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Five questions that will decide Sixers-Raptors

Less than a week ago, the Toronto Raptors looked indomitable. After polishing off the Orlando Magic with four consecutive wins, the Raptors handled the Philadelphia 76ers in the opener of their conference semifinals by playing the kind of ferocious team defense that often signals championship potential. With a 45-point performance in Game 1, Kawhi Leonard added to what was shaping up to be one of the great individual postseason campaigns in NBA history.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The 76ers, on the other hand, looked a mess — an offense stuck in the mud, no response for Leonard, and a star center in Joel Embiid who was rendered ineffective by either health issues, Marc Gasol’s resistance or a combination of both. The Sixers found some defensive answers in Game 2, as they escaped Toronto with a split, and although they maximized Jimmy Butler in the half court, a lot of offensive questions remained.

In Game 3, the Sixers assembled an exhibition of their best-case basketball. In 95 possessions, they were able to find quality shot opportunities in a variety of ways — a pick-and-roll attack led by Butler, clever off-ball actions to free up the likes of JJ Redick, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons, a dash of mismatch basketball and a handful of timely transition buckets.6

Meanwhile, the Raptors were unrecognizable in Game 3. One of the smartest units in basketball looked befuddled in the half court, unable to capitalize on its multifaceted skill sets to find creative solutions to the problems posed by the Sixers’ long, versatile defense. Leonard managed an efficient 32 points, but as Kyle Lowry said after the game, “We have to help him.”

For the Raptors, there might be fewer hands to provide that help. Pascal Siakam is listed as doubtful as he nurses as right calf contusion suffered during the loss on Thursday night.

With OG Anunoby still recovering from an appendectomy, no comfortable options exist for Toronto should Siakam be unable to dress in Game 4. Anunoby is the ideal understudy at the power forward spot, with size, athleticism and range to keep defenses honest.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The Raptors like the pace and ball movement they’ve traditionally gotten from lineups featuring Lowry alongside backup guard Fred VanVleet. But that would be a painfully small backcourt for a Raptors team already at a size disadvantage. Guard Norman Powell has a few inches on VanVleet, yet that would still necessitate upsizing Leonard to the 4 spot.

The Raptors could start Serge Ibaka, although the backup center has struggled during this series, looking downright detached at crucial moments. Alternatively, Raptors coach Nick Nurse could plug in Patrick McCaw into the starting lineup, which would maintain the rotation — although it’s worth asking, given the poor performance of the backup units, whether that rotation is worth preserving.

Siakam’s emergence has been one of the dominant themes for the Raptors this season, giving them another potent attacker who presents matchup nightmares. Siakam’s scoring output has also alleviated pressure on Lowry, allowing Lowry to facilitate, manage and keep mouths fed.