COUNT ON SIXERS TOBIAS HARRIS BEING A SHARPSHOOTER TONIGHT!

By Jack Ryan

Like most NBA playoff series, the Sixers-Raptors Eastern semis is all about adjustments.

From game to game.

After losing Game 1, the Sixers won games 2 and 3 by leveraging their size advantage on both ends of the court.

Meanwhile, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse rolled out tiny lineups featuring Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Kyle Lowry, or frontcourts with Pascal Siakam at the 4.

Toronto got pounded on the boards by Philly’s big lineups, and looked overmatched on defense. In Game 4, however, Nurse struck back with size of his own and the Raptors tied the series with a huge road win.

Nurse shortened the bench and stretched the minutes of the only players he can rely on: Kawhi Leonard and the other four starters. Powell and VanVleet combined to average 35.8 minutes in games 1, 2, and 3, but played a total of 11 in Game 4. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka didn’t share the floor at all in the previous three games—and have played only 34 total minutes together in all other games between the regular season and playoffs—but in Game 4, they played alongside each other for nearly 24 minutes and outscored the Sixers by 11.3 points per 100 possessions.

Playing both Gasol and Ibaka limits the Raptors’ offensive spacing, but Toronto was missing shots anyway this series with smaller players. Gasol and Ibaka execute plays better. They are good screeners who make smart plays with the ball and also offer a different offensive look.

Both Gasol and Ibaka can post up against mismatches, and they offer complementary skills in the screen game. Gasol can pick-and-pop for 3s, and Ibaka can roll down the lane and outmuscle opponents. In the clip above, the Raptors ran a double screen to use these traits, and Ibaka buried Tobias Harris underneath the rim for the bucket.

One of the Sixers’ most important changes of the series was putting Joel Embiid on Siakam and Tobias Harris on Gasol. Sixers coach Brett Brown then allowed both defenders to roam off their assignments, which clogged the lane and made it difficult for Toronto to attack. Siakam was especially limited, as it’s harder to go around Embiid than it is to drive through Harris. Siakam was visibly limited by a calf contusion in Game 4, but in the fourth quarter, he and the Raptors attacked Embiid by screening him inside the paint.

Playing with so much size would typically make a team less versatile on defense, but playing against the Sixers is an exception. Due to Ibaka and Gasol’s size, Toronto can switch on and off the ball while also protecting the rim better. Ibaka, in particular, played with an edge.

As versatile as Siakam is on defense, he can’t be an enforcer in the paint like Ibaka. The play above is a good example: Gasol and Siakam appear to miscommunicate on a switch, but Ibaka helps on a driving Ben Simmons, then rotates back over to swat Harris.

A couple of possessions can swing an entire game, and contributions like these from Ibaka helped make the difference.

Harris’s performance is worth monitoring in Game 5. He was awful on Sunday, hitting just two of his 13 triples. The Raptors were more willing to help off him to clog the paint, and Harris didn’t come through. However, Harris is a 39.6 percent shooter on catch-and-shoot 3s the past two seasons, so they may not be as lucky moving forward. It’ll be a difficult balance for the Raptors, but making changes to the system usually requires giving something up. On Sunday, going big worked.

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