Minutes before the Sixers tipped off Wednesday vs. the Raptors, we learned that their game that night was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. The Pacers’ win over the Rockets ensured that the Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
So, while Wednesday’s result was irrelevant and the game was decided entirely by the reserves in the fourth quarter, it's worth noting that the Sixers did lose to the Raptors, 125-121. A short Stanley Johnson jumper in the lane with 4.9 seconds remaining was the winning basket for Toronto.
The Sixers' final seeding game is Friday night at 9 p.m. against the Rockets.
Here are observations on the game:
A short night for Embiid
Joel Embiid’s decision-making against double teams had been a major positive in Florida, but he committed a handful of mistakes in the first half, turning it over five times. One of those turnovers came when he was slapped on the right wrist by Marc Gasol, which appeared to cause Embiid some pain. He checked back into the game later in the first quarter but did not play the second half.
Embiid had X-rays on his right hand that were negative, according to a team spokesperson, and was scheduled to play limited minutes.
This didn’t resemble a playoff environment — Serge Ibaka was out because of a right knee contusion and the Raptors, like the Sixers, limited their starters’ playing time — but it was solid experience for Embiid (albeit brief) against Gasol, a player who has had success against him in the past, and against a defense that double teams unpredictably and aggressively. He couldn’t find many opportunities to attack, scoring just five points on four field-goal attempts, and didn’t have the poise or rhythm he’d shown in the Sixers’ first few seeding games.
As always, Embiid’s health is paramount. He will, in all likelihood, need to be brilliant and able to play major minutes for the Sixers to go far in the playoffs.
The Sixers’ first-choice lineup without Ben Simmons started Wednesday after every member besides Shake Milton missed Tuesday’s game because of either rest or minor injuries.
On a night when there were many excuses available to coast through the action, the high intensity early on stood out as the Sixers built a 18-8 lead before their first substitution. The offense flowed well, with Tobias Harris hitting his first three shots and the team converting 6 of its first 7.
Defensively, there was sustained effort throughout the shot clock, something that hasn’t been present at times in the seeding games. Everyone seemed to be on the same page and sharp in rotations. And, against a team like the Raptors with a small starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, you’re reminded just how much of a nuisance the Sixers’ size and length can be, even with Simmons out.
Brett Brown said before the game he was looking for “common denominators,” areas that could apply to both the final seeding games and the playoffs. Defensive fundamentals would fall under that category, and they were strong overall from the starters in this one.
Along with Harris, who had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, Al Horford (nine points, five assists, four rebounds in 18 minutes) looked especially good. He made 2 of 5 threes vs. Toronto and is 8 for 16 from long range at Disney World.
Ironing out the rotation
Injuries have prevented the Sixers from fully solidifying a playoff rotation. Neither Alec Burks (left foot soreness) nor Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) was available Wednesday.
Brown has indicated the rotation will likely be dictated in part by matchups. For instance, Mike Scott would probably be on the bench against a smaller Celtics lineup that would have him face a player like Gordon Hayward. In addition to Scott, who it appears could be classified as a situational player, Burks, Robinson, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz are in the conversation.
Korkmaz had a strong shooting night, posting 21 points and making 5 of 9 three-point attempts, but his defense may be worrisome against Boston’s wings. If Robinson’s lingering hip injury isn’t a problem, Brown has said he likes his “clean” 3-and-D skill set. Thybulle, meanwhile, will surely have value because of his defensive talents. Burks has boosted his stock with efficient scoring and sensible playmaking. Since he turned it over four times against the Pacers on Aug. 1, he has 12 assists and two turnovers.
Raul Neto is a ball handling option, but Brown said after the Brazilian’s 22-point performance Tuesday that he did not see him as part of his postseason rotation. In 27 minutes vs. Toronto, Neto had 17 points and five assists.
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