Five questions that the Sixers-Raptors will decide.


Less than a week ago, the Toronto Raptors seemed indomitable. After finishing with Orlando Magic with four consecutive wins, the Raptors managed the Philadelphia 76ers in the first game of their conference semifinals playing the type of fierce defense of the team that often points out the potential of the championship. With a 45-point performance in Game 1, Kawhi Leonard added to what was emerging as one of the great postseason individual seasons in NBA history.

The 76ers, on the other hand, seemed like a disaster: an offense stuck in the mud, no response for Leonard and a star center in Joel Embiid that was ineffective due to health problems, the resistance of Marc Gasol or a combination of both. The Sixers found some defensive responses in Game 2, as they escaped Toronto with a division, and although they maximized Jimmy Butler in the midfield, many offensive questions remained.

In Game 3, the Sixers badembled an exhibition of their best basketball. On 95 possessions, they were able to find quality shot opportunities in a variety of ways: a pick-and-roll attack led by Butler, clever off-the-ball actions to free players like JJ Redick, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons. a hint of basketball mismatches and a handful of timely transition cubes.

Meanwhile, the Raptors were unrecognizable in Game 3. One of the smartest units in basketball seemed confused on the half court, unable to capitalize on their multifaceted abilities to find creative solutions to the problems posed by the Sixers' long and versatile defense. . Leonard scored 32 efficient points, but as Kyle Lowry said after the game, "we have to help him."

For the Raptors, there could be fewer hands to provide that help. Pascal Siakam is considered as dubious as a nurse since the contusion of the right calf suffered during the loss on Thursday night.

The Sixers now lead the series 2-1, and Game 4 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC) presents some interesting tactical challenges for both teams.

If Siakam does not play, what do the Raptors do?

The emergence of Siakam has been one of the dominant themes for the Raptors this season, giving them another powerful attacker who presents nightmares faced. Siakam's scoring output has also eased the pressure on Lowry, allowing Lowry to facilitate, manage and keep the mouth fed.

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With OG Anunoby still recovering from an appendectomy, there are no comfortable options for Toronto if Siakam can not get dressed in Game 4. Anunoby is the ideal understudy at the power point, with size, athleticism and range to maintain honest defenses.

The Raptors like the rhythm and movement of the ball that they have traditionally obtained from the lineups featuring Lowry along with guard Fred VanVleet. But that would be a painfully small backcourt for a Raptors team that is already at a size disadvantage. Guard Norman Powell has a few inches in VanVleet, but that would still require raising Leonard to point 4.

The Raptors could start with Serge Ibaka, even though the backup center has had problems during this series, and looks completely distant at crucial moments. Alternatively, Raptors coach Nick Nurse could connect Patrick McCaw to the starting lineup, which would keep the rotation, but it's worth asking, given the low performance of the backup units, if it's worth preserving that rotation .

Can the Raptors unlock their offense with some movement of the ball?

Since the offense fell into stalemate in Game 2, the Raptors and their training staff have emphasized the movement of the ball as the antidote. At this time, they are failing in that goal.

One way to achieve a better movement: Facilitate more offenses through Gasol, which has been ineffective. The sequences of 5 outputs, drive-and-kick are efficient when they are working, but Gasol has some natural gifts as a big man with size, instincts and delicacy beyond just stretching the floor. Throughout his career, Gasol has been a wise man in high office, where he knows how to make good things happen. He is a great expert who can find high percentage looks for teammates with transfers, high-low actions, hitting the reference cutters and more. At this time, you are not being asked to do any of that.

How can the Raptors rediscover their defensive mojo?

In its most effective form, the Raptors place one of the most devastating defenses in the league, and for good reason: staff at the individual level is exceptional, and the collective intelligence of the unit is unparalleled in the East.

That combination is more obvious when the Raptors are deploying the defense. Take a guy like Leonard, who has an unusual ability to help him in his main task and wreak havoc at the same time he knows when and how he will return if possession demands it. Lowry and Green also excel in these calculations. And if a rotation is in order, the speed and versatility of Siakam allow you to pick up any Sixer on the ground in a hurry.

Given this ability, perhaps Toronto should be more aggressive in its midfield approach. The Raptors have been selectively doubled, but given their personnel, they can probably tolerate more risks. The Sixers are a rotation-prone team, particularly Embiid, and a Raptors team that aggressively deploys some guerrilla tactics could curb a Sixers team that felt too comfortable managing their stuff on Thursday night.

Can the Sixers keep Butler going?

While Butler certainly qualifies as a player who can create shots on his own, it's much easier for him if the Sixers work as a unit to help him, which has good results.

Butler has given the Sixers his first legitimate pick-and-roll threat in years, and when Embiid launches any kind of conviction, all sorts of options open up. Embiid's tilt will usually be popping: it requires less work and firing 3s is fun. But if Embiid was willing to shoot as often as Nikola Jokic, it would help make both Butler and the Sixers' offense more efficient.

Butler is not strictly a high screen and isolation practitioner in this series. He also worked off the ball along the baseline to free himself as a powerful option on the second side, something we saw a couple of times in the first half on Thursday.

There are other ways for Butler to press the defense of the Raptors and there are many series for the Sixers to explore that menu. Meanwhile, movement and variety can keep the Raptors out of balance.

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Make or lose?

When the momentum seems to favor a team as radically as it does for the Sixers heading to Game 4, it is worth examining the quality of the shots that each team generates. The Raptors acknowledge that their defense in Game 3 and the movement of their ball in the last games have not lived up to their standards, but on Saturday, the nurse emphasized that he believes there have been many opportunities available for the offense. the Raptors. – They just have not converted.

There is some truth in that premise. According to the data of the second spectrum in the three games of this series, the Raptors have generated a respectable quantified shot probability of 53 percent (the statistic measures the most probable field goal percentage of the team when the shooter is taken into account, the attempt and the defense). No team in the second round has had a worse performance compared to their shooting diet, and is not even close.

The Sixers have to be satisfied with what they invented offensively in Game 3, and if Embiid can beat Lowry in the long range in the series, they are likely to be in good shape. But they will have to continue to cultivate a greater percentage of looks, because it is unlikely that it will reproduce what was easy on Thursday.

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