It may be early in the NBA schedule, but this wasn’t just another game for the Sixers.
In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere, they held on to beat the Raptors, 110-104, at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday night.
Ben Simmons played composed, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle came up large and the Sixers’ defense imposed their will on Toronto.
Josh Richardson missed his sixth straight game with right hamstring tightness.
With the win, the Sixers remain unbeaten at home at 12-0 and improve to 17-7 overall. They host the Nuggets Tuesday night.
Here are observations from the win.
Steady Ben, Jo struggles
Joel Embiid was not doubled on his first touch … so he naturally turned it over. To Embiid’s credit, he didn’t let a tough start get to him. He was under control, handling double teams and taking what the game gave him. When Marc Gasol picked up his second foul, it allowed Embiid to get some looks against Serge Ibaka, which opened things up. With the Sixers out to a big lead in the fourth, Toronto used full-court pressure and Embiid struggled with it.
While a lot of attention has been paid to Embiid’s struggles against Toronto, let’s not forget that Simmons had his issues in the last matchup — even with Kawhi Leonard gone. Simmons also got off to a shaky start, looking like he was playing a little rushed. He started to let the game come to him a bit and settled in.
Embiid’s numbers weren’t mind-blowing (10 points, eight rebounds, six assists), but up until that weird fourth-quarter stretch, he didn’t force anything and his teammates made the Raptors pay.
Despite the five turnovers, Simmons had a strong overall game, flirting with a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
In general, the Sixers just seemed to handle the Raptors’ ball pressure significantly better — fourth quarter excluded — than they have in games past. A strong game from three-point range (14 of 32) also helped that cause.
Tobias makes Raptors pay
The Sixers have constantly talked about exploiting mismatches this season with their size. With the Raptors starting two smaller guards in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, there was bound to be a matchup they could exploit.
Early on, it was Harris who was by far the Sixers’ most aggressive player in attacking Lowry. In a game where the Sixers did a lot of over-passing, Harris did not. The most impressive thing about Harris’ start was the way that he attacked the rim — even when Ibaka was in the game.
With head coach Nick Nurse’s game plan to take Embiid and Simmons out of the picture as much as possible, it was on the Sixers’ supporting cast to make them pay. Harris did just that with a game-high 26 points on 4 of 8 from three and 10 of 22 overall.
Bully ball defense
The most impressive thing from the Sixers was their defense, using their length to frustrate and challenge Toronto.
Brett Brown switched up the matchups, starting the game with Al Horford on Pascal Siakam and Simmons on Kyle Lowry. Still, it was Simmons’ defensive versatility that stood out. He did well in his matchups against Siakam, who is playing at an elite level (the Sixers held him to 16 points on 7 of 18). He was also the one that was able to draw Gasol’s second foul after he was switched onto the center in the post.
You’d be hard pressed to find many — if any — players that are better than Simmons when it comes to switching one through five.
The Sixers’ defense was also big in leading to offense and easy transition looks.
This play by Horford, where the Raptors essentially had a 3-on-1 fast break, was mighty impressive and led to a transition bucket.
In general, Horford was strong in this one. With how unequipped the Sixers were at the backup center position against Toronto last postseason, it was evident the impact Horford had Sunday.
The rook continues to pass every test
Thybulle was questionable heading into this one with a sprained right ankle, but there was nothing questionable about his play.
He frustrated Lowry at every opportunity, continuing to excel at his “rearview” contests and making life miserable for his opponents. He also drew an offensive foul on Ibaka while he was screening for Lowry. The 22-year-old is getting better at walking that fine line defensively.
And what Thybulle game would be complete without a steal highlight? This was one of his three on the night.
He also continues to make shots, like this one he hit at the buzzer at the end of the first quarter which turned into a four-point play.
He also nailed two big threes in the third quarter to extend the Sixers’ lead to 18. He made a rookie career-high 5 of 8 from three and set a new high mark with 20 points. This may have been the biggest test for Thybulle this season, and he passed with flying colors.
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