The Toronto Raptors gave Joel Embiid the Giannis Antetokounmpo treatment on Sunday night. If Toronto was going to lose to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, it wasn't going to be because Embiid beat them.
While most teams go into games against the 76ers with that kind of mindset, few teams can actually frustrate Embiid quite like Toronto. His 25 points and a game-high 17 rebounds were certainly impressive, but they were far from easy. He shot 6-for-20 from the field, the worst shooting performance of his season, and he only made meaningful progress at the free-throw line where he shot 12-for-14 after some really hard fouls.
"[Aron Baynes] got his money's worth on a few [fouls]," Raptors coach Nick Nurse. "That's important too to let them know we're gonna be physical."
The key to the Raptors' defence on Sunday was sending bodies at Embiid and stopping him from getting into his post-up shimmy on the left block.
"As soon I crossed half court, they just sent two or three guys on me, to make sure that I wasn't going to be the one that beat them tonight," Embiid said.
On an average night, Embiid posts up opposing defences almost 13 times, according to NBA Stats. He's one of the few players in the league that's still allowed to post-up that much because he's hyper-efficient down low. Against the Raptors on Sunday, Embiid posted up 18 times. But instead of going up with the ball and scoring with his deadly post moves, he passed out of his post-ups on 72.2% of his chances, almost 40% more than he normally does, per NBA Stats.
"Whenever you play [the Raptors] they trap a lot and they did that," 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought Joel overall handled the traps perfectly and then we end up getting great shots. We just couldn't make any tonight."
Some of that was just good luck for the Raptors. The 76ers are shooting 47.7% from the floor this season and 36.1% from behind the arc. So a 38.8% shooting night with 29.7% 3-point shooting is fairly unusual for Philadelphia. But it can't just be a coincidence that the 76ers two worst shooting nights of the season have come against Toronto.
On Sunday, a lot of the 76ers' shooting woes had to do with the Raptors' ability to collapse into the paint and then jump out or rotate onto perimeter shooters with strong closeouts.
"I thought defensively we were there executing what we wanted to," Nurse said. "There were a few communication breakdowns here and there, but for the most part we were as active as we could be both in and out."
When the Raptors are whizzing around, containing superstars, and getting out to contest 3-point shooters, they're as good as it gets in the league.
The 76ers will likely shoot considerably better on Tuesday night, but if Toronto can continue to keep Embiid under wraps, the Raptors should be able to knock off Philadelphia again and clinch their fifth straight victory.