3 Observations as Sixers Lose Defensive Battle to Raptors

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers dropped a tight game to the Toronto Raptors 93-88 on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers, after getting off to a fast start in the first quarter, struggled for the remainder of the game. Joel Embiid finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey added 19 points and four assists.

The Raptors, who were without Fred VanVleet (right knee injury management) and OG Anunoby (right hand ring finger fracture), were led by Pascal Siakim's 26 points and 10 rebounds. Precious Achiuwa added in 21 points and nine rebounds.

The Sixers wrap up a back-to-back with a home matchup with the Miami Heat on Monday night. Here are three observations from a frustrating loss to the Raptors:

Maxey, Thybulle act as early anchors for Sixers' offense

The Sixers got off to a fast start against the Raptors, scoring 37 points on 15-of-25 shooting in the first quarter. For a team who had been struggling a lot the past few weeks with getting off to slow starts, it was great to see the team have a great start offensively.

Matisse Thybulle powered the Sixers' offense early on, scoring eight points in the first four minutes of action. He knocked down a pair of threes, something he will need to continue to do in order to be a productive player offensively.

Thybulle finished with 12 points as he did not factor much into the team's offense outside of his hot stretch to open up the game. This is not the first time Thybulle has played a big role offensively in the first quarter before disappearing the remainder of the game. 

Thybulle also made a big impact defensively. He finished with three steals and tied his career-high with four blocks, effectively playing a major role in holding the Raptors' offense to 37.6 percent shooting from the field.

For as good as the Sixers' offense looked in the first quarter, they slowed down tremendously throughout the remainder of the game. The Sixers scored 17 points in the second quarter and went into halftime down 57-54.

While the Sixers' offense struggled in the second quarter, Maxey had a couple high-energy plays to help keep the Sixers going somewhat in what was otherwise a very tough second quarter. His ability to finish around the rim is one of his better offensive qualities, and it showed in this strong finish through a ton of contact late in the second quarter.

The game swung back and forth throughout the second half, with Maxey briefly giving the Sixers a two-point lead after going on a personal 5-0 run with 5:32 remaining in the third quarter. He made a couple good plays, but proceeded to struggle for most of the rest of the game along with the rest of the Sixers offense.

Rebounding continues to be an issue

The Sixers shot the ball equal or better than the Raptors despite coming out on the losing end. The Sixers shot 41.1 percent from the field compared to the Raptors' 37.6 percent. Both teams shot in the mid-20s from beyond the arc, and the Sixers made more free throws (21 to 16). So how exactly did they fall to the Raptors? An issue that has become all too familiar to many Sixers fans this season: Rebounding.

The Raptors killed the Sixers on the defensive glass. The Sixers allowed 12 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points in the first half alone. While Toronto did not score any second-chance points in the second half, their hustle consistently led to more opportunities and effectively worked to tire out the Sixers on the defensive end.

The Sixers were out-rebounded 56-40 and a mammoth 20-5 on the offensive glass. Their disadvantage on the offensive glass led to the Raptors putting up 20 more shots than the Sixers throughout the game. Teams will often find themselves on the wrong side of the game when they get out-rebounded and out-shot by that wide of a margin.

The Sixers' struggles on the glass could be pointed towards a few individual players. Backup center DeAndre Jordan grabbed just two rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench. The entire team outside of Embiid (13 rebounds) and James Harden (nine rebounds) did a poor job on the glass. However, the truth is the Sixers were simply out-worked as a team by the Raptors, which played a crucial role in why they went on to lose the game. The team's poor rebounding has been a consistent issue all season and will continue to actively hold this team back in close games like the one on Sunday night against the Raptors.

Sixers fizzle out after quick start, Embiid and Harden both struggle

The Sixers opened up the game on fire, but the heat eventually fizzled out and the Sixers' offense could not effectively get anything going after the end of the first quarter. There were some brief moments of success, such as Maxey's run in the third quarter or Georges Niang's ability to hit threes (he finished with 11 points and four rebounds on 3-of-7 shooting from three-point range), but overall the team was unable to play with any consistency outside of the opening quarter.

The Sixers shot 15-of-48 in the final three quarters after opening up the game shooting 15-of-25. Some of the team's offensive struggles can be placed at the feet of the two superstars leading the team: Embiid and Harden.

Embiid, who came into the game questionable with back soreness, had one of his worst shooting performances of the season. He shot just 6-of-20 from the field and missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. He had a couple of his shots rim out, but he overall struggled to get into any sort of rhythm offensively.

He did, however, do a good job getting to the free-throw line, especially in the fourth quarter. He shot 9-of-11 from the free-throw line, but it did not prove to be enough to help the Sixers to the victory. He has been playing consistently at an MVP level for much of the season, so him having an off night occasionally can be forgiven.

Harden has yet to hit his stride as a scorer after getting off to a roaring start in his first five games in a Sixers uniform. He has done a good job running the offense, but he has not been his typical self as a scorer. He scored 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including missing all four of his shots from three-point range.

The Sixers, despite Embiid's and Harden's struggles, still had a chance to win in the final minutes of the game. However, Harden uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with the team down 87-86 with 2:26 remaining. Both Embiid and Harden missed shots in the final two minutes of the game, with Embiid also committing a turnover and Harden getting called for a questionable flagrant foul with 2.7 seconds remaining that sealed the loss for the Sixers.

It is tough to win games when the Sixers get out-rebounded the way they did and both the star players struggle. With the Miami Heat coming into town on Monday night, it is likely either Embiid or Harden will get some much needed rest in the second half of their back-to-back. Hopefully they are able to take advantage and recharge their batteries for the stretch run of the regular season.

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