How the Sixers seized 2-0 lead over Raptors

Published April 20, 2022, 11:00 AMMiguel Flores

Before the series shifts to Toronto for Games 3 and 4, here are some takeaways from the first two games that the Sixers won at home.

The Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors series has been underwhelming, to say the least. This is like being promised the best video game in the world, then getting Cyberpunk 2077.

It hasn't been close so we’re here to dissect some themes from the first two games. The series shifts to Toronto for Games 3 and 4. What are the chances this ends being competitive at all?

Is James Harden washed?

The Sixers being up 2-0 has had a lot to do with The Beard's supreme playmaking. In Game 1, Harden dropped 14 dimes while turning the ball over just once. He only had six assists and five giveaways in Game 2, but that was mostly because Philly didn’t need him as much to pummel the Raptors for the second time.

Ben Simmons’ biggest strength was his passing. At one point, he led the league in assists leading to open 3s. The Sixers still have that with Harden, only Harden doesn’t have the yips. In an ideal world, Harden would provide the same level of playmaking as Simmons, but with the pop of perimeter scoring that Simmons lacked.

But Harden hasn’t exactly lit up Toronto’s defense. He’s shooting 34.6 percent from the field in the first two games. While he has been getting to the line, his shot has continued to trend like an NFT after a pump-and-dump.

At this point, the Sixers have no choice but to have diamond hands and hold Harden stock. If and when the Sixers need him to shoot well again in a close game, Harden is going to be under a microscope.

No mayhem in Toronto

The Raptors of the regular season out-hustled opponents and used their length at four positions to trap, double team, and zone up their opponents. They forced turnovers and ran in the break (they were second in both categories after the regular season).

So far, they haven’t been able to bully the Sixers like they have in games past. Philly is taking care of the ball, only conceding 20 turnovers in the first two games. The Sixers’ astronomical 51.6 percent field goal shooting has also helped them slow the pace down.

Perhaps it’s more alarming for Nick Nurse that Philly has out-scored them 52-20 in transition points – a category that the Raptors thrived on. The Raptors have also been rather unlucky with injuries as Gary Trent and Fred VanVleet are both far from 100 percent while Scottie Barnes missed Game 2 altogether due to an ankle sprain.

Those three, along with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, were a huge part of the Raptors’ systematic chaos. The Sixers have had no problems slicing them up, especially Joel Embiid, who dominated Game 2 with 31 points and 11 boards.

Game 3 needs to be much more different for the Raptors to succeed. The Sixers have been too comfortable.

Philly’s supporting cast

Tyrese Maxey morphing into Philly’s third best option after dropping in the 2020 Draft has been quite the surprise. He’s averaging 30.1 points in the first two games of the series and has been attacking Toronto’s defense with little impunity.

Maxey playing like this is what makes this Philly team dangerous. They don’t have a lot of depth, so Maxey and even Tobias Harris shooting well is a must for them to truly churn as a team.

Role players, however, tend to shy away on the road. Philly will be without the half-vaccinated Matisse Thybulle for Games 2 and 3. Can Philly’s other guys continue ripping the Raptors? If Maxey stays hot, this could signal his definite turn from a solid starter to star.