• For all the intricacies that fold into any one play of any one game, basketball can boil down to the simplest of conclusions — you’ve got to hit your shots.

    The Raptors had another atrocious evening from the field in Thursday’s Game 6, and their struggles allowed all of their bad habits from Game 3 to sneak back into focus. Beyond the points that weren’t scored, the Raptors reverted to an uglier, less-effective form as the scoreboard tilted.

    The Sixers also deserve tons of credit for making a concerted effort to get Ben Simmons going, and the barrage of defensive rebounds available kickstarted the transition game noticeably. Philadelphia took 24 shots in the restricted area in the first half of Game 6 alone, nearly reaching their series-high of 29 in just two quarters of action. It was a parade through the paint in the first half, and Simmons was able to arrive in this series as the game became more than a half-court slog.

    Attacking in transition also helped the Sixers get their preferred matchups on offense against a scrambling defense, with Jimmy Butler angling to work his way onto Danny Green or Kyle Lowry as much as possible.

    All told, Simmons and Butler combined for 34 points in the paint. Whenever Toronto flirted with a comeback push, one of the two was around to snuff it out and keep the lead large enough for the Sixers to take home a relatively comfortable win.

    From an offensive perspective, the Raptors began the game 2-of-10 from deep while the Sixers hit six of their first 10 tries, and a 3-for-17 showing in the first half snowballed into tentative, hesitant play throughout.

    Marc Gasol has rarely looked at above-the-break threes in this series, and the Sixers are cheating off him given his readiness to pass and total unwillingness to shoot.

    On the Raptors’ first offensive possession of the game, Gasol passed up a great look and ended up passing the ball to Danny Green in a playmaker spot. Green was left to put the ball on the floor against Jimmy Butler and turned the ball over on a bad pass. To make matters worse, Gasol committed a loose-ball foul on the play in an effort to stop the fast break. He needs to reserve all six of those fouls for his work on Embiid.

    It’s an extreme example, but it does illustrate how quickly a well-intentioned decision can lead to a number of bad outcomes.

    Gasol’s passivity was a running theme throughout the night, as he didn’t get his first points until the fourth quarter and took just two shots in 28 possessions against Tobias Harris. It’s a matchup that the Sixers have yet to pay for in this series, and it’s far too easy of a look for the Raptors not to exploit if it reappears in Game 7.

    Serge Ibaka was another player who struggled in Game 6, and some early misses seemed to get in his head. Ibaka’s resurgent play was a major part of Toronto’s wins in Games 4 and 5, but he returned to his early-series form in passing up good shots for difficult ones or giving the ball to teammates in tough spots. He also missed a pair of hook shots in close, which are shots that he’ll need to keep taking in mismatch situations. The Sixers haven’t been treating him like a shooting threat, which is the right call given the other personnel on the floor, but Ibaka can’t clog things up by hesitating when mid-range opportunities are open.

    To make matters worse, Nick Nurse went back to lineups that featured Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Ibaka on the floor at once. Those groups lack both the size and the playmaking to work against a team with as much length as Philadelphia, and they’ve popped back up after being limited to spot duty in earlier games. The lack of depth play has been brutal in this series, and the two teams have alternated getting lit up whenever their reserves are in the game. With a win-or-go-home scenario, expect to see some heavy minutes for the starters and a short leash for anyone who isn’t immediately making an impact off the bench.

    If the Raptors continue to second-guess themselves in such situations, expect Brett Brown to dial up the pressure on Kawhi Leonard. We’ve been seeing a few more doubles head Kawhi’s way as the series has gone on and though he has done a nice job navigating around that extra pressure outside of seven turnovers in Game 4, the Sixers might be able to go all-out if Toronto’s role players continue to let them down.

    The Raptors kept bricking uncontested shots, going 22-for-58 on such looks in Game 6. The Sixers were only slightly better at 18-for-46 but managed to go 23-for-43 on shots that were contested, whereas the Raptors went 13-for-23 in the category.

    It’s certainly frustrating to stay patient amidst miss after miss, but the Raptors should feel good about the volume and ratio of uncontested to contested shots eventually leading to the math breaking their way. They’ve been able to generate open shots with remarkable consistency, and a team of their true shooting talent should not shy away from open looks in the flow of the offense.

    Green went 1-for-6 on uncontested shots. Ibaka was 1-for-7. In a potential sign of the apocalypse, Leonard went just 4-of-12, including a few wide-open threes early in the game that proved to be harbingers of a tough night at the office as the Raptors went 7-of-25 on wide-open triples.

    Ultimately, though, the Raptors know what needs to happen. It’s a similar process that they had to work through after a poor Game 3 and they managed to make the proper adjustments.

    Shots may not drop, and that will have to be fine on Sunday. The Raptors will need to trust their own process and take the good shots presented to them; recent performance be damned.

    They’ve seen what happens when their offense gets tentative. They’ve seen it two times, and will watch the rest of the postseason from home if they see it a third.

    Toronto was able to refocus after the first instance, and now their season will ride on their ability to do it again.

    Sunday’s game may be a defining point for either franchise. Under the backdrop of their offseason and mid-season moves, the talent arms race and the impending summertime decisions for featured players, Game 7 will feature myriad narrative threads to follow and weave together. We may be able to look back on this game as the moment when everything changed, for better or worse, on either side.

    Despite everything that’s at stake, it’s a simple game. Hit your shots and everything will flow from there.

    Other Observations

    1 – The Sixers won the offensive rebounding battle by a 16-9 margin in Game 6. It’s much worse when you frame it as the Sixers grabbing a third of their own missed shots – 16 times on 48 missed field goals. Ben Simmons led the way with four, and one of the issues with the Raptors completely ignoring him in the half-court is that he’s free to crash the glass, often against a defender who’s left to help or who has their back turned on Simmons.

    2 – Pascal Siakam continues to be left completely alone above the break, and while he can hit those shots it’s clear that neither he nor the Raptors view them as ideal. We’ve seen them get more dribble hand-off and screen work involving Siakam to get him moving, and it’s worth watching to see if there are any new wrinkles ready in Game 7. Siakam’s had a hard time driving into Joel Embiid’s size, and he’s really shied away from shooting from outside. Neither is really a deal-breaker or all that unexpected, but the Raptors can probably squeeze a bit more out of him.

    3 – We spoke about Mike Scott’s history against the Raptors in our last column, and he came through with a big game on Thursday. 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with three triples in 20 minutes and a plus-29 sure fit the bill in a series where both teams have struggled to get anything from the bench consistently. He’s got to be the backup center option on Sunday for issues we’ll touch upon in a second. Scott presents a tough cover for the Raptors, especially with OG Anunoby out.

    4 – Joel Embiid continues to have a hard time scoring from the field on Marc Gasol. His best game so far this series (Game 3) featured a 9-for-18 night from the floor. It speaks to Embiid’s sheer impact that he’s been able to post such huge on-off differentials while not scoring a ton himself. For the series he’s shooting 36.4 percent against Gasol with almost twice as many turnovers as assists and went 4-of-9 on Thursday. Much like Siakam for the Raptors, there’s probably more here for the Sixers to squeeze.

    5 – Jimmy Butler was sensational once again, and his run this postseason erased any doubts about his status as a max-contract player. He was likely going to get one before, from Philly or elsewhere, but there were some whispers about how his mentality isn’t one that you can just add to any mix of players. His stretch to complete the first half was pretty much the exclamation point on the game and he’s taken it to the next level as the stakes get higher.

    6 – Leonard attacking into the double-team on this play is fantastic. There’s not a ton to analyze here but it’s a really cool play. Brett Brown was worried about giving up too many threes by doubling Kawhi, but instead Leonard went right into it and still got a bucket.

    7 – Leonard also held Butler to zero points on the 15 possessions that the two matched up. We’ll see if the Raptors turn to that more often in Game 7 – they probably should – although it might open things up for Ben Simmons. Much of that will depend on the pace of the game and whether the Raptors can turn this into a half-court battle. They haven’t been good enough on the glass to bend the game to their will in that regard, and their efforts there will be something to keep an eye on despite Philadelphia’s size advantage.

    8 – Beyond that, Butler seems to hunt for his own shots more against Danny Green. While he’s obviously proven capable of scoring, the Raptors might also be content to let that play out. As we’ve noted before, the Sixers just aren’t as dynamic when Butler is at the controls. It’s a tough call for both parties.

    9 – Patrick McCaw checked into the game at the end of the first half and was supposed to draw the J.J. Redick matchup after Kyle Lowry picked up his third foul. Instead, he and Leonard switched on what we’ll generously call a “screen” from Redick and it resulted in a bucket for Jimmy Butler as part of his monster run to close the second quarter. McCaw pushed Butler back out towards half court but then got blown by. You can make the case for better help at the rim, but the issue could’ve been avoided by the two players not just accepting a switch so easily. It’ll go down as a case of solid thinking and poor execution.

    10 – The Boban Marjanovic minutes remained a disaster for the Sixers, and Greg Monroe was a DNP-CD. Philly cannot continue using a traditional backup five, because they bleed points the second a ground-bound guy checks in. Boban was a minus-18 in seven minutes. The only reasonable defense for this was Brett Brown hoping to entice Nick Nurse into leaving Gasol on the floor against a non-Embiid big and throwing off the main event matchup a bit. It’s not a great defense.

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