Five Thoughts From The Raptors' 101-96 Game 4 Win Over the 76ers, Including Player Grades, Kawhi on If He's a Cyborg And Jimmy Butler on What He Wants From Ben Simmons (Video)Read Now
The Raptors defeated the 76ers 101-96 on Sunday in Philadelphia to even this best of seven series at two games a piece. Here are five thoughts from the game.
1. Kawhi Leonard is a cyborg
Actually, calling him a cyborg is disrespectful to the time and care he puts into his craft. He is the best player in the playoffs, not named Kevin Durant. Leonard finished the game with 39 points (13-20 from the field, including 5-7 from three), 14 rebounds, and 5 assists. He did have 7 turnovers, which he didn't like. But that's mainly a function of his high usage rate. He played a team high 42 minutes and the Raptors needed him in every single one of them to scratch out this road win.
Leonard is never rushed, or hurried on the floor. No matter the game scenario, whether trapped or late in the clock. His mind seemingly accesses a rich vault of knowledge and he applies the appropriate basketball move to the situation. It's really a thing of beauty. Whomever lands Leonard this offseason, has the core piece on a championship team. But, all that will be settled this summer. For now, he is carrying the Raptors on his back and they head back to Toronto for game 5 with a chance to solidify home court with a win and a 3-2 series lead on Tuesday night.
Following the game in his postgame media availability, Leonard talked about how he is able to remain poised in any situation.
2. Joel Embiid pump fakes and other things...
Embiid is a career 31% shooter from three. During the season, and in the playoffs he is shooting 30%. Not abysmal, but certainly the person you'd want shooting crucial threes - if you're the Sixers' opponent - as you can live with those percentages. But it's a funny thing. Embiid's pump fake from three manages to get several defenders to bite, and then he rumbles to the rim for a higher percentage shot. It's such a slow fake that it even marvels Embiid that people bite on it. In a recent article from Bleacher Report, Embiid said: "I shoot 30 percent from three, but guys still jump when I shot fake and I don’t know why."
It worked a few times early on Sunday, but as the game wore on defenders stopped biting. Danny Green actually halfway bit on it in the second quarter and let Embiid go by him and poked the ball out from behind on a heads up play. But that was the least of Embiid's "issues" on Sunday.
Prior to the game, whispers around Wells Fargo Center were that Joel was very sick last night. Nothing was confirmed pregame. However during the game it appeared that he was laboring a bit and he seemed to come up wincing after a dunk in the first half. At the conclusion of the game it was revealed that Embiid was indeed ill Saturday night and didn't sleep much prior to the game.
At this time of the year, nobody is 100%. But in Embiid's case, he's got the balky knee with tendinitis, which doesn't allow him to keep his cardio going to remain in ideal basketball shape. His body type is one that is prone to put on pounds, and if he is not meticulous about what he eats, he could gain unnecessary weight. Add all that with his gastrointestinal virus he had earlier in the series, he called it the shits, you can see how problems arise. Still in all, while his stat line wasn't up to his standards, 17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He was a +17 for the game which shows the impact he can have. Even when limited.
There will be no rest from here on out. They will play every other day for the duration of this series and that includes flights back and forth from Philly to Toronto. Not the best setup for recovery. But, this is what he signed up for and he will battle as long as he's able.
Following the game 76ers head coach Brett Brown talked about Embiid's various health issues and what that means for the team going forward.
3. Jimmy Butler IS the adult in the room
That is what Brett Brown often refers to Butler as. The playoffs are the reason Elton Brand, Sixers GM, acquired him. There are certain players wired for the big stage and heightened moments of intensity. It isn't that they always perform or are infallible. It's that they remain confident and don't treat the situation any differently. Butler has fashioned a career as an NBA all-star out of sheer drive of will, work ethic and defiance. He knows he's not as talented as Embiid or Ben Simmons, but he knows when the heat is on, he has the temerity to believe he can deliver against anyone.
He was at his best on Sunday and almost singlehandedly won the game for the Sixers. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists in a team high 40 minutes of action. He played excellent defense on Kawhi at times, was the engine and catalyst for the Sixers. Whenever they needed a bucket he was the one to go get it and he had the crowd engaged from the opening tip. For as good as Embiid and Simmons are, Jimmy has the experience in the playoffs, along with JJ Redick, that this team desperately needs.
They will need all of that and more on Tuesday night in Toronto for game 5.
Following the game, Butler talked about the team's mindset, and his headed into game 5. He also shared some insight into what he wants from Ben Simmons.
4. Just enough help
In the days off between games 3 and 4 the talk was about the lack of help Kawhi was getting from his teammates. Particularly from Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. They combined for 42 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 3 blocks. A considerable step up from their combined lackluster game 3 performances. But going forward, Kawhi will need more from the "others." To be fair, the game was pretty disjointed and choppy. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse admitted as much following the game. But he was happy that Gasol took and made a couple threes, and that Ibaka took some threes. Nurse added, "hopefully in Toronto he'll be able to throw a couple in."
If you believe in NBA cliches, role players play better at home, so it stands to expect a bit better output from the supporting cast. More than anything, they need to be reliable threats to do something positive on offense. Late in Sunday's game, the Sixers trapped Kawhi and forced the ball to someone else, to see if they could make a play. For the most part the Raptors were okay, but they looked more engaged. As well as Kawhi is playing right now, he may be able to do it by himself. But, when these guys get open looks they need to take the shots with confidence and knock them down. The Raptors were good all season, even with a little shot conversion variance and a dip in percentage due to tighter defense, they should still be able to hit open shots at a reasonable rate. If they do, they can take a hold of this series.
5. Player Grades
We broke out the player grades in the first round for the Nets as that was the team we covered all season at BSO. Since we don't cover either the 76ers or Raptors regularly, we will do grades for both sides. We will limit the grades to players that saw 25 minutes of action or more.
Kawhi Leonard - 5 stars
We talked about Kawahi at the beginning of this piece. He was the best player on the floor and did everything his team needed to secure the win.
Jimmy Butler - 5 sars
Normally inclined to ding a star for not securing the win, but Butler did just about everything for the 76ers. He was big on both ends and late in the game when execution was a problem for Philadelphia, he was the only one that tried to dictate the action.
JJ Redick - 4 stars
He finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. He was 4-7 from deep and the Raptors were not really able to exploit him on defense. He fought hard over screens and remained tethered to his man on defense. JJ is as stabilizing a presence as Butler. He's a veteran of several playoff battles and knows where he needs to be on both ends of the floor. He's a pro.
Joel Embiid - 3 stars
Not your typical Embiid night on the stat sheet. If it had been his normal production, he would've gotten 4 stars. But down the stretch he missed some key free throws and a layup that would've either tied the game or kept Philly within one possession. However, he was a +17 so he had tremendous impact in his limited capacity because of illness.
Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry - 3 stars
This is sort of like a combined grade. But they were each better than 1 star. As a collective unit they were good. They all made shots tonight, Ibaka was good on the glass, and defensively they had a couple key moments. Again, they'll need to be better in Toronto if they want to get a stranglehold on this series. But good signs on Sunday.
Danny Green - 2 stars
He finished with 11 points, going 8-8 from the line. But his three point shot has been off and he committed a lot of fouls on Sunday. He needs to take more shots and keep the Sixers defense honest.
Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and James Ennis III - 2 stars
They were a combined -29 on the floor. There were periods where you forgot Ben Simmons (an all-star) was out there. Part of that was Toronto limiting the 76ers transition game, but Ben also missed a bunch of chippies and bunnies and the rim. When they did get out in transition he was a little indecisive, and late in the game he was part of the Sixers' spacing issues.
Tobias shot 7-23 from the field and missed 11 three pointers. If he converts at even a tick less than his normal rate, the 76ers win Sunday's game. Many of the looks were wide open, so Brett Brown and the team will happily accept that. He just needs to connect.
Ennis wasn't that bad, he was the most productive guy off the bench and did connect on 3 of 7 from deep. He'll need to be productive in the minutes he gets on Tuesday, as he's the guy Brown trusts off his bench right now.
Pascal Siakam - 1 star
Siakam is suffering with a calf injury, but he played 28 minutes and only had 9 points. He missed some easy ones at the rim. His shot is also off. This is a tough grade because we are putting a lot of pressure on Siakam who is still a young player in this league. Yes, he's most improved. But for much of the season he played like an all-star and borderline All NBA player. But, this is the playoffs, a completely different game than the regular season. It's also his first taste of this level of competition. He'll get better. But he wasn't good on Sunday night.