In Game 1 of their first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers recorded the third most efficient playoff performance in 26 years for which we have play-by-play data, scoring 131 points over 89 offensive possessions.
Most effective playoff performances since 1997
|May. 3, 2002||Boston||against Philadelphia||First round||5||120||81||148.1|
|August 25, 2020||LA Clippers||against Dallas||First round||5||154||104||148.1|
|April 16, 2022||philadelphia cream||against Toronto||First round||1||131||89||147.2|
|May. 16, 2001||philadelphia cream||against Toronto||Conf. semi-finals||5||121||83||145.8|
|April 16, 2016||Miami||against charlotte||First round||1||123||85||144.7|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
And they did it with Joel Embiid (19) and James Harden (22) combining for just 41 points on 11 for 32 shooting from the field. The Sixers’ offensive stars were Tyrese Maxey (38 points, 14 for 21 shooting) and Tobias Harris (26 points, 9 for 14).
Of course, these guys don’t have that kind of performance without the attention the Raptors gave to Embiid and Harden. Toronto is an aggressive defense that will charge to the ball. He can be beaten by the pass, but he makes his bones by being disruptive. The Raptors ranked in the bottom half of the league in effective opponent field goal percentage, opponent free throw rate, and defensive rebound percentage. But he ranked ninth overall (109.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) as he led the league in opponent turnover rate (16.2 per 100 possessions).
On Saturday, we saw the negatives of the Raptors defense without the positives. Philly has committed just * three turnovers, tied for the fewest in a playoff game in the 45 years since the league began counting them. But the Sixers took advantage of the Raptors’ attention on the ball.
*Note that when a defender strips the opponent in preparation for a shot, this may initially be interpreted as a turnover, but is usually scored as a block. This was the case with The two blocks of Fred VanVleet the Saturday. So the Raptors’ defense was a bit more disruptive than the turnover count would indicate.
Here are some examples:
1. Zoning relative to iso
According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Raptors changed 55% of ball screens for the Sixers on Saturday, after changing just 24% of ball screens (the 14th highest rate in the league) in the regular season. This allowed the Sixers to play one-on-one, but with plenty of Raptor eyes on the ball.
Late in the first quarter, Harden pulled a switch on Precious Achiuwa with an early drive. He brought Achiuwa into the perimeter and two Raptors — Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam — dropped their missions on the strong side of the floor. Harden quickly handed the ball to Maxey for a catch-and-shoot 3:
Siakam was upset at Boucher after that shot, but minutes earlier Siakam himself gave up a Harris 3 wedge when he shaded himself to a Harden iso on OG Anunoby (after a ball screen change).
2. Attack the seam
In the regular season, Maxey shot 74 for 164 (45.1%) on 3 strikes and shots, ninth best among 239 players who attempted at least 100. But he’s not just an off-ball threat because he can shoot. He is also one of the fastest players in the league. It was a weapon in transition Saturday, but also in the Sixers’ half-court attack.
Early in the second quarter, Maxey screened the ball for Harden. VanVleet changed the screen, Maxey flared to the right wing and attacked the seam in the Toronto defense before Scottie Barnes could recover from being hit by the pick.
3. Defeat the melee
Maxey didn’t have to adjust the screen to take advantage of the Raptors’ slow recovery. Early in the third quarter, the Raptors traded a Harden-Embiid pick and roll, putting VanVleet on the Sixers’ center. The Raps executed a scram change, with VanVleet and Barnes trading assignments, but they were too slow. Harden quickly handed the ball to Maxey, who drove the baseline before VanVleet could get in front of him:
Room for improvement
Maxey’s speed is a serious weapon against a spinning or overloaded defense. And Harden (who had 14 assists in Game 1) deserves credit for the quick, crisp passing that punished the Raptors.
The Sixers were 16-32 from 3-point range Saturday, the eighth time in 83 games this season they’ve made at least half of their attempts from beyond the arc. And the Raptors can certainly expect to have better luck in that regard in Game 2 on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
But going forward, Toronto needs to be sharper defensively – more pressure on the ball, quicker with rotations and closures – than they were in Game 1. Maxey didn’t just beat them. They also failed to contain it in the pick and roll a few times:
Of course, defending at a high level will be more difficult without Barnes (sprained ankle), Gary Trent Jr. (illness) and Thaddeus Young (thumb injury). All three are listed as questionable for Game 2, and we can probably expect Achiuwa (Embiid’s main defender in Game 1) to start in place of Barnes.
John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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