Takeaways: Raptors struggle containing Embiid in loss to 76ers

Joel Embiid scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Kyle Lowry was ejected as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto Raptors not named Delon Wright shot 3-of-26 from deep, which explains their 117-111 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers as much as anything. Wright was fantastic – 5-of-6 from three – but the Raptors were in a hole all game and trailed by 21 in the third quarter after trailing by 10 at half. It wasn’t pretty and the Raptors’ frustration with the officials was evident with DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet all picking up technical fouls, along with head coach Dwane Casey.

Miles falling short

Is C.J. Miles one of those guys who hits home runs when you’re down five or up three? Is he an empty calories guy? On paper he’s had a decent season – he’s shooting 39 per cent from three which is pretty impressive given he’s getting up 12 triples per 36 minutes – but you’re still waiting for him to make a difference in a game that was there to be won.

He was 6-of-12 from deep against the Cavaliers when the court was tilted in the Raptors favour, but just 2-of-9 against Golden State when the Raptors needed every last point and was 2-of-9 again against the 76ers on Monday, and in particular 1-of-4 in the fourth, all on good looks.

It was conspicuous because everything was going wrong for the Raptors. DeRozan and Lowry were struggling, and yet the Raptors kept fighting and got the stops they needed in the fourth to get back in the game. If Miles knocks down a couple shots, maybe the Raptors have enough juice to get across the finish line. Maybe Casey trusts Miles to be on the floor down the stretch and DeRozan is finding one of the NBA’s top shooters in the corner for a wide-open three instead of Pascal Siakam, who missed.

Shooting threes is a high-variance occupation – even when you’re shooting great, you’re going to miss six out of 10 shots. But you do need to hit shots when needed. And you need to hit open shots at a much higher rate than 38 per cent. And Miles didn’t against Philadelphia. Toss in his missed free throws down the stretch against the Warriors and you hope that it’s an aberration and Miles will deliver when the time comes next time.

The Embiid Effect

Joel Embiid is a problem. He finished with 34 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes although he did have seven turnovers. His totals that could have been a lot higher had the Raptors not opted to send hard doubles at him every time he put it on the floor in the second half.

But short of that, there was nothing stopping him. Early on, Jonas Valanciunas pump faked the big Philly centre, got him up on his toes and drove baseline for a nice dunk. That could have been a mistake as Embiid – who by his own admission looks for little things to get his competitive juices running, his social media trolling an example – seemed to perk up after that.

Embiid went off for a quick nine points on a variety of post-ups, long twos and a three. He was just as good in the second quarter as he walked under the rim for a post-up, embarrassed Lucas Nogueira on a pump-and-go and generally was too much to handle for everyone Toronto had on him.

But his greatest impact might be defensively. I’m not even sure if he’s a great defender, technically, but he’s huge and treats smaller people like bowling pins. The Raptors were making a wee run late in the second quarter when VanVleet turned the corner and stared at Embiid. Embiid stared back and VanVleet tried to throw his layup off the top of the backboard. He missed. He switched out on DeRozan and didn’t really do much – just kind of stood there with his hand up. DeRozan did his little jitterbug thing and missed that shot, too. It’s called presence and Embiid has about 300 pounds of it.

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Lowry at home

The feel-good story of the day was all set up to by Lowry. Not only was he back in the lineup for the first time since crashing hard on his tailbone in overtime against Brooklyn last week, but he was back in his hometown. He spent some time Sunday afternoon at Villanova University where it was announced he was donating $1 million to the school’s basketball program in recognition of how playing two seasons for Jay Wright helped him grow not only as person but as a player. Dana O’Neill of The Athletic did a nice job capturing how Lowry nearly wore out his welcome at Villanova before his career had even started:

On and on it would go, the insolence rolling on a conveyor belt throughout the season. Heaven knows there were days when Jay Wright wanted to erupt, wanted to give Kyle Lowry exactly what he was itching for. Before one NCAA Tournament game, the coach even threatened to send the player home. “He was a handful,” Wright says. “He was hard-headed, strong-willed and opinionated.”

Some things never change. Although he’s certainly softened around the edges, the outline of Lowry, the know-it-all 19-year-old, remains. But a career’s worth of accomplishments means he doesn’t have to wear it at all times.

Anyway, great story, nice gesture, but the reality is Lowry probably should have taken another day off. There was no evident lingering effects of his bruised tailbone – Lowry did take a pair of charges, one on Embiid, of all people, and seemed none the worse for wear – but he looked rusty and bit tentative early on his way a 3-of-16 shooting and four turnovers. But give him credit: I can’t think of another Toronto athlete who consistently plays as hard and tough with the game on the line than Lowry. Just an incredibly tough guy.

OG no match for Simmons

I wonder if we’ve oversold OG Anunoby as a defensive savant. That game where he locked up James Harden seems like a long time ago and while there have been flashes of solid play – he was one of the better Raptors on the floor in Toronto’s comeback against Golden State – there have been plenty more where he looks like a rookie trying to figure it out as he goes.

The first quarter against the 76ers was a case in point. Ben Simmons – a fellow rookie – is the kind of mobile, multi-purpose wing (not sure if he’s truly a point guard, even though he’s advertised as such) that Anunoby will have to be able to slow down if he’s going to truly be an impactful player. Guarding the LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo crowd is a brutal job, but it’s Anunoby’s job. Against Simmons he simply wasn’t up to the task.

In the early going, the 76ers guard lost Anunoby on a series of smart but simple basket cuts. The prettiest was faking going back door and then spinning when Anunoby overcommitted and gaining perfect post-position inside the block/charge circle. But there was another where he jogged towards the far side of the rim and Anunoby simply lost his man and lost the ball and Simmons took advantage for an easy lob. It was high-school level defence gone bad. When you’re guarding the best of the best you will look bad. It’s part of the job description. But making simple fundamental mistakes that give the best easy baskets is a recipe for disaster.

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A lot has been about the Raptors schedule against some of the league’s better teams of late. So far? Not so good. The Raptors are 1-3 against Miami, Cleveland, Golden State and now Philadelphia. The week does not get any easier as the Raptors host Detroit on Wednesday and San Antonio on Friday before heading on the road to play the Timberwolves on Jan. 20.

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