Raptors and Sixers will put many friendships aside for playoff battle

Sunday, 28 Apr, 2019

Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Raptors and 76ers is expected to be Saturday night in Toronto. Philadelphia is in Toronto after defeating the Brooklyn Nets in five games as well.

With fan pressure building and Sixers owner Scott O'Neil putting it out there that he expects the Sixers to advance beyond what they did past year, Brown could lose his job and this "Process" may have to hit the restart button.

The Sixers' only win in four games against the Raptors this season came when Kawhi Leonard did not play for Toronto on December 22 at Philadelphia.

Saturday's Game 1 will be Philadelphia's starting point to try to avenge last season's second round loss to the Boston Celtics and reach a new height for this group. Both made deals prior to the February 7 trade deadline with the Raptors acquiring Gasol from Memphis and Philadelphia picking up Tobias Harris in a deal with the L.A. Clippers.

Sixers coach Brett Brown wants the season series to come with an asterisk.

"I'm surprised we didn't come out with more grit, more fight", said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. "And so you can credit or discredit".

"I think it'll be a big deal (for fans in Cameroon) for sure". After game one, the Philadelphia crowd was loud in booing their own team, something that I had no shame in stating that I didn't agree with.

Still, the Sixers have one of those players, as well, in Joel Embiid - not to mention Simmons, Redick, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, all of whom combine to form one of the most talented starting lineups in the entire National Basketball Association.

All five individuals in that lineup possess enough defensive versatility to create tremendous problems for Philadelphia; Green, Siakam and Leonard arguably make up the most lethal perimeter-defending trio in the entire league, with all three capable of switching onto and guarding four positions.

"I think, and I understand the history of our lack of success is a real topic, but I would remind everybody we have never played them with the team we have", Brown said before his team practiced here Thursday afternoon, "so the context needs to be somewhat considered".

The Toronto Raptors have been considered title contenders since they acquired Kawhi Leonard previous year. So, we just got to be aggressive but at the same time, go through the pace of the game without forcing anything. "(Philly is) going to be a completely different series, no matter who we play in terms of matchups and the way those things go so we've got to flush this one, it's good to get it done and now we've got to focus on the next go". Add to it the rumor that Embiid is still dealing with knee tendinitis, and this match-up could be the one of the primary causes of the Sixers' downfall in this series. "He finds ways to make big plays at the defensive end - whether it's just with pressure or shooting the gap or deflecting a ball or just going and taking it from somebody".

While the Raptors had a winning regular-season record against Philly, Lowry said all that goes out in the window when they face off in the playoffs.

Philadelphia played very well offensively in the last round, averaging 122.4 points per game. When he missed Game 3, the unlikely duo of Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanovic combined for 23 points and 21 rebounds in the Sixers' 131-115 win. Former Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova star Kyle Lowery is also going to be tough to stop. In the four previous games they were in the low to mid 20's in assists.

With both players sitting out chunks of the season, Leonard for load management and Lowry with a back injury, they continue to develop chemistry. With both teams generally healthy and ready to go, this second-round series will be a battle for the ages.

"I think we're just continuing to get better", Lowry said.