Marc Gasol devours Embiid and Kawhi sentence: 1-0 Raptors

Excellent defense of the Spanish pivot against the star of a Sixers who could not stop Siakam and a colossal Leonard who scored 45 points.

What during the elimination against the Magic was becoming more and more obvious was in absolute evidence in the start against the Sixers: these are not the usual Raptors. And that was the goal, sporting and spiritual, when Masai Ujiri opened the meat of the franchise with the departures of Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan. A project devastated by LeBron James (12-2 between the playoffs 2016-18), that just in case this time is on vacation and will not appear in Canada, he knew how to reinvent himself when it seemed that his time was over before he finished arriving. The biggest test of the entire season so far, this 108-95 against the Sixers that puts the 1-0 in the first semifinal of the East, awaiting what will be from this afternoon a (a priori) Huge Bucks-Celtics.

The Raptors have won five straight (their playoff record) since they honored what is already tradition with their initial defeat against the Magic. Since then, April 13, things have improved exponentially. The defense has been confirmed as one of the most solid of the playoffs and the attack has raffled a visible problem of depth based on efficiency. No, these are not the usual Raptors and their year, everything is connected, it can be the one that is also the first without LeBron in the East. Dead the dog, the rage is over.

This has been just the third victory of the franchise (3-14 now) in the first game of a playoff series. And two have been against the Sixers, who finally defeated them after the initial skid (notice for sailors) in 2001 and after seven games. It was the elimination of the final failure of Vince Carter and the passage of Allen Iverson to the Finals, where he was struck by the Lakers. With the big four of the East (Bucks, Raptors, Sixers, Celtics) at stake in a second round expected since October (it was necessary to shuffle the crosses), the losers (and there will be two inevitably) will go home very touched. So, everything counts, in this beginning of eliminatory the team of Nick Nurse showed that it has won well the poster of favorite. Now, it is better to remember the two great maxims of the playoffs: never have to exaggerate the conclusions of a game 1 and the thing does not really start until a team wins at home. This follows on Monday (02:00, Spanish time) ...

Siakam, Leonard ... and Marc Gasol

But that's for sure, the Raptors were better from beginning to end in this first game and the 1-0 is already unmovable. Or rather granted 2 minutes (2-7) before being clearly superior to Se passive Sixers, who did not have the necessary aggression for the height of the challenge nor the adaptability that required the game plan of his rival. What consumed them at the beginning was what devoured them until the outcome was written. Little defense (39 points for the Raptors in the first quarter, 61 at halftime), bad percentages, short rotation and very little continuity against an opponent who never moved outside his proposal, very strong behind and very intelligent in attack even without points until almost the end of the third quarter of a bench in which the best (and almost the only) was Serge Ibaka (7 points, 6 rebounds) .

But Kawhi Leonard seemed the best player of the series and as good as any of what's going on in the playoffs ... including Lillard and Durant. He scored 45 points and captured 11 rebounds. Siakam finished in 29 + 7. Each one scored 17 points in the first quarter and between the two they made a 28 of 38 in shots that allowed Lowry (9 points, 8 assists) to focus on directing and passing blocks to chase Redick, the only danger to the locals when he entered. in heat in the third quarter (17 points, 5 triples). With 68-64, Kawhi turned to him and the game was again 86-70, touched and sunk, three minutes from the end of the third quarter.

No really had entered into play or Tobias Harris (14 points with 17 shots) , not Jimmy Butler (10 with 12) or a little transcendent Ben Simmons (14 + 9 + 3) who does not like to play against Kawhi (and who will like it?) or indeed Joel Embiid, the key to this tie and of anyone who plays the Sixers and, in the first exam, a victim of Marc Gasol outstanding, who came to embitter Vucevic in the first round and who also exhibited against an enemy of, obviously, much more rank. The pivot Spanish (8 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3/8 in shots) signed discrete numbers with a huge influence on the game: +29 on the court, the best data of his team. He was very physical with Embiid on the post and very smart on the outside, and ended up embittering the Cameroonian, who finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5/18 shots. In those numbers of your franchise player, the Sixers are settled. Marc did not eat any feint, he did not give the shots he did not wantgranted and it seemed, something that is difficult even to write in front of the rival, left over: Embiid had a net rating of +50 when he was not on the track Marc (he breathed a bit against Ibaka, something that Nick Nurse will have to watch) and a -30 with the Spanish pivot on the court, which had him in a 1/7 and 3 points in the 10 minutes in which they coincided on track in the first half, when the narrative of the game was perfectly established.

The firmness of the Raptors , the safety of their defense and the excellence of Kawhi Leonard (who equaled the top scorer of his career) cleared the way for the Raptors in the first game and, above all, gave them reason to be optimistic about what is to come. But it will not be easy: Sixers are a gusty team, irregular, sometimes disconcerting ... but terribly dangerous and with a huge talent that is lethal when ordered. And there will be moments of the series in which it will, no doubt . Nurse against Brett Brown, Marc against Embiid and Kawhi against all ... 1-0 Raptors to start, but there is still a lot of basketball to play. And very good.

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