Title: Raptors leave Kawhi Leonard with too little help, 76ers keep looking better in taking Game 3
Date: May 2, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic, I wrote about a disastrous Game 3 for the Raptors against the 76ers and how they desperately need to give Kawhi Leonard some help.
All season long, the Raptors closing speed has impressed. Whether in a hole early or letting an opponent hang around too long, Toronto’s upside has always been lurking. They are a flip-the-switch team, so much as that can exist, and they’d shown that early and often in the postseason.
They weren’t defeated, then, when a lacklustre first half took them into the halftime of Game 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers down 11. The Raptors might have been lucky to be within striking distance, all things told, as a combination of poor process and poor execution – bench-heavy lineups, poor decisions attacking perceived mismatches, generally underwhelming execution and some inexcusable mistakes on their own glass – could have had them in a bigger hole. Even when they played a few minutes of the third quarter in back-and-forth fashion and fell behind 15, the game didn’t feel out of reach.
The last six minutes of the third quarter were instructive in that sense. Nick Nurse rode his starters heavily, eschewing the idea of matching Marc Gasol to Joel Embiid, which he’d done more in the first half, in order to try to mount a comeback run while Embiid sat. The Raptors handed the keys to the offence to Kawhi Leonard, dug in defensively, and began what’s become a pretty familiar in-game redemption narrative. After Ben Simmons picked up a technical foul at the end of the quarter for some post-buzzer shenanigans with Pascal Siakam, the lead was down to seven and stealing a game on the road – and regaining home-court advantage in the series – looked within reach.
A few minutes later, Embiid was pulling out a windmill dunk in the lane and running back on defence with his arms spread wide and a giddy smile on his face, the 76ers up 26.