Drake taunted Joel Embiid when the Sixers’ big man sat on the scorer’s table waiting to check into the game. Delighted Raptors fans mimicked Embiid’s airplane celebration from last season’s playoffs.
Six months after Toronto dispatched Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Raptors were an unwelcome host on Monday, holding Embiid to zero points for the first time in his NBA career.
Pascal Siakam had 25 points, while Fred VanVleet added 24. But all the talk was about Toronto’s defence, which held the 76ers scoreless over the final four minutes en route to a 101-96 win.
“I would have never thought I would be here talking about zero points in an NBA game, but it is what it is,” Embiid said. “Some nights you make shots, some nights you don’t. Some nights you’re hot, some nights you’re cold.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 16 points, while OG Anunoby finished with 12, Terence Davis chipped in with 11, and Norm Powell added 10 for the Raptors (12-4), who have yet to lose at home this season with seven consecutive wins at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think we ended it with eight consecutive stops to end the game, that’s pretty good, especially in a close game like that,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Josh Richardson had 25 points to top the Sixers (11-6), who lost for the first time in five games.
Embiid shot 0-for-11 and turned the ball over four times.
“Defensively, they’re everywhere,” Philly’s all-star said of Toronto. “They’re so long and they make sure they pack the paint.”
The game marked the first meeting between the two teams since Kawhi Leonard’s famous four-bounce buzzer-beating winner in Game 7 of the conference semis.
Poor shooting plagued both teams in an ugly first half, but no one struggled more than Embiid.
“A lot of times (Embiid) will just come down and be the last one down and they’ll flip it back to him. We just really try to take those away and make him bounce it,” Nurse said. “We try to stay a little closer to home on him, more than normal.”
The Raptors took an 81-80 lead into an entertaining fourth quarter in front of a rowdy Scotiabank Arena crowd reminiscent of the playoffs. With 8:01 to play, Richardson was awarded three free throws after a questionable foul by Davis. Drake jeered Richardson from his court-side seats, and the crowd cheered wildly as Richardson missed all three shots.
Tobias Harris’s driving hook shot put the Sixers up by six points with 5:16 to play. A couple of terrific VanVleet plays _ he tossed a falling-down pass to Powell for a three-pointer, then added a three of his own _ pulled Toronto to within two with 3:10 to play.
With 1:01 to play, Siakam spun around Al Horford and picked up a foul from Embiid to give the Raptors a one-point lead. Siakam got his hands on a ridiculous Ben Simmons alley-oop attempt to Tobias Harris. VanVleet connected on two free throws at the other end, and Siakam went end-to-end for a dunk as the final buzzer sounded.
“(It was) just being physical with them, not giving them easy shots, obviously making it tough for Embiid to catch it,” Siakam said on Toronto’s late-game lockdown defence.
Toronto’s roster Monday looked nothing like the squad that dispatched Philly in thrilling fashion last spring. Leonard left for the L.A. Clippers in the off-season. And Kyle Lowry (fractured thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle strain) were on the bench nursing injuries for the eighth consecutive game. Matt Thomas also sat out the game after fracturing his left middle finger in Saturday’s 119-116 win in Atlanta.
“We don’t want to lose anybody else,” Nurse said. “Seems like we got quite a few guys out, but on we go. On we go.”
Nurse hopes to have Ibaka back on Sunday when Toronto hosts the Utah Jazz, and said a few days ago that he was “shooting for” a Sunday return Lowry as well.
The Sixers made some key off-season changes as well, adding Horford and Richardson. Gone are Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick.
Despite their short-handed roster, Nurse agreed the game was a good early-season gauge.
“Obviously, you’d like to measure a little bit more with your full complement of guys,” Nurse said. “Some of these younger guys, or new guys, it’s a test to see how they’ll match up with a team that’s obviously going to be in the hunt for the Eastern Conference Championship at the end of the year.”
The Raptors shot off-target to start the game, hitting just four of their 13 three-point attempts in the first quarter. They trailed the Sixers 34-28 to start the second.
Richardson’s pullup jumper early in the second quarter had Philly up by eight, but Toronto responded with 16-3 run capped by a Siakam turnaround hook shot for a five-point lead. The Raptors took a 51-49 advantage into the halftime break.
There were wide smiles on Toronto’s bench when Nurse challenged an officials call and won for just the second time since the new rule was implemented this season. The call resulted in an offensive foul against Simmons.
The Raptors host Canadian rookie RJ Barrett and the New York Knicks on Wednesday.