The Philadelphia 76ers are more than capable of beating the Toronto Raptors in a seven game series.
That statement may come as a shock considering the Sixers went 1-3 against the Raptors in the regular season, but keep in mind that the “new look” Sixers have yet to face off against the Toronto Raptors. Their regular season series ended the night before they acquired Tobias Harris.
For better or worse, these two teams really haven’t faced each other yet. Keep in mind that the Toronto Raptors added Marc Gasol at the trade deadline.
The Raptors are a quality ball club, and their record certainly shows it. So how can the Sixers win a playoff series against them?
Point 1: Comparing Starting Fives
The Sixers have the best starting five in the NBA outside of the Golden State Warriors. Each starter can make an argument that they would’ve been an All-star this season.
On the flip side, the Toronto Raptors have a very solid starting five. They have threats at every position when breaking down their roster. Kawhi Leonard is arguably a top 5 NBA player, Kyle Lowry is an All-star, Pascal Siakam is a rising star, Danny Green is a perfect “3 & D” player, and an older Marc Gasol is still a good starting center.
While Toronto’s starting five certainly is very respectable, they’re simply no match compared with Philadelphia’s.
Toronto will likely have to rely on its bench depth to gain an offensive advantage against the Sixers. Which, in reality, is Toronto’s biggest strength in this series.
Point 2: Finding a Full-Time Backup Center
We’ve seen Joel Embiid battle knee soreness during the entirety of the Brooklyn Nets series, and it’s not unrealistic to say he might miss time in the Toronto series.
If Joel Embiid is out, the Sixers will need to figure out an answer at center immediately. Even though the roster currently has five of them, the answer isn’t as clear as you might think.
Most would immediately look to Boban Marjanovic; the main backup center throughout the last series. Boban provided quality minutes while Embiid rested, but it’s unlikely he will be playable in a series against Toronto.
Before the NBA Twitter and every Boban Marjanovic fan comes after me, let me explain why.
Toronto has been playing a two player rotation for their centers with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Both are mobile bigs that can stretch the floor, or even take it off the dribble.
Boban is a massive human being. While it is his biggest strength, it’s really a gift and a curse. Marjanovic is not mobile at all and is unable to keep up with quick fives. Asking him to keep up with Gasol or Ibaka is asking a lot, and you can’t expect him to do so.
So what about those three other centers? That leaves Jonah Bolden, Greg Monroe, and Amir Johnson.
Amir Johnson has been unplayable for the majority of this season, and I can’t see why this series would be an exception.
Jonah Bolden has shown flashes of being a very solid center, and he may get some run early on in this series. He’s mobile and can occasionally switch onto wing players. The key thing holding him back from being a reliable rotation player is his fouling.
Jonah Bolden has been streaky in terms of providing good play, which may cause Brett Brown to go with Greg Monroe.
Monroe got some action against Brooklyn and it certainly was… something. He got killed in pick-and-roll action, and the last thing the Sixers need is a defensive liability outside of JJ Redick.
So at this point, there is no clear answer for who the backup center will be. It will be a series changer if someone can step up as the undisputed backup center in the first few games of this series.
Point 3: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons was amazing in the Brooklyn series (not including Game One). He managed to put up 18 points-per-game on 65% shooting, 8 assists-per-game, and 7 rebounds-per-game (through the first four games).
Those are huge numbers, and the team will need him at his fullest if they want to have a shot against this Toronto team.
In recent memory, Kawhi Leonard has gotten the best of Ben Simmons and has limited him drastically. Toronto is likely to have Leonard guard whoever has the hot hand, and there will be many moments in which he will match up against Simmons.
Simmons will need to limit turnovers while being defended by Leonard, as the Raptors thrive in transition.
This is simply a series where the Sixers need all of their starters to be on their A-game, and they can’t afford to have Ben Simmons be invisible. The team frankly does not have the depth for it.
It will do wonders if Simmons can maintain his high level of play that he has shown in this postseason.
Point 4: Coaching
Making proper adjustments is the major key to winning a playoff series; and Brett Brown will certainly be tested.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse has a wide selection of talented players to choose from, and it is likely he will try some new things to exploit the Sixers’ weaknesses.
The Raptors could possibly go small and use Siakam at center, which would be a tough cover for any center on the roster; including Joel Embiid.
In the past we’ve seen Brett Brown be stubborn in terms of adjusting on the fly. It’s arguably his biggest weakness as a coach.
One of the biggest determining factors in who wins this series will be how Brown chooses when and how to adjust throughout this round.
The Toronto Raptors are a very talented team, and I won’t be surprised if this series goes 6-7 games. This will be the ultimate test to see where the Sixers are, in terms of competing.