Gotta admit, I thought this game was going to suck.

It wasn’t going to suck because of a lack of talent on the floor, but I thought the absence of Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Sean Lee (hamstring) would remove a lot of luster from a contest between top teams in the east. It was kind of a bummer, since I think we were all hoping to see a marquee matchup instead of a mostly full strength Sixers team hosting an incomplete Raptors squad on the second night of a back-to-back.

Joel Embiid felt the same way I did:

“It was a good win, but to me it doesn’t mean anything. They were missing three of their best players, so I was kind of bummed that they weren’t playing because this game was marked on my calendar just because of how bad I played (in Toronto). I wasn’t excited that they weren’t playing, but we did a pretty good job of sharing the ball and moving the ball. They were missing three great players tonight.”

Ben Simmons said the same thing in much fewer words, as usual:

Yeah, I was disappointed also with Kawhi and Ibaka sitting out. But it is what it is.

JJ Redick, however, will take a win where he can get it, and made a good point:

This is a team that beat Golden State without Kawhi; obviously they are missing some other guys. I think when they have been at full strength, they have been the best team in basketball this year. You want to test yourself against the best, but we need to collect wins, so I’m definitely satisfied with the victory. I think coming into (Saturday) morning, them being on a back-to-back, having some guys banged up, I think the assumption was that they were not going to be at full strength. I have been in this league long enough to know that it just gives other guys more opportunities. Again, they just beat Golden State without him, so I didn’t get the sense when we were doing film at 5 o’clock that anyone was taking this game lightly.

They didn’t, and credit to the Sixers for pulling away in the third quarter for a 25-point win.

If anything, a comfortable win should give the squad some nice momentum heading into Christmas Day in Boston, so I think that’s my biggest takeaway here.

A few others:

Small lineups

Without Ibaka and Valanciunas, the Raptors started Greg Monroe and then staggered Pascal Siakam as their primary big when he was off the floor.

The resulting Toronto lineups looked and played small, and they kept it close for a while before the Sixers started rolling.

One of the things I think that’s frustrating is when Philly has an obvious low post advantage and can’t take advantage of it. You saw that on a couple of possessions last night, when Siakam was trying to guard Embiid down low. I think there were two straight offensive trips that resulted in turnovers, and then the Sixers almost coughed it up a third time before grabbing a loose ball and scoring.

Here’s an example of the former:

They free up Embiid on the shooting guard back screen, but Jimmy Butler tries to lob the alley oop and Siakam gets a hand in to force the turnover.

It’s not a great pass, and it’s not really a necessary pass. Toronto has Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Delon Wright, and OG Anunoby on the floor. You’ve got size advantages at both the four and five. Swing it out to Landry Shamet off the screen, let him roll it to Embiid in the post, and allow Joel to do his thing against the guy who is 4 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. Same thing with Simmons, who has a slightly bigger frame than Anunoby.

On the other end, you get these kinds of offensive possessions from teams playing without a true center:

Middle pick and roll, Embiid sags off Siakam (a separate issue), and he just pulls up for an uncontested 10-footer instead.

That was really the only negative from last night’s game, just a couple of 1st and 2nd quarter possessions where they didn’t really do their best to exploit smaller Toronto lineups while getting a bit stretched out defensively. There were Boston playoff series vibes that I felt during the middle part of that second quarter. Opponent missing starters? Check. Opponent playing a smaller, guard-heavy lineup? Check. It was a slight bizarro-world feeling, just for a little bit.

Otherwise I thought they did a nice job kind of clamping down in the 3rd and 4th quarters, closing out shooters and sliding around to follow the ball. The Raptors shot 39% from the floor and hit 10 of 40 three-pointers, so while some of that was obviously due to hitting a back-to-back wall, I think the Sixers’ defensive effort certainly played a role.

Jonah Bolden

He was called upon early after Mike Muscala (filling in for Wilson Chandler), picked up a couple of early fouls.

Bolden came in like he was shot out of a cannon, immediately blocking a shot, grabbing an offensive rebound, air balling a three pointer, and then blocking another shot. It was a frenetic and entertaining two-minute span.

He finished with 4 points, 4 blocks, and 9 rebounds in 25 minutes while playing good defense and doing a really nice job at closing out on the perimeter.

Brett Brown explained after the game that he had identified the coming West Coast road trip as an opportunity to get Bolden some minutes:

When I looked a week ago at our schedule coming up and we weren’t entirely healthy, we all kind of had a gut feeling that, and it happened sooner, but we had a gut feeling that the West Coast road trip, that Jonah would come in and start to play. He went to Vegas and you know, played in the showcase, and we told that to him, to go play basketball with the end game being we really do see you coming into especially the West Coast trip and having a chance to play. We came into it tonight with Wilson injured and you know Mike gets those two quick fouls, he was going to be playing regardless of the quick fouls. And so it happened sooner, it was calculated, it was pre-planned that he was going to play, not to the volume of minutes that he did, but for all those reasons it played out like it did.

He looked good. I won’t go overboard and call him the answer to the Sixers’ front-court depth problems, but I’d like to see a lot more of him moving forward. It’s a bit different if he’s guarding Siakam with Valanciunas and/or Ibaka on the floor, but last night was a decent sample size against a team with a lot of depth.

Hitting from the corner

JJ Redick had 22 points while shooting 4-5 from deep and he finally got one to fall from the right corner.

Might not seem like a big deal, but he pointed out a few games ago that he had been struggling from this area of the floor, so check out the reaction when the shot went in:

Redick on his three-point shooting:

Like I was explaining the other night, some of it is just a little puzzling to me, but  I’m confident that I’ll be right there at 40 (percent), if not higher, when the season ends. I was actually, so they put up our numbers on a board in the gym, you guys know, our free-throw and our three-pointer numbers, and I noticed the other day that I’ve shot, it was almost exactly 250 three-pointers, so I was like, ‘I made 88,’ and I’m not great at math, but I would know that in 33 games prior to tonight, if I had made 12 more threes, which is not a crazy hot streak, I’d be at 40% for the season. I think this thing will get turned around. I’m not saying tonight is necessarily going to break a dam open, but I think over the next 40 games I’m confident I’ll get that percentage up.

JJ is hitting threes at just 35.9% this season.

He shot 42% last year and 42.9% the season before, his last with the Clippers. For what it’s worth, his 2-point percentage of 53.8 is currently the highest it’s ever been. His free-throw percentage of 91.8 is as high as it’s ever been. He’s not hitting from deep at the same clip he usually does, but he’s averaging a career-high 18.1 points per game.

Sure, you’d like to see that true shooting percentage (a six-year low) come up with better-efficiency shots, but I think it’ll naturally move in that direction as the season progresses.

Other notes:

  • I’m not sure I’ve seen anybody work the refs like Kyle Lowry did last night
  • Joel Embiid didn’t shoot a three-pointer last night. There were some good quotes regarding that topic that I will save for a Monday sidebar.
  • Embiid, Simmons, and Butler all picked up technical fouls. Simmons got his after an iffy foul call awarded to Lowry, and he responded by sitting down in the front row of the crowd:

  • Furkan Korkmaz got Toronto with a pump fake 2-3 times last night. He’s showing more shrewdness in his offensive game, for sure, and his quick release really helps sell the action.
  • The Raptors showed a bit of 2-2-1 zone in the third quarter, tried to junk the game up a bit once they started losing pace
  • Ben Simmons hit a turnaround jumper in the fourth quarter.
  • The JJ Redick buzzer-beater in the first quarter was waved off, but the clock on the NBC Sports graphic made it look like the shot was good. The issue is that the TV clock is not perfectly calibrated with the official game clock: