If Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals announced Kawhi Leonard is at full strength, Monday’s matchup against the Sixers served as a rock-solid confirmation. The former Finals MVP erupted once again for 35 points and seven rebounds, shooting 13-24 from the field. Yet even Super-Kawhi couldn’t save Toronto in Game 2 as Philadelphia tied the series at one game apiece in a 94-89 win at Scotiabank Arena. The Raptors supporting cast will shoulder the blame.
It’s not as though the Sixers’ four-headed monster overwhelmed Toronto’s defense in Game 2. Marc Gasol stonewalled Joel Embiid to 2-7 shooting and six turnovers. Tobias Harris ended the evening with nine points on 11 shots. Jimmy Butler’s 30 points saved Philly from a crushing comeback, draining a triple to put the Sixers up 88-81 with 2:11 to play. Yet even with Butler’s big night, locking down three of Philly’s four scorers represents a quality night at the office. Toronto’s defense in Game 2 largely mirrored its Game 1 performance, especially against Embiid. The effort should have been enough for a 2–0 series edge heading back to Philly
An elongated brick fest doomed the Raptors on Monday night. Non-Leonard players shot just 29% from the field and 26% from three. Pascal Siakam missed five of seven triples. Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry combined to make 7-23 attempts. Toronto’s bench (an expected edge in this series) hemorrhaged points at an alarming rate, with Fred VanVleet finishing the evening minus-18 in 18 minutes. Serge Ibaka didn’t fare much better at minus-12. Perhaps this was the James Ennis game, after all.
We shouldn’t bury the Raptors supporting cast after one shoddy shooting night, yet the concerns regarding their offensive production should be noted. Gasol is more valuable as a defensive linchpin than anything else at this point in his career. He won’t lose an inch banging against Embiid and his first step is far less deadly as his footspeed deteriorates. Lowry’s offensive output has slipped this year—in part due to a lower usage rate—and he continues to struggle from three. It won’t be the old heads that carry Toronto to the Finals.
Siakam’s production remains paramount north of the border. He’s a ideal wing partner with Leonard on a good night, an elite slasher, emerging three-point shooter and transition menace. The Siakam spin should be patented at this point. Yet his limitations were exposed on Monday. He still only made one three per game in 2018-19, one year after making just 0.4 per game at 22% last year. His evolution should continue into next year, though for these playoffs, teams will continue to sag off him severely. He’ll need to make a couple of triples each night to keep defenses honest. He went 9-25 from the floor on Monday and 2-7 from three. Another option around Leonard wilted in a winnable contest.
Leonard could very well be the best player in the Eastern Conference. He is back to his pre-Zaza Pachulia peak, perhaps the league’s most complete two-way force. Yet he can’t carry Toronto past Philadelphia’s All-Star quartet alone. The Raptors supporting cast should be sufficient for a Finals run. They need to show up in Philadelphia.