What's that old saying? Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern? Well, the Toronto Raptors have made a pattern out of slowing down Joel Embiid.
A week ago, that would have seemed crazy to say. The Raptors had all but given up on traditional basketball and were moving to a small-ball lineup without Aron Baynes. They had just seen Jonas Valanciunas dominate the paint and the prospect of slowing down any big, let alone an MVP contender like Embiid seemed like a pipedream.
Heck, I had no answers for Embiid.
And that, my friends, is why I'm not coaching the Toronto Raptors and Nick Nurse is.
The Raptors swarmed Embiid every time he got the ball in the paint. After Sunday night's game, he agreed with a reporter who asked him if it was the most aggressive defence he'd seen all season.
In the first of the two games this week, Toronto held Embiid to 6-for-20 shooting. It was his worst shooting performance of the season to that point.
Then on Tuesday, they did it again, holding him to a new season's worst to a 3-for-13 from the field.
In three games this season against Toronto, Embiid is shooting 32%, well below his 52.7% average. It's all because of the attention the Raptors pay to him.
But there's a catch. When you're paying so close attention to a team's superstar, it's easier to get beat by everyone else. And after the 76ers couldn't quite nail their 3-pointers on Sunday, they did make their shots on Tuesday.
"It was a gamble we made going into the game," Fred VanVleet said. "Obviously they probably just told her guys to be ready to shoot and line them up and take them, so they were they were a little bit better with their answer to our rotations tonight and we just didn't do it well enough or hard enough or a step slow so give those guys credit but, you know, that's the gamble you take sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
The 76ers nailed 17 3-pointers on Tuesday, the third-most they've made in a game this year. Of those makes, eight came after paint touches and three came after the Raptors collapsed around Embiid.
"I think that I could have done a better job with some of the schemes tonight to get our guys out to the shooters better," Nurse said. "As good as it was the other night it wasn't quite as good tonight and a lot of that's on me."
The good news for the Raptors is they've shown they can slow down Embiid and if they can do that, they should be in good shape against any big in the NBA.
"It got us back in the realm of knowing we can [defend big centres]" Nurse said. "At least we know maybe we’ve got a chance to shut him down and not just say 'oh well, too much Embiid, there's nothing we can do,' but maybe we can."
The Raptors won't play the 76ers again in the regular season, but if things bounce right for Toronto, there's a good chance the teams will meet again in the NBA Playoffs.