Round 2 of the 2019 NBA playoffs begin this weekend in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers squaring off on Saturday and the Boston Celtics facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. Those 4 teams lost a total of 2 games throughout the first round of the Playoffs but the 2nd round is expected to be much more competitive.
For both the Raptors and 76ers, this post-season has implications that could run into the offseason with impending free agents on both sides. With Kawhi Leonard’s free agency looming in the background for Toronto and Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler’s decision’s inevitable for the 76ers, the further either team can go, the more likely they can retain their star players.
It’s been 18 years since these 2 teams have faced in the Playoffs, but this series has the potential to be just as heated as it was in 2001 when Allen Iverson and Vince Carter were faces of the respective franchises.
Here are some of the key factors in the series between the Raptors and 76ers.
Kawhi Leonard was an unstoppable force against the Orlando Magic in the 1st round. He averaged just under 28 points a game, shooting over 55% from the field. He had an effective field goal percentage of 63%. It seemed like he was just missing shots in order to prove he was human.
To take it even further, Leonard’s numbers are ridiculous against the 76ers. In the three games Leonard played against them, he averaged over 30 points a game and 7.5 rebounds. The one and only game Leonard didn’t play, the 76ers won.
Defensively, Leonard has been dominant as well against Philly. He has Ben Simmons scared to even dribble. In the three games they’ve played against each other, the former DPOY has locked Simmons down, letting him score only 13 points and commit 3.5 turnovers in each game. Simmons also has a plus/minus of -15 when Leonard is on the court.
Joel Embiid has been a force of nature for the Sixers and absolutely obliterated the Brooklyn Nets, in the games he played, averaging 24 points and 13 rebounds. Against the Raptors, Embiid will have to deal with more defensive pressure against the 2nd best defense in the NBA. With two former defensive players of the year in Marc Gasol and Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have all the weapons to bother Embiid.
Not stop. Just bother.
Against Gasol, Embiid has averaged 22 points, 3.7 turnovers and 34% from the field, through five games. Comparatively, Embiid has been shooting 50% from the field through the first five games of the playoffs.
Another factor that may become a part of this game is the intensity. Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry have had beef on the court in the past. Serge Ibaka has gotten into it over the years with Philly and Joel Embiid is not one to back down. And of course, Embiid will be vocal on and off the court. He’s known for his antics around the league and if he can get into the heads of some of the Raptors, that could play a big factor in this series.
Bench Mob vs. Bench Bob
Both of these teams have star power on their starting lineups. Kawhi Leonard versus Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid versus Marc Gasol. Pascal Siakam vs. Tobias Harris.
But at some point, even the stars will need their rest. If these two teams starters can’t seem to find an advantage over one another, maybe it’s the bench units that can be the big factor in this series.
Much like the Sixers, the Raptors have become top heavy since the trade deadline. With Ibaka as their anchor, the Raptors have moved to an 8-man rotation through the playoffs with Powell, Ibaka and VanVleet getting the bulk of the bench minutes. For the Sixers, it’s been similar, as Mike Scott, TJ McConnell and Boban Marjanovic and James Ennis III get the bulk of the playing time.
The Sixers, however, might be missing their best bench guy in Scott for the first couple of games in the series due to an injury he sustained in Game 5 against the Nets. He’s currently day-to-day but bench efficiency will be key for both teams in this series.
Someone who could be the x-factor off the bench for the Sixers: Boban Marjanovic. The Raptors are 17th in rebounding in the league (compared to 4th for the Sixers) and a 272 lbs, 7’3″ center should do the job on the glass against the smaller bench of the Raptors.
Overall, I think the Raptors are a matchup nightmare for the Sixers.
Toronto has capable defenders that can switch off of screens and guard multiple positions while also boasting the 2nd best defense in the NBA. Out of the top 31 3-man lineups in the NBA in the postseason, the top 10 in offensive and defensive net rating are all made up of a combination of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol… the Raptors starting five.
While I think the Sixers will definitely be more competition than the Orlando Magic, I think the Raptors should handle Philadelphia in five or six games. That is if Leonard can stay healthy. The same goes for Philly’s Joel Embiid. His lingering knee issues is something to pay attention to in this series.
Prediction: Raptors in 6
2019 NBA Playoffs Schedule
Game 1: Saturday, April 27th Time- TBD, Sixers @ Raptors (TNT)
Game 2: Monday, April 29th Time- TBD, Sixers @ Raptors (TNT)
Game 3: Thursday, May 2nd Time – 8pm, Raptors @ Sixers (ESPN)
Game 4: Sunday, May 5th Time- 3:30pm, Raptors @ Sixers (ABC)
Game 5: Tuesday, May 7th Time- TBD, Sixers @ Raptors (TNT)
Game 6: Thursday, May 9th Time- TBD, Raptors @ Sixers (ESPN)
Game 7: Sunday, May 12th Time- TBD, Sixers @ Raptors (TNT)