Nobody gave the Raptors a tougher test on their run to a title than the Philadelphia 76ers.
That’s a fact.
Some people will find that to be a negative, i.e. they’ll say, “well shit! we should have had them! but we let em off the hook!”
Other people will say, “you know what? we’re close… they needed a ridiculous final shot in game seven to eliminate the Sixers.”
I think I’d put myself in the latter category, the glass half full, where you take a step back and think, “hmm.. imagine if Joel Embiid was healthy in that series…” The Sixers had chances in games four and seven to dispatch Toronto, but it was half court offensive execution, missed shots, and some defensive rebounding that let them down.
The one thing that really stuck out to me like a sore thumb watching the Milwaukee and Golden State series is that both of those teams just did not have the size and athleticism on defense that the Sixers possess. We all should have a newfound respect for just how big the Sixers are and how disruptive they can be, how they did a great job limiting guys like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Some things worth pointing out, after the jump:
- In 12 games, the Bucks and Warriors only once held Toronto below 100 points in regulation. The Sixers did it three times.
- Toronto put up a 115.9 offensive rating against the Warriors, but just a 108.0 number against the Sixers.
- The Raptors scored ten more points on average, per game, in the finals.
- VanVleet scored 14 points per game against the Warriors, 10 against the Bucks, and just two points per game against the Sixers.
- Serge Ibaka: 11 points, 5 boards, and 1.7 blocks vs GSW, 9 points, 5 boards, 0.9 blocks vs. Sixers
- Kyle Lowry: 13/5/6 vs. Sixers, 16/4/7 vs. Warriors, 19/6/5 vs. Bucks.
- Raptors three point shooting: 37.4% vs Bucks, 35% vs. Warriors, 29.8% vs Sixers
- pace: 96.2 in the finals, 94 flat in the semifinals (game was a little slower, teams trying to limit each other in transition)
- The Warriors had trouble with Toronto on the glass, while Sixers beat the Raptors on the boards up until game seven.
- Raptors: 45.5 field goal percentage vs. Warriors, 43.5 vs. Sixers.
So on and so forth. The Sixers really did a nice job of being disruptive on the defensive end and making things difficult for Toronto. They forced Nick Nurse to play Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol together while slimming the bench and going heavy on starter minutes. Brett Brown I thought did a nice job going back and forth with Nurse throughout that series, and I don’t think either guy outcoached the other. Steve Kerr, for instance, had some trouble helping his team navigate the box and one that Toronto used on Steph Curry, a strategy that obviously would not have been effective with a healthy Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant on the floor.
But it is what it is, yeah? The Raptors got by the Sixers with Embiid operating at maybe 60%. They beat Golden State without Durant. That shouldn’t take away any of their accomplishments though, because they were a sound two-way team from start to finish this season, a squad certainly deserving of an NBA title.
Sixers fans should feel reassured, not disappointed, that their squad gave Toronto the toughest test of the postseason. It’s good fuel for the “let’s run it back and give it another shot” mindset.
Just imagine if possessions like this had turned out differently: