Rival Watch: What U.S. media is saying ahead of Raptors-Sixers duel

The Raptors took their series over the Orlando Magic 4-1 and made some team history in the process.

On Tuesday night, a few hours before Damian Lillard set the NBA’s first round on fire, the Toronto Raptors dispatched the Orlando Magic in dominant fashion, cruising to a 31-7 first-quarter lead and never looking back, winning 115-96 and advancing to the second round in five games.

In the process, they showed just how good they can be and had the U.S. media fawning over their defensive prowess and explaining why they are the favourites in their second-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers:

ESPN — Raptors’ dominant defense on full display in series clincher

Kevin Arnovitz examines the Raptors’ stellar defence, which shut the Magic down for four games straight and is quickly becoming a differentiator for Toronto:

After dropping the opening game in the series, the Raptors were angry at their defensive effort, a rage that fueled a four-game rally — capped by the clincher in Game 5 on Tuesday, a 115-96 win — in which they decimated the Orlando Magic with their defense.

…The Raptors are loaded defensively.

The team sports two former defensive players of the year in Leonard and Gasol, a three-time first-team NBA All-Defense winner in Ibaka, an All-Defense second-teamer in Danny Green, a point guard in Lowry who consistently ranks near the top of the league defensively at his position in the most advanced defensive metrics (his backup VanVleet rates highly, too), and Siakam, who might have been better than all of them this season.

Even the best personnel needs to deploy quality schemes, because NBA offenses are a handful. What emerged in the series win over Orlando is a unit that operates on well-honed principles bolstered by basketball intelligence. It starts at the top of the floor where those assigned to guard the ball really guard the ball. Even when it was Michael Carter-Williams, a guy against whom most NBA defenders will happily run under screens on the pick-and-roll, Raptors defenders fought over him. If regular-season coverage calls are any indication, don’t expect them to slough off Ben Simmons when they encounter the Sixers this weekend — he’ll likely be engaged at the point of attack.

NBA on TNT — Ben Simmons is afraid of Kawhi Leonard

Like the rest of us, the Inside the NBA crew didn’t exactly waste time moving on from the Raptors-Magic series to focus on what should be a thrilling second-round series with the 76ers, who also won in blowout fashion Tuesday night.

Of particular focus was the potential matchup between Kawhi Leonard and Ben Simmons, whom Leonard has pressured to the tune of 24 turnovers against the Raps during the regular season.

“Ben Simmons is the key to this series, because he can’t let Kawhi Leonard control him.”

“I guarantee you Ben Simmons is worried about Kawhi Leonard. He’s in his head.”

“I watched two of those Raptors-Sixers games. He had Ben Simmons afraid to dribble.”

Orlando Sentinel — Magic get blown out of the playoffs, but, hey, at least they were in the playoffs

The Sentinel‘s Mike Bianchi offers a take from Orlando’s perspective that Raptors fans would have been able to relate to on a few occasions in the team’s history. In the process, he points out the sizeable gap between the Magic and Raptors, and why one team is poised to make a run at the Finals while the other heads home for the summer.

The troubling part is the Magic swore they would come up to the Great White North and leave everything out on the floor in this elimination game, but that downtown Easter Bunny put up a better fight than the Magic did Tuesday night.

This game was over before the first quarter even ended — right about the time Kawhi Leonard hit a 3-pointer to put the Raptors ahead 31-7. This is when I got a text from a friend back home who was unaware that NBA-TV had blacked-out the game in Orlando and wanted to know where to find the game on local television. I texted back, “Fox Sports Florida.” A minute later, I got this response, “I turned it on just in time to turn it off.”

Quite frankly, this game should have been blacked out on every channel in Orlando just so Magic fans could have been spared the carnage. Not only were the Raptors the better team; they were the more composed team.

Stephen A. Smith tees up Raps-Sixers

“They have length, they have athleticism, they have perimeter shooting, they defend,” began Stephen A. Smith, who also highlights the duo of Leonard and Siakam among the reasons the Raptors are the favourites against a talented Sixers squad.

NBA on ESPN — Raptors’ best shot to win a title is this postseason

Also looking ahead to the second round, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt points out that both the 76ers and Raptors made big moves to put them in a position to contend this year, creating a special — and potentially short-lived — opportunity for Toronto.

“There are more people out there who don’t believe Kawhi is coming back,” said ESPN’s Ryen Russillo, who joined Van Pelt on Sportscenter last night and discussed the reality that this may be a one-time shot at a title or Finals appearance for the Raptors.

FS1 previews Raptors-Sixers

“There are so many storylines here,” said Fox Sports’ Nick Wright, looking at an exciting Toronto-Philly second-round matchup. “The biggest one is going to be the Sixers’ lack of depth versus the Raptors’ overwhelming depth.”

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