Five takeaways from Raptors' loss to 76ers in home-and-home finale

The Philadelphia 76ers used a strong, 44-point second quarter to defeat the Toronto Raptors 125-113.

The Toronto Raptors fell to 1-1 in the pre-season after dropping the second half of their home-and-home series against the Philadelphia 76ers 125-113 on Thursday night.

The host Sixers played something much closer to their full lineup (well, except for Ben Simmons) as Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris made their pre-season debuts.

The Raptors were without Pascal Siakam (shoulder), Chris Boucher (finger), Khem Birch (health and safety protocols) and Yuta Watanabe (calf strain).

Gary Trent Jr. made his first appearance. It’s worth noting that both Sam Dekker and Ishmail Wainright -- each on non-guaranteed contracts - failed to see the floor.

The Raptors play in Boston on Saturday night.

Here are some takeaways from Thursday's game:

1. It’s very early but if you’re looking for encouraging signs two games into a five-game exhibition season -- and hey, what else are exhibition games for -- it’s hard to look past OG Anunoby.

The fifth-year forward is in an interesting position in that he’s already elite at his job and providing great value on the four-year $72-million contract extension he signed a year ago. It kicks in for the 2021-22 season.

There simply aren’t many players who shoot as well as he does and can provide versatile, lock-down, disruptive defense on multiple positions at the other end. It’s no exaggeration to argue that he would be a likely starter on every contending team in the NBA.

But what more can he be? With Siakam injured to start the season, we’re going to find out. The early returns are impressive. Anunoby is locked in from deep -- he followed up his perfect 3-of-3 shooting on in Monday’s win by going 4-of-7 Thursday -- but he’s showing a greater ability for shooting off the dribble on hard closeouts; more comfort with getting into a broader selection of mid-range options -- pull-ups, spins, change of direction moves -- and more determination to score in general.

He finished with 22 points in 30 minutes on 14 shots and is shooting 58 per cent from the floor and 70 per cent from deep over two games. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse sounded a note of caution afterward, making the point that his club isn’t going to suddenly begin giving Anunoby (or anyone) a steady diet of isolations to attack set defenses, but it’s a good skill set to have and he’s willing to let Anunoby feel it out.

“He’s really shooting it with a confidence and a stroke that looks really good … and I still say he’s a super effective defensive player. He’s playing well on the defensive end, and multiple positions. That’s kind of his calling card,” said Nurse. “Now, he is getting a lot of chances to play a lot of one-on-one, some more post-ups … and I would say this to you I’m not so sure that’s the great rhythm of our offence that we’re going to see all the time, but it is part of developing him now and using this time to do that.”

2. Precious Achiuwa was asked the other day what it was like trying to wrestle with Sixers backup centre Andrew Drummond, who at six-foot-11 and 280 pounds is almost as big as starting Sixers centre Embiid.

He hit the nail on the head in the scouting report: “They’re really big. Those guys are really strong and really really big and also not just that, they’re vets as well, have lot of experience seeing pretty much everything.”

Drummond had his way in the paint in the Raptors' first meeting with Philly and things didn’t project to get any better in Thursday’s game when Embiid was playing after sitting out Game 1.

Fortunately, there aren’t many -- if any -- teams that can roll out 14 feet and 600 pounds of centre, but the Raptors' ability to manage the league’s few dominant bigs will be a factor as the season unfolds. The Raptors don’t have anyone who resembles a primary defender on one of those monsters, so it will either be single coverage and hope for the best or a swarming approach and hope that it doesn’t lead to a blizzard of open threes and offensive rebounds.

The Raptors held their own on Thursday night and did very well on the offensive glass as they flew into the paint for tip-ins and tip-outs, which helped generate 13 offensive rebounds (to 11 for Philly) and a 24-12 edge in second-chance points.

A series of smaller Raptors defenders got bullied on occasion, but it wasn’t like either Embiid or Drummond turned the game upside down. Embiid did draw some fouls when he got the ball in deep. It was pretty much what you might expect.

Fortunately, there is only one Embiid and not many others like him. Embiid finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes while Drummond added 10 points and seven rebounds in his 20 minutes of floor time.

“Your best defence is to not let them get it at a comfortable spot,” said Achiuwa. “The best defence is to not let them get it down low or a spot where they're comfortable scoring the basketball.”

Easier said than done, but a good example was when Achiuwa denied an entry pass to Drummond above the three-point line, got a deflection and took it the other way to score midway through the third quarter. That’s the kind of balance the Raptors are trying to achieve: give away a little bit but get something back too.

3. The challenge for the Raptors bench on Thursday was going to be the Sixers starters. By injecting Harris and Embiid into the starting lineup, the Sixers bench immediately got better, and it showed as the panic-inducing swarming that generated so many turnovers and fast-break opportunities for the Raptors simply wasn’t a factor.

The Sixers looked composed and were clearly more prepared for the chaos Toronto was hoping to unleash. They held on to the ball, giving up just five turnovers in the first half before things got sloppy in the second half. They moved the ball crisply, using the Raptors' hustle against them at times as they got them running around and took advantage with a series open looks from deep as the Sixers shot 18-of-37 from deep.

“There's a lot of lessons (from that game),” said Nurse. “I think that we can take from it that you understand from one game to the next, each game is a new game. It’s not like you shoot the ball really well, you run up and down the floor [it’s going to happen again]. You understand that, especially when you're playing the same team, they’re going to be more determined and make you things at a faster speed and you got to be ready for that and the physicality.”

4. On a team where half-court scoring and perimeter shooting could be at a premium, it will be interesting to see who emerges as a go-to scorer off the bench. It should be Trent Jr., who signed a $54 million contract in the off-season, but looked a little rusty in his first action after missing a week or so with a quad strain. He shot 5-of-12, but was 0-of-5 from deep.

For now it looks like Svi Mykhailiuk is determined to make room for himself. The 24-year-old wing signed a two-year deal for $3.6 million and has shown in the early going he's much more than a spot-up three-point shooter. He put up 11 points on seven shots in 19 minutes to back up his 13 points in 19 minutes off the bench on Monday.

But he also found Scottie Barnes wide open in the lane for a pair of dunks on some crisp, crafty passes and then finished a dunk of his own on a smart cut that Barnes saw and delivered on.

“He's a hard worker,” said Nurse. “He’s kind of a playmaker, not just a shooter. He'll touch the paint a lot, which is good, and he flies off those screens.”

5. After winning the turnover and transition scoring battle convincingly on Monday night, the shoe was on the other foot Thursday.

The Raptors gave up 32 points on 20 turnovers and 19 fast-break points, but Nurse said the culprit was his club’s offense more than any other single factor. Poor shot selection created plenty of misses for Philly to run on -- Toronto shot just 11-of-37 from deep -- while a fair number of turnovers were the product of simply being out of sync and a step slow to defend in transition.

Crisper offense, the theory goes, should generate better shots, more makes and a more balanced floor on misses. Fortunately, the season doesn’t start for two more weeks.

“Transition defence is certainly based on low turnovers and rhythm shots,” said Nurse. “I thought we took a lot of unsuspected shots tonight and that gets you a half step or, or maybe one or two full steps out of getting back quick.

“That probably disappointed me more when we take a poor shot, and they'd race it up and shoot an uncontested three so that 32 is a big number … there was some shot selection transition that was poor. Again, we got it we got to get over that and get that done as well."

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