• In our look at Game 3 of the series between the Sixers and Raptors, we discussed what Toronto needed to change in order to get back on track following a shellacking in Philadelphia.

    Ultimately, the Raptors were leaving too many points on the board by overusing bad bench groups, having their complementary players play far too passively and getting barely any production from anyone not named Kawhi.

    In Game 4, we saw the Raptors respond accordingly, checking off all of the items on their wish list in tying the series at two.

    In Game 5, we saw what that same approach looked like on rocket fuel – and when they start knocking down threes.

    What’s more, they were able to hit their greatest heights yet without Kawhi Leonard playing the role of Atlas.

    Leonard put up a “pedestrian” 21 points, 13 rebounds and two steals on 7-of-16 shooting, though he did still manage to let everyone know who was in charge. Sometimes two points are not just two points.


    Kawhi certainly put the punctuation on the evening, but Game 5 was a complete team effort, with six players hitting double figures and the non-Leonard Raptors combining for 104 points on 33-of-66 shots. This is the first time in the series that they’ve managed to score more than 63 points or top 45 percent from the field (both in Game 1), though the numbers become even more stark when you consider that Pascal Siakam went 12-for-15 in Game 1 to really drag those numbers upwards.

    The formula from Tuesday night was a lot of what showed up in Game 4, only with an extra step or two taken. For all the talk about a series being subject to ebbs and flows and each game being unique after accounting for the punch-counterpunch rhythm of adjustments, the groundwork Toronto put into Game 4 paid off in spades.

    Kyle Lowry remained in attack mode, hitting a pull-up three for the Raptors’ first bucket after some two-man play with Marc Gasol. He’d follow that up by blowing past Tobias Harris and earning free throws, again off a screen from Gasol.

    Although the following shot doesn’t drop, it’s about as good a look as Nick Nurse could ever hope to draw up. Danny Green is able to get past Harris and force Embiid to step up. Back on the perimeter, Jimmy Butler chooses to prevent a pass back to Gasol, instead surrendering a wide-open three from Leonard that uses every inch of the rim before rolling out. That’s not a choice that gets made if Gasol isn’t coming off a game where he scored 16 points with 13 attempts.


    When Lowry and Gasol are looking to score, the additional driving and passing lanes that open up are abundant.

    The second important note from Game 4 is that Serge Ibaka finally came through with a good game, giving the Raptors some much-needed bench production. He delivered again in Game 5, and with Gasol and Lowry posing threats from the perimeter, suddenly Ibaka was able to get buckets like this:


    It would appear that the decisiveness exhibited by others spread to Ibaka as well, as he wasn’t shy about stopping and popping from his spots. That sort of mindset only opened things up further for the Raptors. Even Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell were able to get in on the act with productive stints.

    VanVleet in particular needed a performance like this in the worst way, and you could feel the tension release from the building when he knocked down his first shot of the game (great job by Powell to cut Redick off on any potential closeout, too):


    His lack of size in this matchup has been a major issue, but to his credit he was able to stick with J.J. Redick (holding him to no points and 0-for-3 shooting in 22 possessions) and also played mouse in the house for this steal off a lackadaisical Embiid that kickstarted a transition opportunity:


    Nick Nurse’s lineups continued to tighten as well. The unit with three bench players was not used at all until garbage time, with Patrick McCaw falling out of the mix. Gasol mirrored Embiid a little more closely, and the Gasol-Ibaka group helped control the glass again. The Sixers missing so many shots meant that the Raptors unsurprisingly won the rebound battle, though their big lineup didn’t allow any offensive boards in 14 minutes together.

    Most importantly for the Raptors, they saw Pascal Siakam look like himself in Game 5. His limitations in Game 4 opened the door for players like Gasol, Ibaka and Lowry to find their footing offensively, but they need Siakam at his best in order to live up to their potential.

    He wasn’t all the way back on Tuesday, though it’s hard to argue with a team-high 25 points, eight rebounds, two steals, a block and two triples in 34 minutes. Siakam still had some issues navigating Embiid’s conservative defensive coverage and is being shepherded into outside shots, but knocking down a few early jumpers seemed to jumpstart his game.

    Digging deeper, the Raptors also made more of an effort to attack Redick defensively, which is something we discussed following Game 2. Danny Green was able to involve himself in the play as a screener (which was also discussed after Game 2) on multiple occasions, with Redick looking largely helpless in the instances below.

    On this play Redick has only cursory interest in guarding Siakam, and he’s already moving back to Green before Harris is through the screen:


    On this one, Leonard ends up with free throws as Redick plays matador. It’s a great effort by Leonard to avoid Embiid, who’s in a good position, but keep an eye on Redick once Kawhi goes past – he steps out into a completely useless spot on the court, and if need be both Green and Siakam are open to a staggering degree:


    Here’s one more where Redick simply ends up on Siakam and can provide no resistance, ultimately leading to an easy basket for Ibaka.


    Though the off-ball part of Green’s night was a nice wrinkle, he still paid the bills by going 5-of-7 from deep. That level of proficiency should worry the Sixers deeply.

    The sneaky, underlying part of the series up through Game 4 was that the Raptors were missing quality threes by the handful. The top 3-point shooting team in the league after acquiring Gasol had gone just 31.9 percent through four games with Philly, and even accounting for a changing shot share that mark seemed out of whack. Game 5 was the first of the series in which the Raptors, who shot 36.6 percent as a team in the regular season, hit over 33.3 percent from deep.

    After starting off the series 22-for-70 on wide-open threes the Raptors went 10-for-26 in Game 5, blowing things open and making the Sixers pay for awful transition defense or sending extra help.

    It was still short of their 40.9 percentage mark from the regular season.

    As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, simply banking on shooting regression isn’t a viable strategy in a short series. There were other changes that needed to be made that bolstered the team’s odds of victory even if the shooters remained in a collective funk.

    It certainly helps when those shots go in, though.

    On Tuesday evening Brett Brown mentioned that doubling Leonard still isn’t a viable strategy in his eyes, as it would invite a number of 3-point opportunities to a good, albeit struggling 3-point shooting team. He’ll need to go back to the drawing board in a big way, as it certainly looks like he might’ve missed the window where double-teaming would stand a chance.

    Through four games the Raptors’ shooters were ice cold and Kawhi Leonard was unstoppable. In Game 5 we saw Leonard spread the wealth, with 3-point shooters responding in kind. If leaving cold shooters open was unamenable to the Sixers, they may be out of options now that the Raptors can get a night’s sleep knowing things have turned around for their perimeter guys.

    Toronto battled through the “need to hit open shots” stretch, splitting two easy wins and two nail-biters. They’ve taken lessons from each and made the proper adjustments at the right time, with key players stepping to the plate. That may not sound like much, but both of those areas have been issues for this franchise in the past.

    There is surely a much better effort coming from Philadelphia in Game 6. For as much as the Raptors did right, the Sixers looked worn down and tired as soon as they surrendered an early first-quarter lead. Still, the Raptors locked in, firing on all cylinders and going right for the jugular.

    In Game 5, we saw what it looks like when the Raptors commit to the best version of themselves and shots start dropping. Tuesday’s Raptors are what the team is built to be.

    Other Observations

    1 – Garbage time isn’t typically revealing, but it’s notable how both coaches chose to operate with the game settled. The Sixers went with the very end of their bench, dumping out a handful of players who will not play another meaningful minute this season. The Raptors staggered their group, only removing the final rotation player with about two minutes left. It’s been a major struggle for Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell so far this series, and getting that opportunity to work in a no-pressure spot might be good for getting some rhythm back.

    2 – Embiid gets some kind of pass for playing when he’s clearly dealing with a relatively serious illness, but a few of the mistakes from Tuesday are inexcusable whether you’re fresh as a daisy or on your death bed. The Sixers lost the turnover battle handily (19-10), and of Embiid’s grotesque eight turnovers you can say that maybe three or four were a result of the illness/defense. Plays like this absolutely cannot happen:


    3 – This Leonard jam signaled the unofficial end of the game, but watch what happens off the ball:


    That screen from Lowry should look familiar, because it’s the second time in two games he’s used it to lock up Embiid and pave the way for an easy dunk:


    4 – Redick and Harris need to get going. Together, they outscored Danny Green by one point on Tuesday. Harris has managed to avoid getting roasted in the post despite guarding bigger players, largely because the Raptors haven’t had to spam that play. He’s also the most gifted scorer on the team that isn’t attracting serious defensive attention, and the Sixers should not be shying away from him working on Ibaka in space. As for Redick, this was the first game in which we saw the Raptors really dig into him on the defensive side of the equation, and he’ll need to do better than three points if Toronto is trying to force him off the floor. It’s a mild surprise we haven’t seen more Redick-Embiid screen actions, since it’s an easy way to create a sliver of space or a total mismatch considering the personnel involved. Redick’s fit on this roster is obvious and necessary, but Harris looks a bit lost in the shuffle.

    5 – One of the the other developments in Game 4 was the Raptors getting Ibaka into deep post position before feeding him the ball. Gasol was trying for the exact same move here but decided to pull the trigger on a three instead. Side note – the coverage here from Embiid is… un-good.


    6 – With Embiid sick, and his unorthodox substitution pattern leading to strange lineups anyway, the Sixers have a major problem at the backup five. Here’s the exact moment where Greg Monroe played himself out of this series:


    7 – Mike Scott is going to need to take on a larger role between the center issues and James Ennis turning back into a pumpkin over the last couple of outings, and he posted 10 points with a pair of triples on 4-of-5 shooting in Game 5. He shot 26-of-41 against the Raptors in the playoffs last year with Washington, averaging 10.8 points and 1.2 triples in 21.0 mpg. He presents a tough cover for Toronto’s double-big lineups, and pulling anyone away from the lane should help Philly’s efforts in terms of driving and shooting from the mid-range.

    8 – Boban Marjanovic showed his utility for a few moments in garbage time – enough to make you think that he might be a passable choice at a backup center spot that’s now totally vacant. He promptly followed that up by getting turned around by the Jeremy Lin – Eric Moreland two-man game. Sorry to the Boban dreamers out there.

    9 – Greg Anthony made a salient point on the TNT broadcast tonight in that the Sixers are hanging on because of Jimmy Butler (this series is already over without him saving Game 2) even though the team isn’t at its best when he’s their primary scorer. Butler can certainly get his own buckets, but he’s being forced into a lot of mid-range work. They’re shots that the Sixers shouldn’t be eager to take, as they compound the team’s spacing problem and completely remove Simmons from the equation. At the end of the day somebody has to score, but the Sixers have resorted to one of their least-dynamic forms.

    10 –The Raptors seem comfortable at any pace here. Run and they can really open it up with Siakam and transition threes and defensively they have four players they can trust to pick up Simmons in transition. Slow it down and they’re more than willing to let Leonard shred the defense on one end and let Simmons stand in the corner on the other. You wouldn’t think that Philly would want to up the tempo, especially with all of Embiid’s issues, but they’re facing elimination and might try to spark Simmons (and Redick’s transition shots) any way they can. If they keep turning it over at this rate, however, they won’t have much say in the matter.

Fantasy News

  • Vlatko Cancar
    SF, Denver Nuggets

    Vlatko Cancar (ankle) hurt his ankle during Sunday's practice.

    The ankle injury may put his availability in question for opening night. An update should be coming out with more information regarding the injury, but Cancar should not be on any draft boards regardless.

    Source: Harrison Wind on Twitter

  • Rodney McGruder
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Rodney McGruder (high ankle sprain) is questionable to play in Tuesday's opening game versus the Lakers.

    McGruder is noted to be progressing well, but high ankle sprains tend to be tricky and if re-injured could shelf a player for several weeks. If McGruder is healthy enough to suit up he figures absorb some of Paul George's would-be minutes.

    Source: Tomer Azarly on Twitter

  • Alen Smailagic
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Alen Smailagic (right ankle sprain) has a chance to play in Thursday's season opener.

    Smailagic was expected to miss a decent amount of time, so him not being ruled out is somewhat shocking. There is no reason to look at Smailagic in any drafts, but him missing time could funnel more minutes to Jordan Poole.

    Source: Logan Murdock on Twitter

  • Willie Cauley-Stein
    C, Golden State Warriors

    Willie Cauley-Stein (left foot strain) will not play in Thursday's season opener.

    WCS has been cleared fr non-contact drills, but with Kevon Looney looking health it makes the call easier to take the cautious approach. WCS will be looking like Looney's primary backup.

    Source: Logan Murdock on Twitter

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
    PG, New York Knicks

    The Knicks will not announce their starting point guard until Wednesday.

    Death, taxes and Knicks head coach David Fizdale doing Fizdale-like stuff. The battle has been between Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr., while Frank Ntilikina sits in the background. It appears that after a few more days of practice Fizdale will have the sample size he needs to make confirm his starter, but for now they both remain as late-round fliers.

    Source: Marc Berman on Twitter

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (left foot stress reaction) has been ruled out of Tuesday's season opener.

    This isn't a shocker considering Kuzma has yet to be cleared for contact. He is still participating in non-contact half-court drills, but has no firm timetable to return.

    Source: Bill Oram on Twitter

  • Kevon Looney
    PF-C, Golden State Warriors

    Kevon Looney (right hamstring strain) will play in Thursday's game and possibly open as the starting center.

    Looney practiced on Sunday and looked good to go. Looney is the favorite to start, it just seems like his health will determine whether or not he does. Looney offers late-round appeal in standard leagues and remains a sleeper on most boards.

    Source: Monte Pool on Twitter

  • Isaiah Taylor
    PG, Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors have waived Isaiah Taylor.

    Taylor signed to a partially guaranteed deal back in September, but did not stand out did training camps. He had a stint with the Hawks back during the 2017-18 season and will likely get picked up by another team and relegated to the G-League.

    Source: Josh Lewenberg on Twitter

  • Paul George
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Paul George (right rotator cuff and left labrum tear) does not have a timetable in which he could participate in full-contact drills.

    Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said the team is expecting to be without George with at least the first 10 games, which would put his return to mid-November. Moe Harkless looks like the most likely candidate to fill in for George during his absence.

    Source: Mark Medina on Twitter

  • Jalen McDaniels
    PF, Charlotte Hornets

    The Hornets have converted Jalen McDaniels to a multi-year contract.

    McDaniels was playing on a two-way contract before being signed longterm. This will open up another possible two-way contract for the Hornets.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter