Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 25 points and Kawhi Leonard added a 21-point, 13-rebound double-double as the No. 2 Toronto Raptors crushed the No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers 125-89 in Game 5 of their NBA Eastern Conference second-round playoff series on Tuesday.
Jimmy Butler posted 22 points and seven assists for the 76ers, who trail the Raptors 3-2. Joel Embiid had 13 points, six rebounds and eight turnovers.
The Raptors outscored the 76ers 37-17 in the second quarter and never led by fewer than 13 points for the remainder of the game.
All Toronto starters scored in double digits: Kyle Lowry had 19, Danny Green knocked down five three-pointers en route to his 17 and Marc Gasol pitched in 11.
Siakam's Level of Play Will Determine Raptors' Ceiling
Toronto won largely because Philadelphia couldn't come close to matching its energy level.
No Raptors encapsulated that notion more than Siakam, who will determine whether the Raptors endure another disappointing Eastern Conference postseason finish or make (and perhaps win) the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The boundless energy was on full display Tuesday.
On defense, Siakam once again made his presence felt, contributing two steals and going up high for a block on a James Ennis layup attempt:
Not long after, Siakam sprinted past a slow-reacting 76ers defense like he was Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson running a go route and slammed the ball home for two.
Siakam has been a significant problem thanks to his 20.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals this series. He's playing at a greater speed than any of his opponents, and that's a serious issue for the 76ers as they try to fight back.
The question is whether Siakam can lead Toronto to greater heights.
If the Raptors move on, they'll likely face the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, who lead the No. 4 Boston Celtics 3-1 in their best-of-seven series.
Not much needs to be said about the excellent play and energy of future NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can light up the Bucks' home crowd at any moment's notice with a play that only he can pull off, like taking one dribble past the half-court line and dunking right past the free-throw line.
But Siakam is the type of player who can match that energy on either end thanks to a powerful dunk, a backbreaking three or a block or steal to kill off the opposing team's momentum.
The Raptors haven't had a player this decade who looks like he plays a touch faster than everyone else, and they have that now in a much-improved Siakam, who has been exceptional in his third NBA season.
The same goes for any of the West opponents who could play Toronto if the Raps get to the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets are first, second, fourth and ninth in offensive efficiency and can run a team out of the gym in a few minutes.
But Siakam is the type of player who can quell a rally with his exceptional defense. Check out what he did here versus Butler, for instance:
Ultimately, Siakam is one of the league's most unsung players. He is second among all qualified power forwards in real plus-minus wins, per ESPN.com. His player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage are second on the Raptors, per Basketball Reference. Finally, he's averaging more points per game in this second-round series than anyone not named Kawhi Leonard.
The stage doesn't seem big for Siakam, and that's bad news for the NBA. If he keeps it up, the Raps have a championship ceiling.
76ers Can't Win Game 6 Unless Simmons Goes into Attack Mode
One mid-third-quarter play perfectly encapsulated Game 5.
To set the scene, the 76ers opened the frame on a 10-2 run to pull within 66-53.
After Leonard missed a mid-range jumper, 76ers point guard Ben Simmons grabbed a rebound and immediately took off down the court.
Initially, it looked as though Simmons could go coast to coast or find an open teammate for an open look. If nothing else, he could have pulled the ball back out and reset the offense.
However, Simmons got caught in the middle and lofted a pass that Siakam deflected to Lowry, who coasted for an easy layup.
Run over. Momentum gone. Game soon out of reach.
Granted, the 76ers lost for more reasons than Simmons' turnover and his rough night (seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, five turnovers).
The team defense left a lot to be desired, specifically on a first-half-ending Leonard dunk. Embiid played sick and injured and was clearly not 100 percent. The bench gave the 76ers little, and backup center Greg Monroe even hoisted an ill-advised three-pointer on a broken possession.
However, Simmons is the straw that stirs the drink. This team can't win without him returning to the nightly triple-double threat he was during the regular season. And to do that, he needs to go into attack mode.
Butler told the media after Game 4 that he has implored Simmons to attack:
John Clark @JClarkNBCS
Jimmy Butler on Ben Simmons “I told Ben every time down the floor, attack. Attack. And then Coach will be like, why did you do it? I promise you I will say, I told him to do it. I want Ben to be aggressive just like I tell Joel. We’re not going to win without you guys” https://t.co/7ZtnTobzME
And 76ers head coach Brett Brown noted it as well:
"He is a track star in the open court; he's 6'10". His length and ability to get to the rim, we encourage all day, every day. It's where he can most significantly offensively stamp his thumbprint on the game. I think in general, it's difficult in the playoffs to get those kind of opportunities, even as good as he is, as frequently. I just finished watching the game. There were a few times maybe he could have gone a step further or tried to draw contact with a strong finish or a dunk. I don't think it's anything that's bothersome. I do feel like the green light in this environment is something he always knows that he has. ... This is where we want to get him going as much as we can, in those first three to five seconds of a shot clock."
Noah Levick of NBC Sports pointed out the stats proved Brown's assertion correct:
"The stats back up Brown's observation that Simmons has at times been reluctant to accept his green light. Per NBA.com/Stats, Simmons attempted 228 field goals “very early” in the shot clock (22 to 18 seconds remaining) during the regular season, an average of 2.89 per game. He's only taken five such shots against Toronto through four games, making four."
That attacking nature didn't appear in Game 5.
The ex-LSU star finished with as many shots as turnovers. He had one more personal foul (four) than made field goals. And John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia continued the calls for Simmons to be more aggressive:
Philadelphia goes as Simmons goes in the playoffs.
He averaged a near triple-double thanks to 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists against the Miami Heat in the first round last year. However, Simmons amassed a 25.8 turnover percentage and the second-lowest offensive rating on the team in a five-game series loss to the Boston Celtics, per Basketball Reference.
The same trend has occurred this year: Simmons scored 17.2 points on 64.3 percent shooting in a first-round series win versus the Brooklyn Nets. Those numbers dipped to 10.0 points on 54.1 percent shooting versus Toronto heading into Tuesday's game.
The 76ers' season will end Thursday unless Simmons wrests control of the game and leads Philadelphia with a more aggressive mentality.
Philadelphia will host Toronto for Game 6 on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN will televise the matchup.