Somehow, some way the Sixers are winners of five straight.
They moved to 5-0 on their seven-game homestand Monday night at Wells Fargo Center with a 104-101 overtime win over the Raptors after squandering a 14-point lead.
Pascal Siakam missed a three-pointer on Toronto's final overtime possession. He led his team to the extra session by posting 38 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
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The 17-12 Sixers got 28 points and 11 rebounds from Joel Embiid. James Harden had 14 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, while Tobias Harris scored 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
The team was again down Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Furkan Korkmaz (non-COVID illness). Precious Achiuwa, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. were out for Toronto.
The Sixers will try for six in a row on Wednesday when they play the Pistons. Here are observations on their victory over the Raptors:
The turnover battle
Toronto committed a few poor turnovers early, and Harden capitalized on one with a beautiful, long-distance feed to Harris for a dunk.
The Raptors’ initial game plan on Embiid was also ineffective. Scottie Barnes began on Embiid and picked up two fouls in under three minutes. Embiid then drew a double team, skillfully spun away from it, and assisted an open Harris on the wing. Harris nailed another three off of a crisp passing sequence later in the first, giving the Sixers a 15-8 lead.
Khem Birch was next up on Embiid and had an inauspicious start, throwing a pass into the first row. As always, the Raptors' approach against Embiid included many double teams.
The turnover battle tends to be especially important against Toronto, who entered Monday’s game first in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The Sixers have been good this season at forcing turnovers; they sat fourth in the NBA before tip-off in defensive turnover rate. That’s a significant upgrade from last season, when they were a middle-of-the-pack team in that area. De'Anthony Melton has played a massive role there even when he’s not tallying tons of steals. He habitually racks up deflections and makes opposing ball handlers a little less comfortable and sure of themselves. Fred VanVleet on Friday scored just nine points on 3-for-15 shooting.
Ultimately, the Sixers ended up with 16 turnovers, the Raptors 15. Toronto unsurprisingly was better on the glass, but the Sixers held their own and grabbed tough rebounds when it mattered.
A nice bench burst
Both the Sixers and Raptors played zone defense late in the first quarter. Toronto’s had the superior impact.
After the Sixers went up 19-8, they allowed the Raptors to go on an 11-0 run. That stretch included a turnover and missed three-pointer from Matisse Thybulle, as well as a close-range Embiid leaner that rimmed out. Luck always tends to play a role with zone offense, but the Sixers lacked fluidity and aggression when the Raptors first rolled out their zone.
Georges Niang snapped Toronto’s run with a three from the left wing and Thybulle got one to fall early in the second quarter. With their stars on the bench, the Sixers accelerated the pace and often scored before the Raptors could fully set up their half-court defense. Danuel House Jr. appeared on the verge of losing control at times with his open-floor adventures, but he gave the Sixers great production. House had nine points on 3-for-3 shooting in the second period, hitting a pull-up and a step-back three.
House also assisted a layup by Montrezl Harrell, whose hard-rolling style got him three hoops inside before Embiid subbed back in. While that speaks in part to the Raptors’ defensive breakdowns, Harrell teamed up nicely on pick-and-rolls with Harden and Shake Milton. At his best, Harrell rolls in a direct, fierce way that punishes late tags or any other defensive miscues. Though there’s plenty relevant for the Sixers’ bench players beyond scoring, a second-unit spurt is always welcome. Heading into the game, the Sixers’ 26.7 bench points per contest ranked 28th.
In the regular season, it would obviously be ideal if the Sixers could semi-regularly ask their bench to play extended minutes and lighten the load on Harden and Embiid. Regardless, everyone knows the Sixers intend to lean on those two in crucial moments. Following a contentious exchange that led to technical fouls for P.J. Tucker and Siakam, Harden finished the second quarter with a second-chance three and a transition layup.
Embiid was dialed in to start the third, draining a step-back three and throwing down a big dunk courtesy of Harden. Though that slam put the team up 62-49 and might’ve deflated a different opponent, the Sixers have seen in recent seasons that the Raptors can be relentless and pesky when you let them hang around.
Defense steps up when needed
Melton was the only one of the Sixers’ 10 rotation players not to score in the first half.
He generally took reasonable shots, but he just didn’t convert any of them before intermission, going 0 for 7 from the floor and 0 for 6 from three-point range. Ahead of Monday night's outing, he’d made 39.3 percent of his threes on 6.0 attempts per game.
The fifth-year guard missed his first jumper of the third quarter, too, and Siakam then scored five straight points to cut the Sixers’ lead to 62-56. Melton turned a decent look down a bit later in favor of a corner three for Harris, which worked out well. Harris drilled the jumper and Melton finally broke his personal ice on the Sixers’ next possession, slicing through Toronto’s defense for a layup and building the Sixers’ advantage back up to 13 points.
The Raptors were due for improved shooting fortune after a 3-for-17 first half from three. More of their jumpers began to drop and Siakam provided timely shotmaking inside the arc, too. Another 5-0 Siakam run meant the Sixers only led by six points when they inserted their second unit late in the third quarter. Siakam is an excellent player, but the Sixers failed to ever truly neutralize the two-time All-NBA selection in regulation despite him being Toronto's clear-cut go-to guy.
The Sixers' bench did not replicate its first-half effort. Milton, Niang and House all misfired on threes early in the fourth quarter. When Chris Boucher made a step-back triple that extended Toronto's lead to seven points, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers called timeout and the home crowd booed.
Eventually, the night turned in a kinder direction for Melton, who made two key threes in the fourth. The Sixers found the necessary intensity to claw back and went ahead on two Embiid free throws with 2:02 to go. After a fast-break Harden layup and stellar Embiid isolation defense on Siakam, the Sixers looked likely to pull out a win.
Their stars couldn't complete the job in regulation, though, and Siakam tied the game at 99-all with 5.1 seconds left by gliding past Tucker and scooping the ball into the hoop. Embiid missed a contested jumper at the fourth-quarter buzzer. Accumulating reps late in tight games often serves teams well in the long run, but this was another instance of the Sixers having to play five extra minutes that shouldn't have been required.
To their credit, the Sixers maintained their defensive focus and kept plugging away in overtime despite a few empty possessions low on ball and player movement. Harris then appeared to have made back-to-back corner threes to put the Sixers up 107-101, but the officials erased the second one because of a Tucker offensive foul.
Again, however, the Sixers clamped down on defense, forcing a shot-clock violation followed by a short three-point try from Siakam. Tucker did not have his finest defensive night results-wise, but he's consistently very strong at staying physical and competitive while believing he can earn important stops. Siakam's three shot attempts in overtime were all long jumpers, and he made none of them.