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How the Raptors stymied Embiid, Harden en route to big win over 76ers

The Toronto Raptors faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night for the first time since their tumultuous six-game series last postseason.

Toronto led for most of the way and kept Philadelphia at bay, winning the game 119-109. Specifically, it was the Raptors’ ability to stifle the tandem of Joel Embiid and James Harden — forcing them to score in bunches, as opposed to their usual flurry of offence — as well as another scintillating all-around performance by Pascal Siakam.

While both teams were ostensibly stocked with the same players as last season’s playoff series, Toronto saw itself playing against a healthy combo of Embiid and Harden. Here how the Raps got it done Wednesday night.

Shutting Embiid down in the fourth

When it came to defending Embiid, Nick Nurse’s squad deployed a similar strategy to their last meeting — constantly doubling the All-NBA big man and inundating him with blitz action, forcing him to be a playmaker as opposed to a scorer. Furthermore, the 28-year-old saw a rotation's worth of Raptors defenders, precluding him from getting comfortable with a particular matchup.

While the five-time All Star finished with an efficient 31 points, it was Toronto’s defensive tenacity on Embiid in the fourth quarter that sealed the game. They held him to just five points, with two of them coming when the Sixers were down by 12 with under 1:30 remaining.

Tyrese Maxey talked about Toronto’s defence during his postgame presser, extolling them for their versatility and ability to disrupt Embiid’s passes.

Against Toronto in last year’s postseason, Embiid averaged 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds, on an efficient 52 percent from the field. Nick Nurse’s defensive strategy found its footing in Games 4 and 5 of that series, where his squad relegated the big man to under 22 points per game, and a combined nine turnovers.

Raptors stifle Harden in the second half

Harden, who averaged 19 points, 10.2 assists, and 5 rebounds in last season’s playoff series against Toronto, was restricted during the 2021-22 postseason with a hamstring injury.

The Raptors, therefore, made it a point of emphasis to force the former MVP to attack, be a scorer, and keep him out of the perimeter. This season, however, the 33-year-old seems to be in better shape, regaining strength in his hamstring and scoring at a more efficient pace.

The Raptors didn't leave any space for James Harden and Joel Embiid to work with in the second half. (Getty)
The Raptors didn't leave any space for James Harden and Joel Embiid to work with in the second half. (Getty)

Understandably so, Toronto’s game plan for Harden was different on Wednesday night, as they applied more on-ball pressure, and picked him up as soon as he crossed halfcourt. This prompted the future Hall of Famer to be decisive in his decision-making, as well as forced him into arduous shots.

These defensive machinations paid dividends, especially in the second half, as Harden was held to just five points in the final two frames, three of which came during garbage time. The All-Star guard finished the game with 18 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds.

Pascal Siakam stuffs the stat sheet

Siakam put up 20 points, 13 assists, and five rebounds in what has become a run-of-the-mill statline for the 28-year-old.

The Cameroon native, who came into this game averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 assists, and 10.0 rebounds, talked before the season about how he wanted to be recognized as a top-five player in the league. After yet another well-rounded performance, specifically showcasing his playmaking prowess, Siakam appears to be living up to the high standards he placed on himself.

To contextualize Siakam’s sensational play as of late, he is one of two players to currently have totals of 100 points, 25 rebounds, and 25 assists — the other player on the list being his opponent on Wednesday night, Harden. Furthermore, he has evolved as a passer like never before, averaging 10 assists over his last four games.

Toronto and Philadelphia will play again on Friday night at Scotiabank arena.

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