2019 NBA Playoff Preview: 76ers vs. Raptors
Your 76ers v. Raptors second-round series preview
There was never any doubt who the top dogs in the Eastern Conference were this season. And indeed the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Toronto Raptors represent the final four in the East.
The steady, rather discreet Raptors host the gaudy, turbulent Sixers in what will be a fascinating series. Toronto is only slightly favored in the series, and the oddsmakers believe this has the makings of a long series.
Kawhi Leonard has been a killer against Philly this season. He averaged north of 30 points in three resounding regular season victories this season. But by the same token, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has been his own unstoppable force. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Why the Raptors will win the series:
There are two places where Toronto has Philly licked: Experience and flexibility. Combined, these strengths should give the Raptors the edge in the series.
Kawhi Leonard is a Finals MVP winner and a former San Antonio Spur. As such, he is a consummate professional more than familiar with what it takes to win at the highest level. The same can be said of Danny Green. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol are experience veterans as well.
The above can’t be overstated. Veteran leadership provides more than just confidence. There’s a right way to approach a deep postseason run, and even with a rookie head coach in Nick Nurse, the Raptors will likely feel comfortable and locked-in all series long.
From an Xs and Os perspective, Toronto also has all the right pieces to smother Philadelphia defensively. It’s possible Gasol will be able to handle Embiid on his own, and in any event the Raptors have long and lengthy help defenders available. Ben Simmons in particular figures to struggle against Toronto’s great interior defense.
The Raptors more than hold their own on offense, too, meaning that any way you slice it, this is an elite club. The team’s roster allows for great flexibility on both sides of the ball. Toronto will demand the best from the Sixers, and even then, the Raptors look poised to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2016.
Why the Sixers will win the series:
Philadelphia has its own path to victory here as well. If the Sixers are going to win the day, they’ll need to lean on their immense star-power and win the rebounding battle.
Much has been written about the Sixers’ chemistry woes. It’s quartet of stars - Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris - are an awkward fit on the court and haven’t had much time to mesh. A surprisingly spirited series against the Brooklyn Nets might have helped catalyze a revolution, however.
In the first-round, an unlikely villain in Jared Dudley galvanized this Sixers team. Ben Simmons in particular came alive, while Jimmy Butler had a few epic moments. When healthy, Joel Embiid was nothing short of spectacular.
Floor-spacing be damned, this is a crop of players who have potentially devastating talent. To add to this, Philadelphia’s bench was actually more productive than Toronto’s in the opening round.
Even if the Sixers’ stars show some creakiness, the team will have a real opportunity on the boards. Philly excelled on the offensive and defensive glass this season, a trend that held in the opening round of the postseason. The Raptors, meanwhile, aren’t nearly as prolific rebounding the ball.
The Sixers have gravel in their gut and spit in their eye. The Raptors have ice in their veins and an almost robotic disposition. This series will be a clash of differing styles. Buckle up.