Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL

The Philadelphia 76ers (20-11) guested in Tampa to play for Raptors (16-15) on Tuesday. It was the second leg of a two-game series as visitors to the Raptors. The Sixers lost the first leg, 110-103, on Sunday. Philadelphia connected on 17 threes en route to a 109-102 victory to split the series in Tampa and improved to 8-9 on the road this season.

Before we get to the action, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Before the game, it was revealed that Ben Simmons would make his third consecutive All-Star roster. Tobias Harris was snubbed, even though the vast majority of local viewers believe Harris was more worthy. After the victory, Simmons expressed gratitude for the selection. “It was a blessing. I don’t take it for granted, there’s a lot of talented guys out there,” Simmons said. “The mentality I have every season is ‘come in and try to win and everything else will take care of itself’. I don’t go for the individual accolades unless it’s Defensive Player of the Year, which I want to get this year. I think I should be up there for that. But, I want to compete and play against the best players every night and show why I’m in this league.”

Seth Curry missed the game due to left ankle soreness. Furkan Korkmaz started in his place.

The Raptors were without Kyle Lowry (sprained left thumb) once again. Nick Nurse started Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and DeAndre’ Bembry. 

First Half

Furkan Korkmaz owned the first quarter. After Rivers revealed that Isaiah Joe would be taking his spot in the rotation, Korkmaz was the beneficiary of a final chance to prove himself with Curry missing the game. He responded to the pressure with a 16-point first quarter that featured a quartet of threes.

Korkmaz touched on that off-ball movement after the game. “I’ve been watching a lot of tapes,” Korkmaz said. “I’m trying to watch other shooters, how they get in position out there throughout the game. But, especially the game is so easy when you play with Joel and Ben because they open the court a lot for you. It seems to help them more and then you become more open. So, it’s easy to get those baskets.” Korkmaz is converting less than 31 percent of his nearly four attempts per game. If he can connect on more of those easy baskets, Korkmaz will be able to supply some much needed ammunition off the bench.

Philadelphia’s perimeter defense was the story of the first half. The Sixers did an exquisite job of keeping themselves squared with their individual assignments. They didn’t allow Toronto to burst off the three-point line to create space, and the Sixers did a tremendous job of playing with balanced feet. Very rarely do you see them control a game on the defensive end for an extended period of time, but they dictated the Raptors’ offense for much of the first half. The Raptors connected on just 18 of their fifty field goal attempts in the first half. But, they were able to stay in the game despite the masterful defense because of Philadelphia’s turnover issues (seven in the first half).

Second Half

Even though he has really struggled through the overwhelming majority of this season, Korkmaz has given himself a better chance of converting his looks and aided the natural flow of the offense just by moving off-ball. He has become a much more willing and capable off-ball mover, and it has effectively freed him for better looks than he might’ve gotten in seasons past. With Embiid identifying double-teams at a more consistent clip, Korkmaz is finding a medium between roaming into Embiid’s line of sight while not bringing his own defender over too far. The result has been willing passes from Embiid, better ball movement on the perimeter, and a higher volume of open looks for Korkmaz.

Swiper, No Swiping

One of the great wonders of the world is Joel Embiid’s profound struggle specifically against the Raptors. On the surface, they obviously defend him quite physically. But, Embiid has dealt with physical defense before and lived to fight another day. I think what it comes down to is Toronto’s hand-eye discipline. There were numerous possessions in which Embiid had the ball under the basket and lost it going up for finishes.

The Raptors are proficient at leveraging their size to crowd his vision so that he can’t go up with authority and pound the ball in. But, what really makes Embiid’s life difficult is VanVleet or Powell sneaking in and slapping the ball out of his hand as he goes up for finishes. They time it well and catch Embiid when he’s least expecting it and are able to slap the ball away. It often gives the appearance that Embiid just lost the ball off of his foot, but the reality is that the Raptors are timing their attempts to strip the rock very well.

Embiid eventually picks up on it, but he then sometimes rushes around the basket so that the Raptors cannot converge in time. Either way, he’s not getting the most out of possessions down low. The trouble in the paint pushes him out to the perimeter, where the Raptors can double-team him, and that obviously makes it much more difficult for Embiid to go to work.

The big difference between Sunday’s game and this game was Philadelphia’s three-point shooting in the second half. The Sixers connected on seventeen of their 38 attempted triples, and preserved four of those makes for the final frame of play.

“I thought we kind of let up, made some really bad plays, bad turnovers, careless plays.”

This game did not have to be nearly as excruciating as it was in the closing minutes. But, the Sixers simply did not take care of the ball down the stretch. They finished with eighteen turnovers in the game, four of which came in the final quarter. There was a particularly head-less play by Danny Green on an inbound pass down the stretch that ultimately needed several minutes of review to be clarified. I don’t believe that that play resulted in a turnover, but it was unnecessary.

Green’s laziness underscored the Sixers’ inability to knock the Raptors out of the game when they had them down. Of course, the occasional bad play is just a part of being human. But, a veteran like Green making a lazy, unnecessary play to compromise the possession is unacceptable. This team is led by three players who have never made it beyond the second round of the playoffs. It needs its championship-winning veterans to set the tone. Green’s nonchalant inbound pass does not contribute to building championship culture. It very well may sound ridiculous to harp on something like an inbound play, but those little things always add up. Good practices make for good culture.

Rivers ultimately was unsatisfied with his team’s execution down the stretch in this game. “I thought that was more helter skelter, forcing turnovers. We didn’t handle that well,” Rivers said after the win. “But through the game, if you go through the first three-and-a-half quarters, I thought it was a pretty low turnover game and I’ll take the way we played there. I didn’t like how we closed the game out. I thought we kind of let up, made some really bad plays, bad turnovers, careless plays. So, I didn’t like that. But, overall, you’ll read that 18 number and look at that. But, in the meat of the game, we didn’t turn the ball over that much. So, I look at that more.”

The Sixers (21-11) will host the Dallas Mavericks (15-15) on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on TNT.