National Post (Latest Edition)
Raptors play big Against tough philly Club
Who needs size when you have this kind of heart? The Toronto raptors don’t have an individual who can match up physically with Joel embiid but they have a number of individuals ready to do what it takes to make life hard on a player who outweighs every raptor not named Aron baynes. even baynes gives up 20 pounds to the Sixers’ centre.
And coming off a career best 50-point night, embiid was indeed a scary proposition.
raptors head coach Nick Nurse chose to stay with his best starting lineup which even by today’s NBA standards is small. He put his faith that his smaller players would play big and play smart and limit the damage the league’s potential MVP could do to his team.
Nurse started that way and then used a heavy dose of baynes off the bench to combat embiid’s size and the strategy paid off nicely in a 110-103 win with embiid held to 25 points.
Offensively the raptors got off to a slow start but found the range from three towards the end of the first quarter and then rode the hot hand of Chris boucher off the bench for the win.
Starters Fred Vanvleet and Pascal Siakam had 23 points each but with Norm Powell having his first tough scoring night in ages, it was boucher to the rescue with five three-pointers on six attempts as the Sixers chose to roll the dice leaving boucher open behind the three-point line and eventually regretted it.
Toronto’s bench as a whole was outstanding in this game starting with boucher but huge props to baynes who came in and did the job on embiid. boucher wound up a plus-32 on the night with Terence davis an impressive plus-32 as well in his 26 minutes.
ben Simmons may have won a spot in the NBA All-star Game with his performance Sunday night with 28 points and a solid defensive night, though it came in a losing cause.
With the win the raptors improved to 16-15, the first time this season they have been above the .500 mark.
The two teams go at it again Tuesday night in Tampa.
The raptors’ only road to an allstar representative (assuming they want one) is through the coaches
— and those seven reserves each coach will vote on are due at the league office by Tuesday.
Nurse says he’s still very much in the process of narrowing down his choice to just seven and has plans to talk with some fellow coaches over the next few days, presumably to point out some of his own players’ arguments for a spot there.
Nurse, while still hopeful for a Toronto rep, knows full well the reserves normally go to players on winning teams, a claim the raptors find themselves finally on the cusp of joining. They got back to .500 Friday night with that win in Minnesota after a horrible 2-8 start to the season.
“I’m definitely hoping,” Nurse said. “I think it’s an honour for them. I think they would all really appreciate it and be proud of their accomplishment if they can get in. Kyle (Lowry) has got a string of six (appearances) going. Pascal obviously got on the board and wants to make it not just a onetime thing. I think Freddy has got a case with how well he’s played, all the minutes he has played and how well he has played with Kyle being absent. I hope somebody gets in there. It’s an organization and a team recognition. And you’re right, we are playing better in our last 20 games. Hopefully somebody will represent us.”
Nurse’s counterpart on Sunday night, Philadelphia’s doc rivers, is pushing hard to get not one but three members of this roster to the game in Atlanta.
embiid is already there but Sunday night rivers was making the case that both Simmons and Tobias Harris deserve spots based on the Sixers’ perch atop the eastern Conference standings.
“I think record has to be a factor,” rivers said. “It does. I think anybody can get numbers on a bad team, somebody’s got to score, you know. I think it’s hard to play well on a good team. It’s much harder than people think, and I don’t think people give if enough love.”
SMALL TO START, BIG OFF THE BENCH
Size is a battle the raptors are going to be fighting all season, or at least until they go out and bring in another big, if that is the course they choose.
but right now, Nurse’s best five does not include a traditional centre and even against a Sixers team that boasts a behemoth in embiid, Nurse stayed with his small starters.
It does allow him to bring both baynes and boucher off the bench together and of late that pair has looked pretty good together.
“I think the biggest thing is they have both played better individually,” Nurse said. “And that helps. For whatever reason. Maybe it’s a second-string centre or Chris playing at the four has helped him a little bit, which I think is really good for us, because again, it’s just unfair to make him play against someone he’s giving up 100 pounds to sometimes. Getting him used to that and making them play together a little bit, you’re right, it’s been probably a bonus we weren’t expecting.”
but Nurse sees more to be had if the two can keep this play up.
“I also think it’s going to pay some long-term dividends, too, because again, Chris has proven to be worthy of being on the court, and if we can find him another position to be out there, that gives him a chance to give him that chance to play out there,” Nurse said. “I think maybe he’s a better shot-blocker out there from the four than he is from the five, and that’s one of his elite skills. Hopefully those two playing together will keep looking good out there.”