In Review | Saric Provides Standout Performance in Opener of Home-Home Series
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Just minutes into Thursday’s third quarter, the 76ers seemed well on their way to chasing down a win, an outcome that’s eluded them as of late, and one which, for that very reason, has grown to become even that much more coveted than usual.
Against a surging opponent boasting one of the most potent backcourts in the league, a 22-point lead wasn’t enough.
Summoning up a game-changing 30-8 blitz right after the Sixers had appeared to seize command, the Toronto Raptors came roaring back to earn a 114-109 victory at The Center.
“They jumped us,” Brett Brown said afterwards.
DeMar DeRozan proved to be a multi-faceted force, scoring at all three levels throughout the evening. En route to posting a career-best 45-point total, the All-Star guard accounted for 9 of Toronto’s final 14 points, and was very much the catalyst for his club’s comeback.
“I think that DeMar was DeMar,” said Brown.
He certainly was. The 28-year old knocked down perimeter shots, nailed jumpers on the wings and at the elbows, steadily drove the lane, and got to the free throw line.
DeRozan was 13 for 21 overall, and established a new personal-best mark with six 3-pointers. He converted 13 of 15 foul shots, steering Toronto to its fifth consecutive triumph, and 11th in its last 12 outings.
“They’re one of the elite teams in the NBA,” said Brown. “It doesn’t surprise anybody what they were going to try to do in the third period after they got down.”
The Raptors, which entered Thursday’s tilt fourth in the NBA in offensive rating, sixth in defensive rating, and third in overall net rating, ratcheted up their intensity on both sides of the floor. They became the aggressors - giving the reins to their top playmakers, drawing fouls, owning the offensive glass, and generating timely turnovers.
Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright in particular elevated their efforts following intermission, scoring 14 and 12 points, respectively, in the second stanza. They were vital to kickstarting a pivotal third-quarter burst of 14 straight points for Toronto, after the Sixers had raced out to a 76-54 advantage.
Lowry totaled 23 points, while Wright did all his damage between the third and fourth quarters.
“[Toronto] just picked it up a whole lot more,” said Ben Simmons, who notched a team-high 20 points (9-14 fg, 2-5 ft), plus 6 rebounds and 4 assists. “I think we just didn’t come with that same energy we had in the first half.”
After erasing an early six-point deficit, the Sixers managed to establish a one-point lead, 31-30, through 12 minutes of action. With the Sixers holding the same margin midway through the second frame, Simmons delivered a driving lay-up that capped a 7-0 spurt, and boosted his team’s cushion to eight, 53-45.
Moments later, with their defense clamping down, the Sixers hit the Raptors with an 8-0 run that widened the gap to 15 points. At this juncture of the contest, not only was Dario Saric scoring, he was facilitating in fine fashion.
On Thursday, the second-year forward was an impact performer on multiple fronts, finishing with 18 points and 10 boards for his sixth double-double of the season. His nine assists established a new career-high, too.
“The first half, how we played against the second team in the East, that’s the way we’re supposed to play,” said Saric.
He also deposited the Sixers’ first five points of the fourth quarter, his first basket coming on a bouncy, step-back pull-up J, and the second one on a driving left-handed lay-in that yielded a traditional three-point play. At that juncture, the lead was 93-88.
Timothe-Luwawu-Cabarrot (5 pts) hit a three to make it 96-90, but following an ensuing timeout by the Raptors, DeRozan returned, and, along with Lowry, took over. Lowry’s free throws with four minutes, 40 seconds to play gave Toronto its first lead, 101-100, since the three-minute mark of the first quarter.
A 17-footer from DeRozan put the Raptors in front for good, 103-102. From there, Toronto relied on foul shots to get across the finish line, with DeRozan doing most of the damage.
The Raptors converted 32 of 35 free throw tries in all. DeRozan and Lowry combined for 23 of those attempts.
“They attack pressure, they bury their heads, they find a spot, they bull their way into environments that are confrontational, and expose that collision,” Brown said.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid (back tightness) and JJ Redick (right hamstring tightness) Thursday. Embiid is the club’s leading scorer and rebounder, while Redick is third in scoring, and second in 3-pointers made. Nonetheless, the Sixers came out with purpose Thursday, and fought. According to Simmons, confidence was high heading into halftime.
“It’s tough, not having [Joel] and then JJ out and the line-up switching,” said Simmons, “but you’ve got to deal with that, and learn. It’s tough, but I think we can get through it. At the same time, Toronto is a good team.”
In addition to the disparity they created at the free throw line, the Raptors also had its way on the offensive glass, 19-13.
Thursday’s competitive Atlantic Division affair featured 13 lead changes, and 3 ties.
In the absence of JJ Redick (right hamstring tightness), Jerryd Bayless was thrust into starting duty for the ninth time this season. He brought a spirited, active presence to both ends of the floor, as the sequences below demonstrate:
anotha one pic.twitter.com/7juC9iFcdn
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 22, 2017
Is this one of those situations where kids these days would roll out the meme below?
Well, whether it is or it isn’t, the Sixers and Toronto Raptors will do it again on Saturday, this time north of the border at Air Canada Centre. After Saturday’s contest, the Atlantic Division rivals will pair up just once more this season, in a January 15th Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at The Center.