The Philadelphia 76ers (1-1) continued their season-opening road trip to face the Toronto Raptors (1-2). In Nick Nurse’s first-ever game coaching against the Raptors, the Sixers won their first game of the season, 114-107.
Let’s break down the Sixers’ win over the Raptors.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 34 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 14-21 FG shooting
After a not-so-good season debut, Embiid made three of his first four shots and looked much more assertive. He was sharp looking for teammates, hunting his own looks with his size, taking care of business at the foul line and deterring shots at the rim. The middie jumper looked like a layup, just as he did last season.
Embiid has had a great understanding of what spaces he can open for teammates with his gravity and looked to get Maxey in those spots. Nurse scheming up hand-offs makes it much easier, too, and it worked often despite the Raptors essentially ignoring P.J. Tucker. Embiid didn’t let the double-teams shake him; he used the numbers advantage in his favor.
Tyrese Maxey: 34 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 12-20 FG shooting
Maxey looked great in the Sixers’ season opener but wasn’t a big focal point in the offense to start, as Philly went to Embiid in the post and Tobias Harris got a lot of early looks. He didn’t get up a shot until early in the second quarter. It took him a little to find a groove but he played some sweet music once he did.
The improvement Maxey has made to add shifty moves to his bag is super impressive. His ability to shoot off the dribble and the catch while weaponizing his blazing speed to keep defenses guessing is going to make him a serious problem for defenses. He doesn’t seem overmatched to handle playmaking duties, too, as he whipped behind-the-back bounce passes and slick dishes to cutters.
Raptors player notes:
Pascal Siakam: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3-7 FG shooting
Siakam wasn’t much of a factor for the Raptors offense. The ball moved freely and Siakam played a key part in that, but he was more of a connective passer than a sizzling playmaker. While he did make his first three shots of the night, he didn’t do much else beyond that.
Scottie Barnes: 24 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 11-16 FG shooting
The Raptors used Barnes most often as the guy to double Embiid when he got the ball. He covered a lot of ground all night and skied for two blocks. On offense, he did his best to go blow for blow with the Sixers’ stars in the third and fourth quarters but never reached the takeover status that would have helped Toronto keep pace.
The Raptors, fresh off of a road loss in overtime to the Chicago Bulls yesterday, returned home and welcomed back Nick Nurse. After five years as an assistant coach and five years at the helm that included 227 regular season wins, three playoff appearances, a Coach of the Year Award and a championship, Raptors fans gave him a loud ovation.
The Sixers were again missing James Harden while OG Anunoby sat out for Toronto. Gary Trent Jr. started in his place.
Nurse may be gone but the Raptors continue to aggressively guard Embiid, walling him off and even leaving their guy to double if they have to. He took it right to them when he got the ball on the elbow, getting into rhythm for his jumper and powering his way to the cup. Strangely, though, Maxey didn’t have much involvement in the offense early on. Embiid and Harris were the only Sixers to even attempt a shot before Kelly Oubre Jr. scored a transition layup through a foul.
The Sixers weren’t on their A-game defensively. Toronto made its first seven looks from deep, took advantage of takeaways and pushed the pace. Philly missed its first five three-point attempts and helped the Dinos out by failing to get Embiid the ball in the post, which killed shot-clock time and led to turnovers.
The second unit looked discombobulated at the start of the second quarter. After leaving Danny Green helpless in the corner with no one to pass to, forcing him to shoot an airball to beat the shot clock, they left Malachi Flynn open for a triple. Maxey forced up a few shots. It’s understandable when he’s out there as the lead initiator but, as he is learning, he has to do more to set the pace and the flow of the offense. Perhaps getting essentially frozen out of the offense early left him eager to find his stroke.
Maxey eventually settled in with a smooth behind-the-back, change-of-pace move into a pull-up jumper to get on the board. Patrick Beverley tallied three offensive boards in his first stint and Oubre attacked the rim relentlessly. Maxey hit an off-balance jumper, found Danuel House Jr. for an open fast-break dunk and drained a deep triple to tie the game. After being reduced to the background in the first quarter, he lit it up in the second.
When Embiid returned, he screened for Maxey to dribble into the corner, resulting in a go-ahead three-ball. The way they worked together while the offensive motion created opportunities for outlets inspires a lot of confidence moving forward. The Sixers, despite shooting over 40 percent worse from beyond the arc than Toronto, trailed just 59-56 at the break.
The Sixers took the lead in the first minute of the half after Embiid swished a middie and dropped a pass off to Maxey for a triple. The Raptors’ attempts to hit Jakob Poeltl on the short roll were thwarted easily. A 13-2 Philly run, punctuated by the first bucket of the season from Tucker, forced a Toronto timeout.
Maxey kept pouring on the threes, hitting six of his first seven, no matter the distance. Once perceived to be a good shooter just in theory coming into the league, he has grown into a special sniper. After Barnes didn’t get a foul call on a fast break drive, Maxey made it worse by putting the Sixers up by 13 with a deep three off the right wing. Darko Rajakovic, Nurse’s replacement, was hit with a tech for barking at the refs.
Barnes started to heat up with some nice mid-range jumpers and a tough finish over Embiid. The Raptors shared the ball well but didn’t have anyone truly driving them forward until their young forward started taking things into his own hands. But Philly’s stars couldn’t be stopped. The Sixers outscored the Raptors 35-20 in the third quarter.
The Sixers rested both Embiid and Maxey to start the fourth, going with a Harris-and-bench lineup, while Danuel House Jr. took Jaden Springer’s spot in the second unit (at least for tonight). The Raptors couldn’t get a big enough run to make it a close game with the Philly stars out, though they got some help from the Sixers in the form of fouls.
Dennis Schroder hit a pair of triples and could have had a third if Harris hadn’t trailed him closely off of a screen and swatted it out of bounds. Not to be too outdone by Maxey, Gradey Dick hit four triples in his first five attempts, the last of which cut the deficit down to five. But Embiid made the defense pay twice for their aggressive defense by finding Oubre open in the dunker spot, keeping the Sixers’ cushion intact. And then he found Maxey for another triple.
As the Raptors tried to get back into the game before time ran out, Embiid sent a Barnes layup back with gusto. Philly held on for its first W of 2023-24.
Embiid tweeted about the Francis Ngannou-Tyson Fury fight at the exact time tonight’s game was scheduled for. The only explanation is that he put warm-ups aside for a second as he showed support for his fellow Cameroonian. Perhaps it gave him some extra motivation.
NO F WAY FRANCIS GOT ROBBED🇨🇲🇨🇲
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) October 28, 2023
The Sixers will play the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow in their home opener.