In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Toronto Raptors will face the Philadelphia 76ers. The winner of this two and three seed matchup will face the winner of the Milwaukee vs. Boston series in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Both teams finished off their first round opponents in five games. Toronto beat the Orlando Magic after losing the first game at the buzzer, while Philadelphia also won four straight after losing Game 1 to the Brooklyn Nets.
While the Raptors won three of the four meetings in the regular season, both teams rank in the top five offensively, making for an exciting series ahead.
The Raptors were led to their first round victory by forwards Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Leonard averaged nearly 28 points per game, along with 6.6 rebounds, while Siakam averaged 22.6 points and 8.8. rebounds.
After a dismal Game 1, point guard Kyle Lowry did improve his play in the remaining games. Facing pressure for poor playoff performances recently, Lowry averaged 11.4 points and 8.6 assists against the Magic.
While these stats are good, Lowry will have to be closer to his regular season self against the Sixers. Going up against Ben Simmons, Lowry would give his team a huge boost if he returned to his regular season form of nearly 15 points per game.
The biggest challenge for the Raptors in this series will be keeping Joel Embiid from dominating in the paint. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, who was acquired by Toronto at the deadline, will have to force Embiid to take outside shots. Embiid averaged 24.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in limited playing time against the Nets.
Leonard guarding Jimmy Butler will also be a huge factor in Toronto’s success. Leonard is a lockdown defender and if he can put more pressure on players outside of Butler to score, the Raptors should be in good shape.
Up against a young and promising Brooklyn Nets team, the Sixers blew them out in almost every game after going down 0-1. Philadelphia’s offensive ability was too much for Brooklyn. If they can score like they did in the first round against a great defensive team like Toronto, the Sixers could steal this series.
The Sixers will go as far as Simmons and Embiid can take them. The team got swept in the semifinals last season, but have added two All-Star level pieces in Butler and Tobias Harris.
If Simmons can play like he did against the Nets, averaging 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists, and if Embiid can stay on the court long enough due to nagging knee problems, Philly has a great shot of winning this series.
JJ Reddick will have step up as well, since the Sixers didn’t shoot great from three against the Nets. He will have to make shots in hopes of keeping up with the Raptors, who shot slightly better from beyond the arc against the Magic.
While Lowry’s performance leaves a question mark for the Raptors, Leonard will be the difference maker they knew he would be when the team traded for him last summer. The former Finals MVP can get it done at both ends of the floor in the postseason.
Embiid’s play will be huge for the Sixers. If healthy, he should be able to dominate. If all of Philly’s big names can play up to par, as well as players like Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic off the bench, they can pull off the upset.
Both teams play great at home. Toronto was 32-9 during the regular season while Philadelphia was 31-10. For two very talented offensive teams, this could potentially be a difference maker.
Raptors in seven
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.