all three contests in Philly. They may need some help from the Drake curse, but if Philadelphia can score like they did against Brooklyn for the remainder of the series, then that might just be enough regardless of what they do defensively.
Andrew Heller is a second-year graduate student majoring in English. AH804286@wcupa.edu