The Toronto Raptors moved to 12-4 on the season with a gutsy 101-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, who entered the game on a four-game winning streak.
Pascal Siakam paced Toronto with 25 points (on 9-for-19 shooting) to go along with seven rebounds and three assists, while Fred VanVleet continued his solid play with 24 points, eight assists and two steals.
The Raptors dug deep for this one as they were without six players while the Sixers were only without Kyle O'Quinn.
Josh Richardson led the way for Philadelphia with 25 points, Tobias Harris added 18 points (on 7-for-17 shooting) and Ben Simmons came close to recording his second triple-double of the season with 10 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, although he did commit a season-high seven turnovers.
In perhaps the most shocking development, Joel Embiid was held scoreless for the first time in his career in 32 minutes of action - more on him later.
It was a major statement win for the Raptors, who earn their second win of the season over a team with a winning record.
With that in mind, here are some takeaways from the game…
Defending Joel Embiid
One of the main reasons the Raptors motioned to acquire Marc Gasol at last season's trade deadline was for his ability to make things difficult for prolific big men such as Joel Embiid.
Similar to last year's playoff series, Gasol did just that in this one.
In the first half, Embiid was all but neutralized as he was held scoreless (0-4 FG, 0-2 FT), committed two fouls and committed one turnover. Per Marc Zumoff of NBC Sports Philadelphia, it is the first time in Embiid's four-year career that he's been held scoreless in the first half of a game.
From @marczumoff, that is the first time in his career that Joel Embiid has gone scoreless in the first half of a game.- Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 26, 2019
Through three quarters, Embiid had still yet to score as he entered the final frame having gone 0-for-8 from the field, thanks largely in part to the defence of Gasol, who Nick Nurse made sure was on the floor every moment that the Sixers' All-NBA centre was.
For the first time in his NBA career, Embiid failed to score a point in this one as he finished the game shooting 0-for-11 from the field and 0-for-3 from the charity stripe. Although Embiid grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, he committed four turnovers and the Sixers were minus-nine in his 32 minutes on the floor.
Siakam delivers in the clutch
As the buzzer sounded, Pascal Siakam punctuated the Raptors win with a booming dunk as time expired. Fitting, considering his efforts down the stretch in this one.
Down one point with just over a minute remaining, Siakam drove the lane and finished through contact, to give Joel Embiid his fifth foul of the night. The 2019 Most Improved Player then calmly stepped to the line and sank the free throw to put his team up for good.
Thanks to the exclamation point he put on this one, Siakam finished the game with a team-high 25 points (on 9-for-19 shooting), seven rebounds and three assists - the figure of 25 points holds significance as well.
According to Sportsnet Stats, the Raptors advance to 21-4 all-time (regular season and playoffs) when their star forward scores 25 or more points.
Raptors improve to 21-4 all-time when Pascal Siakam scores 25+ points (reg. season & playoffs)#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/q6L8AAWfqe- Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 26, 2019
Considering the fact that he is averaging 25.7 points through the Raptors first 16 games, his growth into a prolific scorer should only mean good things as the season progresses.
Not a repeat for VanVleet
Last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals series was one to forget for Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet.
While in a reserve role, Vanvleet scored a total of 14 points over seven games while shooting 3-for-24 from the field and 1-for-14 from beyond the arc in the series. Of course, VanVleet would find his stride later on on the postseason to hit some of the biggest shots during the Raps' title run, but it had been some time since he performed well against Philadelphia.
Over six months later, that series was made into a distant memory.
Despite dealing with some early foul trouble, VanVleet entered the halftime break with 11 points (on 4-for-7 shooting) and added 13 in the second half for 24 in the game, to go along with eight assists and two steals.
With the Raptors anticipating the return of Kyle Lowry to the lineup sooner rather than later, the more than steady play of VanVleet means that the Raptors can very well roll out one of the league's best backcourt units.
A weird night for Ben Simmons
The 76ers All-Star guard flirted with a triple-double but it was an interesting night for Ben Simmons, to say the least.
Simmons finished the game with just 10 points (on 4-for-8 shooting), 14 assists and nine rebounds but the 23-year-old committed a season-high seven turnovers, none more costly than an errant pass down one with just 12.0 seconds left in the game.
Further adding to the confusion surrounding his performance was a head-scratching 33-foot turnaround jump shot attempt to tie the game with 6.2 seconds left that would eventually lead to Siakam's last-second dunk.
HIGHQUALITYCONTENT.MP4 pic.twitter.com/2fKtV00Ete- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 26, 2019
While Simmons talent is undeniable, and he's delivering solid averages of 12.9 points, 8.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds through 15 games this season, games like these serve as a reminder that it's his presence and headiness - not necessarily his numbers - that are the key to Sixers' wins.
As the team's lead guard, it should be obvious that limiting the turnovers and making better decisions will allow this Sixers team to reach its full potential.
Raptors sustain dominance at Scotiabank Arena
While the Sixers stole a narrow win in Game 2 of the Conference Semifinals at Scotiabank Arena last year, the regular season has been a much different story. Philadelphia entered this meeting having lost 13 consecutive games in Toronto - the team's longest active road losing streak.
That trend continued, as the Raptors staged a late run to escape with yet another regular season victory over the Sixers at home.
In addition to sustained dominance over Philly at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto continues to prove that it has one of the best home court advantages in the league, as it is one of just four teams in the league that has a spotless record at home (Philadelphia, Boston and Miami being the others).
With the win, the Raptors move to 7-0 at home this season and are now 73-16 at home dating back to the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
The Raptors are back in action in two days as they welcome the New York Knicks in what is a homecoming for No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett.
Philadelphia also returns to action in two days as it heads home to host the Sacramento Kings.
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