Five thoughts on Game 31: Raptors 102, Sixers 86

The Toronto Raptors hosted the 76ers last night, and despite Joel Embiid making his first appearance against the Raptors, the home team walked away with a 102-86 victory.

Unfortunately I missed the game—another Christmas party!—but I’ll share a few thoughts from what I’ve seen from the stat sheet and reactions.

Joel Embiid must have been rusty

Embiid hasn’t played in 4 games, and it showed; he started out 1-6 and finished 5-13, with 5 turnovers, in 23 minutes. It’s simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate—fortunate for the Raptors, who have yet to play a full-strength Philly team and are 3-0 against them this year; but unfortunate for the fans, who deserve to see this exciting young player play at full health. But that’s the thing with Embiid—will he ever be at full health? I hope so. He’s a special player. I don’t want him to be Sam Bowie or Greg Oden.

DeMar DeRozan, shooting the lights out

DeRozan is 14-23 from three-point range over the past five games, all Raptors wins. He’s averaging 30.8 points on 56.5% shooting over that span, with 3.8 assists; he’s also getting to the free throw line 9 times a game. Dude is on fire.

Also, check this out:

Pretty impressive!

Delon Wright seems fully healthy

Delon was on a minutes restriction following his return from his shoulder injury, but in these two games against Philly, he’s played 53 minutes. That’s a great sign, because the impact he makes when he comes into the game is clear—and not just on offense. Yeah, he scored 26 points in the two games and shot 3-6 from 3-point range, which is great. But on the defensive end? He’s all over the place. He’s averaging 2.3 deflecting per game, which is in the top 35 in the league – in fewer minutes than anyone in the top 40 other than Kawhi Leonard. His long arms impact the way teams organize their offense, and, when you combine him with a Pascal Siakam or an OG Anunoby, that length is a real difference maker for the Raptors on the defensive end. It’s great to see.

Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, not stuffing the stat sheet

In the two games against Philadelphia, FVV and Pascal are a combined 3-20 from the floor, including 0-9 from three-point range. Yet Pascal played 19 and 23 minutes, and Fred 14 and 19. Why are they out there? Much like Delon, it’s the defense. Fred VanVleet was apparently brilliant doubling down on Embiid in the post yesterday, helping generate some of those five turnovers. Pascal added three steals.

The bench may not have much offensive firepower—especially with CJ Miles out, and Norman Powell still struggling with consistency—but they can hold their own defensively.

Should the Toronto Raptors play on Christmas Day?

A lot of noise this week on why the Raptors, one of the best teams in the league this year and over the past four, don’t play on the NBA’s signature day. I just wish the NBA would come out and say it: This is a day for the TV partners and the advertisers, and we don’t make as much money airing games in Canada. It has nothing to do with disrespecting the team, its stars, its style of play, any of that crap. It’s money. It’s that simple. I don’t know why the NBA doesn’t just say it, so that we can get over it and stop having this discussion.

I’ll predict, though, that—if the Raptors make a decent playoff run this year—they will be on TV next year at Christmas. And two days later when the ratings come out, and everyone says, “see? This is why they don’t play on Christmas: no one watched,” we’ll be free of this story—for a little while.

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That’s wins in 12 of their last 13 games for the Raptors. They’ve also got the best home record in the NBA.

Over this 5-game stretch—where, admittedly, the quality of the opposition hasn’t been great—the Raptors are averaging 114 points per game, winning by an average of 17.4 points, and assisting on 23 of their 42 field goals a game.

Not only is that making for winning basketball, it’s making for fun basketball to watch.

Let’s see if they can keep it up on Boxing Day, when they play the Mavericks in Dallas.

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