Serena Winters

Toronto Raptors reporters weigh in on Game 7 of playoff series vs. Sixers

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Toronto Raptors reporters weigh in on Game 7 of playoff series vs. Sixers

Before Game 7 tips off tonight, we got the lowdown on the Raptors from the media on the other side. What would Toronto have to do to beat the Sixers in Game 7?

Blake Murphy, The Athletic

I think there are two key points. They have to hit open shots around Kawhi Leonard. The Sixers have done a good job getting the ball out of his hands. The Raptors have done a good job creating really good looks from three-point range and they are hitting 32 percent on wide-open threes. In a one-game sample, you can’t really expect that to normalize, but if that is closer to 40 than to 30 percent, I like the Raptors' chances on offense. And then on the other end, it’s mostly a matter of picking Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons up on the offensive glass. All series, unless Embiid goes off, the biggest way Philadelphia has been able to create cheap offense in the half court is when Toronto loses track of Butler and Simmons once the ball goes up.

Michael Grange, Rogers Sportsnet

Some population other than Kawhi Leonard has to score, someone amongst Ibaka, Gasol and Siakam. I’d say two of those three guys have to have a good game. I think that’s what Philly is willing to live with. Embiid seems to be ignoring all three of them most of the time. They are going to have looks from three, looks from mid-range, and then, if they can convert a reasonable percentage, I think the Raptors are going to be fine. But if they don’t look to shoot or to take advantage of the room they are going to get, then Embiid gets to camp out in the paint, make life difficult for Lowry and suck up all those offensive rebounds. Then you’re really just depending on Leonard to create anything. And that’s a risky way to go.

Doug Smith, Toronto Star

I know it sounds really simplistic, but I really think that for the Raptors to win, they’ve just got to make shots, because it takes transition away from Philadelphia where Ben Simmons is far more dangerous than he is in the half court. The Raptors' defense tends to feed off their offense and if they get on a roll, I think that’s what puts them over the top. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be intense and it’s going to be very emotional. But if they calm down, get some shots in and their defense set up, take Philly out of what they do most effectively, I think that’s how they win.

Paul Jones, Raptors Radio

My two things: Play the defense that they played for four of the six games in this series, and the five games against Orlando. Nine of 11 games they’ve been really good defensively, holding opponents under 43 percent shooting, and that translates during the regular season — going all the way back to when Bryan Colangelo was the GM here — to a ridiculous win percentage. And the other thing is, make open shots. The quintessential make or miss phrase comes to mind but barring that, they’ve won some games in the series here and against Orlando when they didn’t make shots because the defense was good. I think it’s going to be close. The line is Toronto by six — I wouldn’t touch that. I think it’s going to be within the six points. And another thing — Leonard has been in win or go home games three times and has never had more than 20 points.

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How Jimmy Butler's presence has made Joel Embiid a better leader

How Jimmy Butler's presence has made Joel Embiid a better leader

TORONTO — When Jimmy Butler took the podium after Game 6, Joel Embiid was already getting ready to answer his second question.

“You started without me, man?” Butler interrupted.

For a moment, Butler almost seemed disappointed, while Embiid explained that the media prompted him to answer a question, otherwise he would’ve waited for Butler.

Butler nodded and smiled as he took a seat next to Embiid. 

“Yeah, alright,” Butler said.

It was a quick moment, but one that gives us another glimpse into the evolving relationship between the two superstars, who have recently become buddies on the postgame podium.

“We’ve been really close since he got to Philly,” Embiid said prior to Saturday’s practice. “We’ve built a friendship off the court, that’s a lot on the court, too. We always have discussions. If he’s not feeling well, he comes to me, [to tell me to] take over. If I’m not feeling well, I do the same thing, and we are always talking and trying to figure out the best way to help our teammates. It goes a long way and he definitely helps out a lot on the court.”

“I just think I try to remind him to always be himself,” Butler said of Embiid. “Always be in a good mood and always smile, good game, bad game or whatever it may be, always be who you are, the happy-go-lucky, joyful human being that knows that he is fortunate enough to play basketball and same with myself.”

For head coach Brett Brown, it’s something he’s certainly kept his eye on, noticing that Embiid has started to take notice of Butler’s habits.

“I think he has had a significant impact on Joel," Brown said of Butler. "It is hard to watch somebody be in a gym, before the bus, comes to the gym, sweaty and getting shots up.

“It’s hard to look at somebody’s attention to his health and his body. It’s hard to watch somebody perform at this level and on this stage at a level that he has and not be impressed. I think that the connection between Jimmy and Joel is growing and trending in an incredibly positive way that, to me, it is helping Joel. And those two share candid conversations and you need that. We need that. I appreciate Jimmy helping our young players.”

Embiid has taken notice.

“I know to become a better leader, you’ve always got to watch and learn and it’s better to set a better example," Embiid said. "Him being here has taught me that, because he’s always on top of everything basketball-wise. It’s helped me a lot, to become a better man. Just being on time, showing up every game. Just having a better relationship as a leader with my teammates. He doesn’t have to say anything, you just have to watch him.”

“I just hoop, man,” Butler said of his leadership style. “I got a little bit to say, not a lot. Half the time people don’t like the way I say things anyway and that’s OK. So I just go out there and hoop, lead that way, lead by example and see where we’re going to go.”

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In Sixers-Raptors Game 6, here are 3 huge questions

In Sixers-Raptors Game 6, here are 3 huge questions

It’s the only literal must-win game of the season tonight. Here are three questions to ask yourselves as you’re watching the Sixers take on the Raptors in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center.  

Is Joel Embiid smiling?

It seems simple, right? But if you watch back the last two games, there is one thing you will not see: the Sixers’ big man cracking a smile. Love it or hate it, it’s how Embiid ticks. As the Sixers' "crown jewel" said after Game 5, he shouldn’t care about what anyone else thinks, because it’s what gets him going. Rocking the baby, shimmying, airplaning, staring down opponents, leave it all on the table in Game 6.

What's the first-quarter score?

Whether you think there’s any validity to it, there’s another interesting note that has remained true in this series. Whoever has won the first quarter has won the game. The Sixers finished the regular season as the top first-quarter-scoring team in the NBA (average of 30.8 points), while the Raptors came in to the postseason at 28.1, the middle of the pack. The Raptors, though, have maintained their average throughout this series, while the Sixers have seen their first-quarter advantage neutralized thanks to the Raptors’ defense. So check that score at the end of the first quarter, it might lead us to the outcome. 

How are the Raptors shooting from three?

In the Sixers’ two wins this series, the Raptors shot just 26.6 percent from three. In case you haven’t heard a Brett Brown press conference, the Raptors were the best three-point shooting team in the NBA since their acquisition of Marc Gasol (41.0 percent). Running the Raptors off the three-point line and continuing to make the Raptors take contested threes will be crucial in tonight’s game. (It’s also why Brown has been so hesitant to show Kawhi Leonard a steady diet of double teams.) 

If the Sixers have the right answers to those questions, they’ll be heading to Toronto for a Game 7!

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