Fred VanVleet scores 22 points as Raptors defeat 76ers

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) drives to the basket as Philadelphia 76ers centre Al Horford (42) defends. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO — Marc Gasol has been a cerebral playmaker and a force on the defensive end for the Toronto Raptors.

But it took some serious nagging from teammate Kyle Lowry for Gasol to shoot the ball. The Spanish big man obliged, and it’s paid off for the Raptors.

Gasol was a perfect 7-for-7 — including three three-pointers — on Wednesday, to help the Raptors to a 107-95 victory over Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia.

"I think there’s a plan of being more aggressive and looking at the basket as a first option, and after that, just playing out of that," Gasol said after the game. "Some games, the ball is going to go in more, sometimes it’s not, but I’m someone that always looks for the next play, next action, and try to get guys involved, when sometimes I overthink the game, trying to get going some of the guys that are not getting going.

"By being sometimes too unselfish, you can be selfish in a weird way."

Fred VanVleet scored 22 points, while Pascal Siakam had 18 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Raptors (30-14) to their fifth consecutive win.

Six Raptors scored in double figures. Norman Powell chipped in with 18 points. Lowry and Serge Ibaka finished with 16 each.

Tobias Harris had 22 points to top the Sixers (29-17), who were missing all-star Joel Embiid in their first loss in five games.

Playing his fifth game back since missing 12 with a hamstring injury, Gasol’s efficient performance came in just 24 minutes of action.

"We’ve been on him a little bit (to shoot)," Lowry said. "I think he’s been on himself to make sure he’s looking for his own shot. Marc still can play basketball at a high level, and he’s proven it.

Where should he shoot from?

"Wherever. We want Marc to put the ball in the hole," Lowry said.

The Sixers led by as many as 14 points early in the game and were up by double digits in the third quarter before the Raptors gained any real ground on the Sixers.

When Rondae Hollis-Jefferson chucked a rugby pass to VanVleet as he was falling sideways, VanVleet’s three-pointer gave Toronto a two-point lead. Lowry’s driving layup on Toronto’s next possession capped a 20-6 Raptors run and sent Toronto into the fourth quarter up 76-72.

"Just got to play through some of that stuff once in a while, I’m just really proud that they dug in and played defence, gave themselves a chance," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

Midway through the fourth, Ibaka stole the ball off Ben Simmons and his two-handed slam put a punctuation mark on the play and had Hollis-Jefferson raising his arms gesturing for the Scotiabank Arena fans to cheer.

Powell’s layup on Toronto’s next possession made it a nine-point Raptors lead. Back-to-back Sixers baskets briefly sliced the gap to three, but consecutive VanVleet three-pointers capped a 10-0 Raptors run to put Toronto up by 13 — their biggest lead of the game — with 1:29 to play. A Siakam dunk with 24 seconds left clinched Toronto’s victory.

Nurse was pleased with his team’s balanced attack.

"It tells you that we’re sending the ball to an open player," Nurse said. "We’re not really going through the same guys. We’re moving it. We’re just finding the right reads, I think, a lot. And everybody’s getting their cracks at it."

The Raptors lost Patrick McCaw to a broken nose early in the second quarter, when Norvel Pelle smacked him hard in the face when the two were battling for a loose ball. McCaw’s teammates motioned immediately for the medical staff. Clutching a towel to his face, he was helped him to the locker room. He was scheduled to see a specialist in Toronto on Thursday.

Embiid, who suffered a nasty finger dislocation earlier this month, underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament. The Raptors held the Sixers big man scoreless for the first time in his NBA career the previous time Philly travelled to Toronto, on Nov. 25.

The Raptors then lost in Philadelphia two weeks later.

While Toronto has won 15 consecutive home games against Philly, a rivalry is developing between the two squads who are battling it out near the top of the Eastern Conference. Kawhi Leonard’s famous four-bounce buzzer-beating winner in Game 7 of the conference semis fuelled it like a blowtorch. ESPN made the trip north to broadcast the game nationally in the U.S.

The Sixers connected on seven threes — several of them wide open — in the first quarter, and Mike Scott’s long bomb gave the visitors a 14-points lead late in the frame. Philadelphia led 35-26 to start the second.

The Raptors chipped away at the deficit in the second quarter, taking their first lead on Lowry’s reverse layup with 1:33 to play in the first half. The teams went into the break knotted at 50-50.

The Raptors are in New York to face the Knicks on Friday, then battle the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday.

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