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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