PHILADELPHIA – From the moment Kawhi Leonard moved the ball on Thursday night in the Toronto Raptor’s 112-101 loss in the hands of Philadelphia 76ers, he encountered several bodies.
This seems to be an obvious answer to an attacking wing that has mounted one of the most productive individual runs in the NBA post-season history, but over the past two weeks in an eastern conference semifinals now tied in 3-3, Sixers has been selective when sending traps and quick help to Leonard. Philadelphia’s decision not to throw Leonard’s kitchen sink as a matter of course has been a surprise to Raptor’s players and staff, who had happily tried Leonard in this series.
The Raptors were also well aware that, against elimination, Sixers would almost certainly intensify their attention to Leonard in the midfield in Games 6. It may interfere with Raptor’s offensive rhythm, but it would be a steady open-minded diet to everyone else. Raptor’s willingness to take these shots and drain them would largely determine whether the Raptors would travel on Sunday to the Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference finals or to downtown Toronto for a crucial seventh match against Philadelphia.
When Sixers rammed their dual teams into the post, these shots were available to the Raptors ̵
1; and they missed them at an exceptional rate on Thursday. Overall, Toronto missed 13 of its 20 uncontested field trials in the first three quarters of Game 6, including seven of its nine uncontested 3 pointers. In contrast, Raptors ranked seventh in the league this season on uncontested 3-pointers of 41.4 percent, per second spectrum.
“We had very open appearance early and we missed them,” said Raptor’s guard Kyle Lowry. “We didn’t play well tonight.”
Actions trigger results, and just as the attention of Leonard created shot opportunities for Toronto, they adopted the corresponding misses of Raptors Six’s transitional attack, which has been their single biggest offensive imperative.
“It was just a point to actually do that and not [just] talk about it,” said Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. “Of course I’m pretty fast, so I can push the ball. I think it was only aggressively done and just played my game.”
For all flags Jared Dudley took over his evaluation of Simmons as a fatal transitional shot but an “average” half-player, the diagnosis is quite on the point – and no one is more aware of it than Simmons and Sixers. Deteriorating an external shot, Simmons thrives at a high pace, and Raptor’s clankers barrage was the accelerant he desperately needed after fighting in the series. He broke out with 21 points of 9 to 13 shots from the field, 8 rebounds and 6 assists without turnover.
“Of course I’m pretty fast, so I can push the ball” Ben Simmons said. “I think it was only aggressively done and just playing my game.” AP Photo / Chris Szagola
Meanwhile, the raptors have let their solid transitional defense throughout the season and playoffs, but they stumbled one step slowly in too many early offensive situations at Sixers’ end. Even when the raptors were occupied, they were exposed on the glass, where they were again disturbed by Sixers size. Toronto allowed Philadelphia to collect 39 percent of its missed shots for additional assets, and the Raptors continue to get the worst recovery rate for the remaining teams with a significant margin.
“We need to restore the baskets better and just kind of the border transition,” Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said. “We have to limit them to a shot and make them play in the halfway.”
Siakam’s commentary highlighted a reality revealed in Game 6 that informs Sunday’s Game 7: Structure favors Toronto in the game. That’s not to say that the Raptors need a half round game; They are incredibly effective during the break, which leads the league in points per transitional holding during the regular season.
But the Raptors are a law based on collective intelligence to perform straight actions. Even when Leonard works up in a pick-or-roll or in isolation, he is a land surveyor who is timing gap and looking at the defenders while his teammates move with the intention of being in the best position to maximize a potential pass.
Jimmy Butler (an effective 25 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in Game 6) and Joel Embiid (17 points, 12 rebounds and a good-looking plus-40) give Philadelphia release valves on the wing and in the pole, respectively . But despite their individual skills, the Sixers offensive sets against Raptor’s strong base defense. Even on Thursday, Sixers succeeded with a sharp 87.3 points per 100 possessions in the half-course, according to Cleaning the Glass. It is possible that Sixers can pick up at the conference final through Butler, with Embiid beating several 3-pointers, but that is probably not the least of the way.
About Game 7 is an open-court affair, a dual-team shooting exhibition and encryption defense or a sequence of fits and starts, it represents one of the most high-profile games we have seen in recent years.
In the NBA’s final table, which is now down to seven participants, Toronto and Philadelphia are the two swashbucklers, the law that adopted the biggest players to mount their stack of chips. Both made their blockbuster industries over the past year with the expectation they would play past the conference semifinals. On Sunday, they will head-to-head in Toronto, both all-in.