January 09, 2016
On Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors (24-15), the Philadelphia 76ers (4-35) saw two of their players dominate for long stretches. It wasn't enough, though, as Toronto coasted to an easy 108-95 win.
If you were in search of Jahlil Okafor’s best half, that is precisely what you got in the first 24 minutes of play. Okafor was the workmanlike, super-efficient scorer we saw in his one season at Duke. The rookie posted and toasted way to his 16 points on 8-10 shooting to go along with four boards and two pretty dimes.
"It was just the flow of the game, my teammates looking for me, talking to me, supporting me," Okafor said after the game.
Oh yeah, Okafor was also posterized in a major way by DeMar DeRozan (at least he tried to rotate!):
In all seriousness, Okafor finished a team-high plus-10 and contributed two blocks and a steal, signs of a positive effort on the defensive end. And while the rookie tends to give the standard "I'm trying to improve in all areas" answer when asked about his defense, Brown's minutes distribution clearly signaled that he was happy with Okafor's performance.
"I played Jah more extended minutes that I normally do in that third period and they only had 18 points," Brown said. "I thought it was a good defensive effort, but you felt that balance. We needed to score, which he does, and I felt that surrounding cast guarded. That's a good combination."
In the third quarter, it was Ish Smith’s turn to take over. With the Sixers facing a 13-point deficit at halftime, the fastest man in the NBA was all over the place on both ends of the floor in an inspired 12-minute run: 18 points (7-9 FG), 1 assist, 3 steals, and 2 rebounds. Look up "waterbug" in the fictional basketball dictionary, and you will find Smith's third quarter.
Smith did everything in that third period, but he also made a couple of pretty difficult jumpers. "Toughies," as I like to call 'em. By now, we all know how defenses approach Smith by now: They're going to under screens, and if that doesn't work, they're going to go under again. In Brown's estimation, Smith was just taking what Toronto gave him.
"It's been something I've been working on for a minute," Smith said. "A friend of mine, my mother, my teammates, they tell me that guys are going under those screens, work on knocking that down."
Outside of those two players, there weren’t anything close to “Standout Stars” for the Sixers. And even Okafor and Smith — The former couldn’t get the ball in the post as the game moved along while the latter was on the floor for a killer 11-0 Raptors run before the half — had their rough spots against a solid Toronto team.
Over the last couple of days, a major talking point has been the team's spirit. I personally think this a bit overblown (talent, talent, talent), but the Sixers did come out of the locker room at halftime and trim a 15-point deficit to four early in the fourth quarter.
"They [Raptors) are talented plus they got a little bit of culture and continuity going, but I didn't think that our spirit was broken really."
The aforementioned 11-0 run hurt the Sixers, and three turnovers (two for Isaiah Canaan, one for Smith) stood out. Canaan, who knocked down a couple of Canaanballs in the span of eight seconds, was asked to create offense during this stretch and that clearly isn't his strong suit.
Philly native Kyle Lowry dropped 25 points for Toronto. DeMar DeRozan and Terrance Ross, who combined for 35 points, are a couple of bigger wings whose size and shot-making ability frustrated the Sixers.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann