For Sixers fans, Game 1 against Toronto was painfully reminiscent of Game 1 against Brooklyn. Bad shooting, inability to stop anyone on defense, and abysmal energy. But unlike round one against the Nets, the Raptors are actually good. Brett Brown was able to make the proper adjustments against Brooklyn-putting Simmons against their best player, not switching screens unless it was needed, and less iso ball on offense. Brown successfully mimicked the same strategy against Toronto— Simmons on Leonard. Ben Simmons is holding Kawhi Leonard in check. Unlike his 45 point performance in game 1 on 70% shooting, Leonard was just 8-16 from the field including 0-6 from three when guarded by Simmons in game 2. There is no stopping Kawhi. He isn’t scoring 16 points in a game. He’s a top 4 scorer in the league, and maybe top 2 in the playoffs this year, behind only Durant in terms of dominance. Not only was Simmons guarding their best player, but once again they did not switch on screens unless needed, making life difficult for Toronto. Putting Embiid against Siakam was an unexpected adjustment but clearly a pleasant surprise. Siakam was shut down scoring just 6-17 when guarded by Embiid. The matchup allowed Embiid to help in the paint while Marc Gasol hovers around the top of the key. And the added bonus is Siakam shoots just 27% from three from anywhere but the corner. When he moves up, there is no reason to guard him. Marc Gasol is a fantastic defender, but his offense is not worrisome. The Tobias Harris mismatch is not bad enough to the point where he can’t guard him. And, the icing on the Cake for the Sixers is they didn’t even play well offensively. 19 turnovers, non-aggressive Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid was barely playing, Tobias Harris was 2-10, and JJ Redick was totally off. One guy I didn’t include in that list is Jimmy “James” Butler. That man showed up. His domination was the only reason we were in that game making every big play in that fourth quarter.
Going forward, expect Joel to be on the mend, and Ben to feel comfortable attacking the basket. On the other side of the ball, expect more pick and roll with Leonard and Siakam or Lowry and Siakam which will force Joel Embiid to come out of the paint. Expect Siakam to get out of the corner, and if he doesn’t, the Sixers will run the same defensive scheme. Expect lower screens, so that Simmons has to go over, and allow Leonard to get to the basket more. In that situation, the Sixers have to switch, and Embiid on Leonard may be an advantage to the Raptors. If nothing else, expect game 3 to be fun. Expect it to be interesting to watch how Nick Nurse counters, and how Brett Brown counters those counters. Expect a real game, and another classic early 2000s slugfest.