Monday’s 94-89 Raptors loss saw another mind blowing Kawhi Leonard performance, only this time his co-stars, including Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and an abysmal night from Toronto’s reserves, couldn’t provide the support required to slow a motivated Sixers squad.
With the series now tied 1-1 thanks to an effective game plan and heroics from Jimmy Butler, here’s what the non-Canadian media are saying about the Raptors’ Game 2 letdown:
The Sixers’ slowed down the pace and pounded the ball inside to Joel Embiid, turning the clock back in the process, writes NYT’s Sopan Deb. The Raptors, Leonard aside, had no answers.
The Sixers gutted out a series-tying win on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena, 94-89, and did so with only one of their stars playing well in an arena where Philadelphia had not won since 2012. Neither team cracked 100 points, a rarity in today’s high-paced, no-conscience 3-point heavy style of play. In the first round of the N.B.A. playoffs, both teams scored less than 100 only twice in 36 games. During the regular season, the worst offensive team in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies, averaged more than 103.
“When you shrink your rotations, it’s naïve for us to think you’re going to play a game like a track meet when it’s a fist fight. It’s a grind the whole game,” Brett Brown, the coach of the Sixers, said after the game.
But the Raptors wouldn’t go down without a fight. It’s not unusual, of course: Toronto has Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best player of the Eastern Conference.
In a postseason where Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers has hit a jaw-dropping step back and then waved the Oklahoma City Thunder off the floor, and Kevin “You Know Who I am” Durant is on his own torrid run, Leonard has methodically and quietly destroyed his opponents. The 76ers have had no answer for the reserved Leonard, while their own outspoken blue chippers have collectively failed to match him.
The N.B.A. has risen in popularity over the last decade in part because of virality: poster dunks and ankle breaking highlights spread at a moment’s notice. Coaches and players go out of their way to troll their colleagues on social media. Not Leonard, though, who so shuns the spotlight that this in itself has become a meme-worthy bit on message boards.
“They were getting wide-open shots but they couldn’t make them,” Charles Barkley said of the Raptors. “I give them a lot of credit for hanging in there, but now the pressure switches to Philly.”
Shaq praises Butler’s 30-point outing, while Kenny Smith maintains that it’s still too early in the series to draw any conclusions:
USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt looks at Brett Brown’s successful adjustments and the problems it caused the Raptors on Monday night, while also shining a light on the no-show from Toronto’s supporting cast:
Philadelphia’s answer to its Game 1 loss was impressive. The Sixers were better defensively, and Brown made adjustments. He put Ben Simmons on Kawhi Leonard for more possessions, had Embiid guard Pascal Siakam, used Tobias Harris on Marc Gasol and gave more reserve minutes to Monroe and Ennis. Brown also made it more difficult for Toronto to expose J.J. Redick’s defensive shortcomings.
It was enough to hold Toronto to 32.6% shooting and 38 points in the first half. Leonard continued his outstanding playoffs with a game-high 35 points, but the Sixers made him work harder for his shots. Siakam, who destroyed Philadelphia in the series opener, had 21 points, but he was just 9-for-25 from the field.
As the story lines change from game to game in the series, Toronto now has questions to answer. Leonard, Siakam and Kyle Lowry combined for 76 of the Raptors’ 89 points. Coach Nick Nurse needs to find some more and better scoring opportunities for other players.
FS1’s First Things First crew reacts to Raptors loss
In the understatement of the day, the Raptors’ bench is hardly the weapon its been in years’ past. Chris Carter, Nick Wright, and FS1’s morning show crew point out the deficiencies the Raptors’ bench unit showed in Game 2:
The Raptors mounted the comeback CBS’ Reid Forgrave expected, but fell thanks in large part to Mr. Butler:
A confession: At halftime, I thought the Raptors had the Sixers exactly where they wanted them. I thought that, after the Sixers were unable to pull away in that dominant first half, the Raptors were going to win it. You never want to be down 13 at half, but if there’s a good scenario in which to be down 13 at half, it was this: With the other team’s star ailing, with the other team playing some sloppy basketball, and with your open shots not falling — yet.
Enter Jimmy Butler.
It is difficult to overstate the pressure that was on the Sixers to win Game 2. In the history of the NBA, there have been 282 teams that have gone down 2-0 in a seven-game series. Only 20 of those teams have gone on to win the series. That’s seven percent.
With just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the shot clock running down, the Raptors doubled Embiid in the post. This was a problem for the Sixers: The Raptors had mounted a furious comeback and were now only down by four. Embiid somehow found an open Butler on the wing with a pass that looked more like a hook shot. Butler, legs splayed, launched the 3, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net. The Raptors still had a fighting chance, and Kyle Lowry still had a couple of 3s left in him to make it a nail-biter, but that Jimmy Butler 3 was ultimately the play that broke the Raptors.