The Sixers made two major trades in the regular season as part of the vaunted “Arms Race in the East.” Acquiring Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris gave the Sixers a big 4. And yet, on Monday night in Game 2, it was some of the lesser publicized acquisitions that gave Brown the chess pieces he needed to throw the Raptors off balance in a 94-89 win. This win evens the series at 1-1 heading back to Philadelphia.
Win or lose, the Sixers coaching staff has put a hell of a game plan together tonight and the Sixers, to a man are defending their asses off.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 30, 2019
Prior to the game, Joel Embiid was on an IV for a stomach flu that kept him out of the morning practice. “I knew I was playing,” said Embiid after the game. “There’s no way I was missing this game. Like I said, this game was really important to us, it doesn’t matter what I had, I was going to play. So, doesn’t matter.”
“If you’ve had the shits before you would know how it feels” Joel Embiid— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 30, 2019
Embiid struggled from the field generally with just 12 points on 2 for 7 shooting. He was instrumental to the gameplan defensively however.
Brett Brown Plays Chess
The first notable change to the gameplan was Brown moving Tobias Harris onto Marc Gasol and Embiid onto Pascal Siakam. “The guy we had to stop was Pascal,” Embiid said after the game. “Unless it was in the corner, I had free reign to just go anywhere…. He shot 9-25, I did a good job!” Joel said while looking at the box score in the locker room.
“If you take away the 18 points they had off of turnovers, and you look and see we held them to 38 points, I was proud of our defense for those reasons,” said Brett Brown after the game.
Siakam scored 21 points on 9-25 shooting. When asked about the adjustment on him, Pascal Siakam said, “I think I missed shots that I should make, so that’s on me mostly.”
“It was a good adjustment by them… We didn’t play well tonight, and they played really desperate and super hard tonight and they got a victory,” said Kyle Lowry.
“Yeah, I feel like them putting (Tobias) Harris on Marc (Gasol) probably got us out of rhythm a little bit. You know, once we figured it out, I feel like we started playing better,” Leonard said. Kawhi scored 35 points on 13-24 shooting, but his impact was less profound on the game than in Game 1.
Jimmy Not James
“This was James Butler, that was the adult in the gym” Brett Brown on the game Butler had tonight.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) April 30, 2019
“First of all, my name is Jimmy,” said Butler after the game. “My team had a lot of faith in me in me tonight, I told them I had to come out and redeem myself, and they did a great job.” Butler finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists to bounce back after a struggle in Game 1.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Philadelphia. The Sixers will be coming off of 3 days rest which is huge on a number of vectors. One, it will give Joel Embiid more time to rest and recover. His fitness and conditioning have been improving over the past couple of weeks, and the struggles with his knee are fading. He was notably wearing tape around that sore left knee in the locker room postgame, so the pain is not completely gone however.
Secondly, Mike Scott appears to have some hope that he will be able to “give it a go.” I talked to Scott in the locker room before the game, and he said he is improving and hoping to play this series. Scott gives the team a key option off the bench that they have lacked.
Thirdly, it gives Brett Brown additional time to plan for his next move in the chess match. More time off between games generally favors the more veteran coach and players.
Overall, the outlook for this series has undergone a seismic shift. It would have been a stretch before to call the Sixers the favorite to advance. But they have shown that their ability to mix things up is a major factor.