Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors host Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night. The series currently sits at 2-2 with both teams splitting their home and road games 1-1. The fourth game was one with a very strange path to the eventual outcome, but I wouldn’t really expect that to be the same tonight.
Going into last game, we had Pascal Siakam listed as doubtful with a right calf contusion, which was likely caused from a tripping foul on Joel Embiid in Game 3. I wrote before the last game that I thought the doubtful tag on Siakam was rather strange because a contusion is almost always simply about pain management. Now, we never know the effectiveness of players when they are asked to play through pain, but it would’ve been really hard for the second best player on a playoff team to sit out a game on the road down 2-1 in the series if it was even somewhat possible to play.
Siakam did eventually play, but he was very hindered all game long, shooting 2-10 from the field and posting a -5 in the plus/minus column. I expect Siakam to be closer to 100% tonight, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him play fewer minutes than he was in the first few games. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he lacks efficiency with this pain. He is not listed on the injury report, but I assume that is because they know he is going to play, not because he is 100%.
The other major storyline leaving Game 4 that was previously unknown was Joel Embiid’s illness. Supposedly, Embiid was getting IVs on game day just to feel good enough to play, and this clearly hindered his performance. This leaves me really questioning the direction of the series because I think a lot of it hangs on Joel Embiid’s effectiveness. Going into the series, it was viable to believe that Embiid would struggle a decent amount in what is a bad matchup vs. Marc Gasol and then some competent help defenders like Kawhi and Siakam that aren’t non-factors like a lot of guys are when they are switched onto Embiid.
Embiid has really struggled to look himself in three of the four games. The kicker here is that Embiid has claimed sickness in three of the four games and then smashed in the only game that he says he was feeling good. Now, is this an excuse? Maybe, but I do think that there is something that has limited his effectiveness given the dominance he did display in Game 3 compared to the rest of the series. I believe that Embiid will be the key to this series and I think that the Sixers win if he can replicate his Game 3 form moving forward.
I don’t really expect the play of the 76ers as a whole to change too much moving forward. Tobias Harris is a shooter that is going to have good and bad games. Redick is a shooter that is really a defensive liability. Simmons can’t create his own shot but is a solid defender and good distributor. Jimmy Butler has been relied upon a lot in this series as the go-to guy because that is really his style. I think that these guys just are what they are and I think the Raptors have a lot more moving parts.
Leonard Needs Help
Kawhi Leonard’s supporting cast has been pretty dreadful in this series, and it all starts with the guard play. Kyle Lowry has not really been a factor until the last game where Siakam took a lesser role. Fred VanVleet is shooting 9% and has been the worst player on the court in the series. Danny Green isn’t picking up any of the slack either for these struggles.
I think that Lowry will be more like Game 4 Lowry than Games 1-3, but the issue is that we can’t expect Kawhi to continue to produce at this rate. Kawhi is having one of the most efficient playoff series in NBA history, and his team is tied 2-2 while the other team’s best player has been sick. Even Siakam has likely overperformed in two games.
The key for the Raptors will be hoping that Kawhi’s dominance continues while the guard play picks it up, instead of Kawhi returning to a normal superstar form and simply falling short without very much help.
This game is set up for the Raptors to win because I think that Joel Embiid will only improve as the series goes on if the illnesses are really limiting him. The Raptors need to lock up Game 5 and take a lead going into Philly, or I think that this series would be over in six. I do also expect Kyle Lowry to continue to contribute like Game 4, which will really help the team.
The line of -6 in favor of the Raptors is just too rich for my blood in this spot. Philly has had no issues winning in Toronto, and I think that this line is swinging too much in the other direction. I think the Raptors are slight favorites, but I love getting 6 points with the Sixers here.