The Raptors’ return to Toronto on Monday night was triumphant.
The Sixers’ preseason opener, meanwhile, was far from the team’s finest showing.
After a season spent in Florida due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Raptors beat the Sixers, 123-107. Toronto's biggest lead was 30 points.
Andre Drummond had 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in his Sixers debut. Seth Curry scored 14 points and swiped four steals.
O.G. Anunoby’s 21 points led Toronto. No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes put up 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Joel Embiid (rest), Tobias Harris (right knee soreness), Ben Simmons (not with team — holdout) and Charles Bassey (not with team — work visa being finalized) didn’t suit up for the Sixers.
The team will play its second preseason game Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center, another matchup with the Raptors.
Here are three observations on the Sixers’ first of four exhibition contests:
Downhill after Drummond hits bench
Drummond was in the middle of almost everything early on. He converted a three-point play with a spin and layup through second-year center Precious Achiuwa, then scored another and-one with a powerful move on the Sixers’ next possession.
However, the 28-year-old soon gave three points back by holding the ball at the top of the key and eventually throwing an off-target pass that led to a Fred VanVleet long-distance bucket in transition. He made a similar error in the second quarter trying to rifle a one-handed backdoor pass.
Those sorts of plays are a concern with Drummond for down the line, along with his foul shooting, but he was excellent overall in a 9:32 opening stint, recording 11 points and six rebounds. Drummond screened and dove hard to the rim, rotated well for weakside blocks, gobbled up boards and even hit 7 of 8 free throws on the night.
After Drummond subbed out, Toronto immediately went on a 12-1 run as the Sixers used Georges Niang and then Paul Reed at the five spot.
With Embiid and Bassey unavailable, the Sixers had no center options besides Niang and Reed. None of the results are worth close analysis at this stage, but the Sixers obviously would’ve preferred better nights from the players behind Drummond. Niang posted five points on 2-for-5 shooting and three steals. Reed had six points (2-for-7 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes.
Maxey’s adjustment to new job
Among the important questions for the Sixers without Simmons: Which players handle the ball, and can they do so adequately? Though Simmons isn’t a traditional point guard, the facilitator void is significant.
Tyrese Maxey started at point guard, as he did throughout training camp, and recorded 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting, three assists and four turnovers. Maxey only tried two three-pointers and misfired on both. The Sixers as a team missed their first 11 threes. The team’s offense was sometimes labored and bogged down by Toronto’s on-ball aggression.
Unsurprisingly, Maxey didn’t always look comfortable striking a balance between spreading the ball around to his teammates and attacking the rim. He committed a turnover in the second period when he drove and threw an errant kick-out pass to Isaiah Joe, who’d moved from the area Maxey expected him to be.
On a positive note, Maxey’s energy wasn’t drastically dimmed in the second half despite the Sixers’ sizable deficit in an exhibition game. Joe (16 points, three steals) and Reed were competitive in garbage time, too. The Sixers will need Maxey to maintain his zest for the game this season even when things aren’t going as planned.
Shake Milton struggled to create separation off of the dribble or give the Sixers’ bench any stability. In 19 minutes, he shot 1 for 6 from the floor and had five assists.
Milton and Maxey did not share the floor. Perhaps that’s a combination worth experimenting with — especially against smaller backcourts — to see if the duo can collectively enhance the Sixers’ perimeter shot creation. As things stand, it appears Curry will be asked to do more than ever in that area.
Many grains of salt
Wins, smooth ball movement and lockdown defense are better than the alternatives, but we’ll note the preseason matters very little as a whole.
For instance, Matisse Thybulle’s preseason performance last year was not predictive of his season. He didn’t look sharp and seemed possibly on the bubble of the Sixers’ rotation, but Rivers said the team was bringing him along gradually after a training camp ankle injury and that Thybulle would play a key role. Sure enough, he did just that.
One indication of the minimal value Rivers places on the preseason: Curry and Danny Green both sat out the second half. We likely won’t see much of the Sixers’ starters as a unit until the games count.
Nevertheless, the Sixers are in an odd limbo because of Simmons’ holdout. Until there’s a resolution, greater clarity and confidence about the team’s style and identity would be ideal.
Of course, the Sixers still have three games and over two weeks left to make a bit of progress on those fronts before the team’s regular-season opener on Oct. 20 against the Pelicans.