76ers

Raptors 108, Sixers 95: Kawhi Leonard (45 points) dominates Game 1

Raptors 108, Sixers 95: Kawhi Leonard (45 points) dominates Game 1

BOX SCORE 

TORONTO — The box score says that Kawhi Leonard missed a shot or two, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

The three-time All-Star was unstoppable, pouring in 45 points as the Raptors took Game 1 over the Sixers, 108-95, at Scotiabank Arena Saturday night.

Leonard and Pascal Siakam carried Toronto offensively, scoring 74 of the team’s points and both shooting over 70 percent. The Raptors also did an outstanding job on Joel Embiid, holding the Sixers’ best player in check all night.

The positive for the Sixers is that those players aren’t going to shoot at that clip for the entire series and Embiid is too good to be held down for long.

Game 2 will be Monday night back here at Scotiabank Arena.

Here are observations from the loss.

• Leonard showed why he’s one of the best players in the world. Jimmy Butler started off on him and James Ennis got a crack off the bench. Neither player found much success as Leonard hit seven of his first eight shots. On his first shot attempt with Ben Simmons on him, Leonard threw up an air ball. It looks like Simmons’ length might be the best way to combat Leonard’s iso skills.

With Leonard, you’re not going to stop him and can only hope to contain him. He shot a scalding 16 of 22. It was a ridiculous performance.

• The other player that got off to a ridiculous start offensively was Siakam. The duo of Siakam and Leonard combined for 49 points and shot 19 of 25 in the first half. With Siakam, the biggest keys are staying with him in transition and trying to force him left. The Sixers did decently limiting him on the break, but he scorched them on drives with his strong hand.

He had 29 points on 12 of 15 shooting.

• Toronto’s defense was strong. Turnovers were an issue for the Sixers in their matchups with the Raptors this season and that continued in the first half, as they turned it over eight times, leading to 10 Toronto points. They finished with 16 turnovers for 22 Raptors’ points.

• Speaking of defense, I was most impressed by Marc Gasol’s defense on Joel Embiid. Embiid struggled mightily as Gasol forced him into difficult shots in the post and the Raptors played excellent team defense.

Embiid will get his in this series, but Saturday just wasn’t his nigh  as he shot just 5 of 18 from the field for 16 points.

• There was a lot made of Leonard defending Simmons, and rightfully so. But Simmons didn’t shrink in the moment, running the offense well and, as mentioned, doing a strong job defensively. If the Sixers have any hope of winning this series, this is the Simmons they need. He wound up with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

• It was a weird game for JJ Redick. Dating back to last season’s playoffs — and arguably his entire career — he’s been a target for opposing teams defensively. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was trying to do just that, getting Redick involved in pick-and-rolls and trying to get him in bad matchups.

When Redick isn’t hitting, that only exacerbates his issues defensively. He missed his first four threes but made four of five to start the second half. He also picked up a technical after feeling like Danny Green was using his elbows a little bit too much underneath. Redick may have had a case.

• The use of more pick-and-rolls by Brett Brown has worked out quite well. Tobias Harris has been thriving in them and has put his late-season slump in the rearview mirror. Harris was the Sixers’ best offensive player in the first half with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Toronto did a better job on him the second half, holding him to just two points. He also had five turnovers.

The Sixers could’ve used way more out of Butler as well, who went just 4 of 12 for 10 points.

• With Mike Scott out with plantar fasciitis, Brown was looking to anything to fill the minutes. He turned to second-year guard Furkan Korkmaz. That move is a true head scratcher. Korkmaz is a three-point specialist who hits them at a 32 percent clip. He’s also a huge negative defensively. I defend Brown often, but playing Korkmaz in a playoff game is completely indefensible.

On positive note about the bench, Ennis gave them a nice spark in the first half with his usual energy and ability to hit the offensive glass. He finished with 11 points.

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How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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