One – The Sixers made the necessary adjustments and hit another gear that the Raptors just weren't able to match: For all the criticism over the Sixers' limp performances in Games 4 and 5, the threat was always that their talent would play up to their potential, which was the case here. The Sixers don't have much of a bench, but their top four is as talented as any team in the league, and they were able to come together and dismantle the Raptors as they had in Games 1 and 2. They were the deserved winners, and for as much doubt and disrespect as they received over the course of the series, they should be given the same respect and credit for finishing the job in the manner that they did.
Two – The floodgates opened in the third quarter: The Raptors defence had already struggled in the first half, where suddenly the Sixers were able to get downhill once again, which pulled Toronto out of position. At least the Raptors were able to keep pace with opportunistic scoring, but that pattern was always going to favour the Sixers, who have far better offensive players to keep up the pace, as compared to Toronto which is fundamentally a defence-first team. When the Raptors inevitably went through their drought, the Sixers were able to double their efforts offensively by playing on the fast break, and the game was effectively over in the blink of an eye. Credit James Harden for stepping up to the challenge and setting the pace early with a few driving layups. He dominated this game and had the Raptors chasing ghosts all night. The Sixers will go as far as he will take them. When the MVP version of Harden shows up, the Sixers can compete with anyone.
Three – Doc Rivers faced the most scrutiny out of anyone heading into this game, but showed his quality: The Sixers made all the right adjustments on both ends. Offensively, the Sixers honed in on attacking the Raptors' weakest defenders in Khem Birch, Gary Trent Jr. and Thad Young Jr. through the pick-and-roll, which caused constant breakdowns. And overall, the push to play faster really exploited the Raptors' overzealousness on the offensive glass and got the Sixers easy baskets to build the lead. Defensively, the renewed effort to play zone, despite the numbers suggesting that the Raptors were effectively countering it, was a gutsy gamble that paid off handsomely. It forced Pascal Siakam to play more laterally rather than driving downhill, and it forced the Raptors to hit outside shots, which is the obvious flaw in the team especially with Fred VanVleet sidelined. Rivers pressed the advantage in the second half, opting to outright trap Siakam as soon as he crossed half-court to force anyone else to beat them, and the Raptors simply did not have the cohesion to get it done. This is where a lack of shooting hurts the most.
Four – Secondary scoring was the difference in the game and in the series: Siakam was excellent when he could play in single coverage, or even against a second defender rotating over in the paint, but there was nobody to support him when he was forced to give it up. The Raptors have so many hesitant shooters, and even fewer reliable ball handlers who can make a play against a rotating defence. Contrast that to the Sixers, who have been supplied with reliable scoring from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, who are always there to capitalize on the added attention given to Harden and Joel Embiid. Maxey and Harris scored 22 of their 44 points in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Raptors got just seven points in the third from their supporting pieces in Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes.
Five – This was a learning experience for Barnes: The Sixers actively funneled the action towards him and dared the rookie to beat them, and he couldn’t. Barnes confidently stepped into his threes, but every team in the league will live with him attempting seven in a game because he’s still very inconsistent at this stage of his development. The Sixers also had Embiid assigned to Barnes, although he largely ignored him and roamed in the paint. In the occasions where Barnes did attack, he was able to score on Embiid on occasion which is truly impressive, but it wasn’t at the consistency where the Sixers were made to reshape their strategy. In a few seasons, when Barnes expands his skillset and becomes the star that he is capable of becoming, he will be on the opposite end of this strategy where he is the one being doubled. But for now, he needs to improve his outside shot, and to develop his scoring even further because teams will keep challenging him as the Sixers did here.
Six – Anunoby never really got involved: He was in foul trouble for the first half, and was forcing it in the second half. His methodical dribble moves barely moved the defence, and the lack of ball movement didn’t allow Anunoby to get his usual diet of catch-and-shoot chances. It was an uncharacteristic showing from one of the leaders of the team, but not necessarily surprising. The limitations of his game remain the same, in that Anunoby is still reliant on others to create his scoring, rather than having the skillset to initiate, and while that is hardly a knock against him, it does become a noticeable shortcoming when the team as a whole lacks scoring. His ambition is to be more than a 3-and-D player, so once again he will head into the off-season with the goal of expanding his game.
Seven – This was a reminder that Precious Achiuwa is still so young in his development: For all the excitement and hype over his tremendous showing in Game 5, he was a non-factor in this loss. The only times you noticed Achiuwa was when he tried to drive it into traffic to make a play, which saw him easily bottled up by the defence. Not only were they set, but Achiuwa made it easy for them by making the wrong reads and driving straight into traffic, which only resulted in bad shots that got the Sixers going in transition. Achiuwa has shown in this series and over the course of the season that he is a talent, but as of right now he is still inconsistent and lacking in polish. Once he makes the three-point shot a consistent weapon, and hones in on a few dribble moves to open his driving game, Achiuwa will be a key starter for the Raptors. But until he becomes consistent in his skillset and in his reads, Achiuwa will continue to swing up and down.
Eight – The Raptors’ overall lack of shooting was always going to be their undoing: They ranked 19th in three-point makes on the season, and ranked bottom-five after the all-star break. In the last three games of this series, the Raptors hit 23-of-100 from deep, which isn’t even all that surprising when you consider VanVleet’s absence. One of the shortcomings of building an entire team of forwards is that you lack the shooting that guards typically provide, and on the Raptors, there were only three consistent shooters all year in VanVleet, Trent Jr., and Anunoby. Everyone else was inconsistent to the point where defences were comfortable leaving them open, and the margin for error was just too low. The Raptors clearly have faith in their development program to improve shooting, but the front office should also be proactive on this front. It’s cute to watch the six-foot-nine forwards attack the rim or hit the glass, but this team sorely lacks a third guard who can make plays and hit shots.
Nine – Chris Boucher ended his promising season on a high note: Boucher’s activity kept the Raptors competitive in the first half, where he had 19 points largely off cuts, transition, and putbacks. His connection with Young is undeniable, especially as a counter to the Sixers’ zone coverages, and Nick Nurse brought them in earlier than usual in the first quarter and played them for most of the half. Boucher started this series slow, just as he did in the regular season, but settled in nicely and became a game-changing piece off the bench with his hustle and activity. Boucher and Young are the only two key free agents for the Raptors, who hold full Bird Rights on both players. There’s no reason why both players shouldn’t be retained, especially considering that they so perfectly fit the way the Raptors want to play.
Ten – Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone who reads this column: What originated as a screenshot of stray thoughts has developed into seven years of recaps across four different publications. The main goal has remained the same, which is to provide an informative and succinct way of organizing thoughts on each Raptors game, and while they have become longer over the years, my hope is that it has at least become marginally more insightful. Thank you to all the editors who are often left to untangle my messy copy that is typically sent in after midnight, and prepare to edit another 82 things next season.