On a Collision Course
The Toronto Raptors Philadelphia 76ers have quickly recovered after losing game 1 of the first round. Both teams won 4 straight games and have advanced to the conference semi-finals. On the same night where the Raptors took the Magic out of Orlando, the 76ers sent the Brooklyn Nets home for the season.
Since the playoff brackets were set it seemed these two teams were destined to meet in round 2 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Atlantic Division rivals met four times in 2018-19 with the Raptors winning the season series 3 games to 1.
The interesting part is that these teams played all their games against each other before the trade deadline. The 76ers traded for Tobias Harris, and the Raptors picked up Marc Gasol at the deadline. Nonetheless, the Raptors dominated the regular season matchup against Philadelphia with a margin of victory of 12.6 points in 3 wins. Even so, how do these teams matchup now that much more is at stake?
Lining up the Starting 5
X-factors at the Point: Lowry vs. Simmons
Both players are extremely crucial to the success of their teams. Lowry’s shooting and offensive production is arguably the Raptors’ biggest x-factor in every playoff series of the past 5 postseasons. When Lowry’s shot is falling and he is aggressively attacking the basket, the Raptors become even tougher to defend.
Ben Simmons, on the other hand, needs to find a way to be productive when he’s not handling the ball. Simmons’ reluctance to shoot jump shots could hurt the 76ers spacing, allowing the Raptors defense to hone in on shooters. Simmons and Lowry must be at their best if their teams want to succeed in this series.
Look for Lowry at times to defend Simmons in the post, as he has had success defending larger players on the block. If the Raptors continue running off-ball screens for Lowry, he should be able to either get open shots from deep or an open lane to the rim.
If Simmons can somehow find a way to be effective off-ball, maybe by setting screens for shooters and cutting to the basket, he can possibly tip the series in the 76ers favour. Expect either Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam to be the primary options to defend Simmons, should Nick Nurse decide to put Lowry on another player.
Shooting Guards not Shooting well
Jimmy Butler averaged 15.8 points in the first round, but his shooting has been disappointing so far, a measly 27.3% from the 3-point line. Danny Green has also similarly struggled from the distance, shooting a respectable 35.7% from deep, down from the exceptional 40.4% in the regular season.
Both players are key to each team’s spacing. If Butler or Green are not hitting shots, the opposing team’s defense will be able to close in on their defensive assignments. Butler most likely won’t be assigned to guard Green, unless Head Coach Brett Brown decides to be basic in his defensive coverages.
Butler will probably be tasked to guard Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter, while someone like Ben Simmons could get the defensive assignment against Danny Green.
This is going to be a good one. In the entire run that the Raptors have had dating back to the Brooklyn series, never have they had a non-LeBron James opponent as formidable as these Sixers. It is the first real, legitimate test the team faces as they look to achieve what we have been waiting for over the span of years and years. It’s scary, but it’s exciting, and it begins now.