Sixers against Raptors: Tyrese Maxey and Fred VanVleet duel, Toronto in the lead

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The good news for the Sixers is that they are healthier and Tyrese Maxey is playing spectacular basketball.

The bad news is they lost three games in a row, dropping to 8-5 before a six-game road trip.

Tobias Harris (COVID-19) and Seth Curry (left foot contusion) returned Thursday night for the Sixers in a 115-109 loss to the Raptors at Wells Fargo Center.

Maxey had 33 points on 12-for-19 shots and five assists.

Harris had 19 points on 7-for-18 shots, seven assists and seven rebounds.

Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 32 points and seven assists.

Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe remain in NBA health and safety protocols. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said ahead of the game that Ben Simmons was at the team’s movie screening on Thursday, but he continued to be unsure of next steps for the 25-year-old, who has told the team last month that he was not mentally ready to play.

The Sixers’ next game will be on Saturday night against the Pacers. Here are the observations on Thursday’s loss:

Maxey-VanVleet Duel

Maxey was opposed by VanVleet, who scored seven of Toronto‘s first nine points and started 3 for 3 from a three-point range.

For the most part, VanVleet’s scoring came via the “tilt your cap” shot. Maxey tried to closely challenge each jumper and limit VanVleet’s attempts in the paint, a difficult task against a very good player. Andre Drummond played primarily “to the touch” in pick-and-roll coverage, with mixed results.

Offensively, Maxey was electric at the end of the second quarter, starting a personal 5-0 run. Even though he doesn’t finish the season as a 40% three-point shooter, it’s encouraging to see that he hasn’t shown any late hesitation in taking an open shot.

“His pace. Smart – very smart, ”Maxey said of his takeaways during the game against VanVleet. “He knows when to go fast, he knows when to go slow; he knows how to change his pace. He knows how to draw fouls. He’s a very smart guy. player, a very intoxicating player. I remember, I think I was in … I don’t know what year I was, watching it in Wichita State. I was saying to my friends – I was young – “I think he’s going to be really good. Got to the NBA and he’s pretty good. It was great to compete with him, and hats off to him.”

Maxey was indeed quite young at the time of VanVleet University. He graduated from South Garland High School in 2019, while VanVleet played his last matches as a Wichita State senior in March 2016.

Unlike Maxey, Curry had unusual difficulties with his shot in the first half. He started the game 1 for 7 from the field, but was not discouraged and got on the right track in the third period. Curry and Drummond have teamed up for a sharp lay-up.

With the Sixers behind by 10 points at the start of the fourth, Maxey has hit four in a row with quick rim attacks. He shot eight free throws (and landed them all), one of the areas where he showed growth at the start of the season.

Maxey was far from done, wanting the Sixers to return and ensuring a dramatic conclusion. He tied the game at 107 with a float and a. The 21-year-old loves competition and doesn’t hesitate to take control in big moments.

The Sixers couldn’t cement a victory, however. With the team in the lead 109-107, Drummond was initially called for a foul despite Precious Achiuwa’s own block. Although the game was called off following a challenge from Rivers, Toronto won the jump ball that followed. VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. then each scored three points as the Raptors scored the last eight points of the game.

“Well, the solution is to learn how to throw jumps,” Rivers said with a laugh. “That ball never got past their size, I don’t think so. But I never did. It must be tough enough, because (the officials) are all fighting against it.

“It was a big loss of possession. We could have found the ball. What I don’t like about the rule is actually on the block, we got the ball – we found the ball. But we knew it was a middle ground. We had the guys in the right place. The guy just quickly jumped on Drum and got to the ball first.

Harris back in action

Harris scored on the Sixers’ opening offensive possession, taking a transfer from Drummond and leading for a layup. Rust was not an apparent problem from the start.

He looked solid overall in his first stint, letting the defense dictate his decision-making and finding open shooters with kick-out passes. Harris also made a nice play by swiping a screen, although he was stuck on the edge by Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes.

Georges Niang replaced Harris five and a half minutes after the start of the match. Expect the Sixers to be careful not to overdo it with Harris’ minutes on their next trip, and be aware that his cardio might not be at 100% for a while.

As the game progressed, it became clear that Harris was not quite normal. He made two turnovers early in the second quarter, one when he turned into a post-doubles team, the other when he threw an over-ambitious pass to a cutting Paul Reed.

Still, it’s positive that he’s been cleared to play again, spent 37 minutes, and doesn’t look miles away from his usual level.

Battles of great men

Reed served as Drummond’s save center and made a hell of a game almost immediately after entering the game. He blocked a layup from Dalano Banton, sprinted across the floor, accepted a flow from Maxey, then Euro entered a dunk.

Reed detonated several of the Raptors’ possessions solely through individual effort. As the first quarter ended, Reed threw a steal, scampered across the ground and handed the ball to Harris, who conceded a long three. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Harris took the shot right after the buzzer.

A negative note on Reed – and it’s absolutely pinching given how well he played in shorthanded situations – is that he let a few open threes pass. Reed was a good shot last year in the G League and would clearly be more valuable at the NBA level if defenses have to respect his jumper. Even below that, it disrupts the pace of the attack when Reed considers a three and then decides not to.

For some reason, the Raptors have repeatedly tried to dunk on Drummond. He denied the attempts of Barnes, Achiuwa and OG Anunoby. Drummond limited Achiuwa to a 1 in 10 shooting night.

Although Drummond knocked down 12 boards, a game-high, rebounding was a problem for the Sixers, especially during a pivotal Raptors run in the third quarter. Toronto benefited a lot from that push by playing a zonal defense as Furkan Korkmaz missed four three-pointers in under three and a half minutes.

“I thought we lost our pace in the stretch they raced,” said Rivers. “That’s what I was (Maxey) on. I asked our guys when we raced back, ‘What was the difference?’ And they all said, “Well, we pushed the ball to the ground, whether it be do or miss.” During that stretch we were walking the ball around the ground and I thought it was running (the Raptors) .

“I thought their zone was hurting us a bit. We didn’t get into our business, our Zone O, fast enough. And then on the misfires, they just stuck it down our throats and got to the basket, I think, four or five times in a row. I thought it was the turning point of the game.

Shake Milton was much more efficient on the bench than Korkmaz, scoring 12 points on a 5v6 shot.

Korkmaz is 5 for 29 from the floor in the last two games, but Rivers is not worried.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to keep throwing him out there and we want him to keep throwing them up there,” Rivers said.


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