By Dylan MacKinnon
There is a history between Joel Embiid and the Raptors. One that goes beyond the heartbreaking playoff loss a few years ago. There is a narrative out there that the Raptors have his number. And the stats do not disprove that narrative. In his career, Embiid has averaged 21.3pts per game, 4.1 turnovers per game while shooting 42.2% from the field, and just 26.8% from 3 in 17 regular season games vs the Raptors. Compare that to his overall career numbers, and its 5 fewer pts per game, almost an extra turnover per game, a 7% lower FG percentage, and a 5% lower 3pFG%. The way the Raptors have accomplished that is by attacking Embiid with aggressive, at times reckless Double Teams. Embiid seems to be well aware of that, and he is ready for the challenge of it.
“I’m not going into the series hoping to average 40. They’re gonna get the ball out of my hands so it’s all about me really not getting frustrated and trusting my teammates over and over and just making the right plays. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10/20 points, or whatever, as long as we’re scoring, and that’s my mentality. It starts with me. All the attention that they’re gonna throw at me, I just gotta make my teammates better.”- Joel Embiid
He is not going to be able to do that alone though. Embiid can recognize the double team, and be ready to pass out of it, but if his teammates are not open there will not be much that he can do. That is partly what happened the last time the Sixers faced the Raptors. Anytime Embiid got the ball he was swarmed by the Raptors’ defense. Embiid had 5 turnovers from either trying to make difficult passes or forcing a shot. The movement to and around Embiid was not good enough. And while Embiid needs to be better than he was that night, so do his teammates.
“I think we can improve in getting to the spots better, quicker with more spacing. I’ve always said, you gotta give the big man the answer, too. Where guys are gonna be and he’s positive guys are gonna be there. We have to be in our spots so when he passes, some of those passes are through arms. His teammates sometimes think they’re wide-open. They are wide-open. But Joel’s throwing through a bunch of arms, he doesn’t see them.”- Doc Rivers
Not only will they have to be willing to move and get open though, but when they get those open shots, they have to hit them. The presence of James Harden has helped create much better spacing. And the Sixers have mostly been a better 3pts shooting team, despite Harden himself struggling from distance. That will have to continue. If the Raptors are going to be so aggressive on the double team, the open man has to make them pay for that.
Danny Green is expected to start in place of Matisse Thybulle, who will be unavailable for road games. And while they will miss his presence of defense, Green’s 3pt shooting could be a huge help in the starting lineup. Green shot 38% from deep this season. But since joining the starters, he is 10 for 17 from deep in 3 games
Tonight’s game tips at around 6 pm, but our coverage begins at 4 with a special broadcast from the Wells Fargo Center with Devon Givens and Bob Cooney. Then at 5:50 Devon Givens remains on for the Pre-Game Show. And then Tom McGinnis takes the call at 6. After the game, Devon will have an extended Pre-Game Show up until 10 pm.
We will have to wait until the game starts to see if Embiid is ready for the challenge of the Raptors double-teams. He certainly seems to have the right mindset. it is just a matter of execution.
“Going into the series, I’ve played against them enough that I kind of know how they play. If that’s what they want to do, I already know the adjustment, and I’m just going to trust my teammates.”