Just a few nights ago it seemed like the Philadelphia 76ers were in a perfect position to take a 3-1 lead against the Toronto Raptors. Everything changed when Kawhi Leonard dropped 39 points and dismantled the Sixers defense. Is it even possible to stop Leonard at this point?
One of the most common NBA defensive strategies is to let the opposing star ‘go off,’ while forcing the role players to step up and score. This usually works, especially against teams with weaker benches and role players.
Unfortunately for Philly, the Raptors role players did step up. While the bench for Toronto was almost non-existent, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry did what they needed to help Leonard and take control of the game.
It doesn’t help that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had a combined 21 points, however, the Raptors came to Philly and handled their business. Game 5 is going to be huge in this series, especially with home court advantage shifting back to Toronto.
What can Philly do to secure the win considering it’s in hostile territory? One solution is to actually play defense and stop Leonard. Although this seems like such an obvious solution, it really isn’t.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t been terrible against Leonard but his 29 point game 3 performance might be hard to mimic if he’s planted on Leonard all game. This is where the rest of the Sixers need to step up and handle the offensive load. If the team can hold down the offense, Butler will have a lot less pressure on himself throughout the game.
This series is up for grabs and the winner of game 5 will most likely advance to the next round. Philly has a perfect chance to steal a game on the road and close out the series at home.
Embiid to the rescue
Embiid is obviously the best offensive player on the Sixers squad. He put up a ridiculous 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game this season, leading the team in both stats.
This is the real reason Butler needs to focus on defense because the offensive end is Embiid’s game. Yes, Butler has hit some amazing clutch shots and we need him to provide that going forward but not at the expense of the team’s defense.
If the Sixers can run the offense through Embiid as usual, Butler’s points will be even more meaningful. It doesn’t help to lose a close game and put up 29 points as Butler did in game 4. One of the most vulnerable factors of the Sixers offense is Embiid’s speed. The Raptors have an easy time controlling the pace of the game when the Kansas product is a non-factor.
At the same time, that is one of the best things about Embiid’s game. When he gets going, he is able to control the pace of the entire game. Scoring on the post and faking jumpers to get to the basket slow the game down immensely.
When there are no long rebounds, the Raptors can’t push the ball in transition like they are used to. This is the best way to supplant the firepower of the Raptors and stop Leonard. He is too athletic and versatile to play defense on in transition which leads to a lot of easy baskets and open threes.
If Embiid can open up his offense in game 5, there is no chance that Kawhi even has the opportunity to put up 35-40 points. However, there is another player on the Sixers squad that needs a breakout game in order to take control of the series.
Simmons where are you?
Any fan can tell you that Philly most likely lost a game where Embiid had more assists than Simmons. You heard that right, the star point guard had fewer assists than the star center. How does that even happen?
Confidence seems to be the culprit for Simmons in this series. It might even be the main issue for the LSU product throughout the entire playoffs. The man was literally booed in game 1 of the first round against Brooklyn.
Of course, Philly fans are notorious for these kinds of antics, especially when the team isn’t performing how they should. This doesn’t take away from the fact that Simmons has been very inconsistent.
Nobody is expecting him to break ankles and take step back threes, however, we are expecting him to get at least seven assists. Coincidentally that is the number of assists Embiid had in game 4.
This is unacceptable for a point guard, especially one who has nearly a foot over his opponent, Kyle Lowry. Although Lowry doesn’t guard Simmons one-on-one, Simmons should still be able to call screens and create mismatches that will give him lanes to the basket.
Now the Australian native needs to decide if he will impact game 5 or not. Butler certainly can’t handle the offense by himself, especially if he’s going to stop Leonard for 48 minutes.
Simmons has all the tools necessary to take control of the game and the series but will he? Hopefully, he decides to embrace his skills and become the guard Philly needs. A second-round exit is not acceptable for a team that only got better since last season.
Critical game 5
This might finally be the Sixers time to break into the NBA Finals and give the City of Brotherly Love the ring they’ve been waiting so patiently for. Let’s just hope the big 3 in Philly can live up to their hype and clinch the series in game 5.