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Sixers-Raptors Game 3: Tobias Harris will try to shut down Marc Gasol once again

In the 94-89 win over the Raptors on Monday, Marc Gasol took just six shots with Tobias Harris guarding him.

Tobias Harris of the Sixers complains after being called for a traveling violation against the Raptors during the 1st half of their NBA playoff game at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on April 27, 2019.
Tobias Harris of the Sixers complains after being called for a traveling violation against the Raptors during the 1st half of their NBA playoff game at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on April 27, 2019.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

When Sixers coach Brett Brown decided to switch defensive assignments for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against Toronto, putting Joel Embiid onto Pascal Siakam, the byproduct was that Tobias Harris shifted down to cover Marc Gasol.

It’s not the first time that Harris has had to guard a center, and the 76ers were able to make it through Game 2 relatively unscathed when it came to that particular matchup. Harris’ directives were simple: use strength and length to make any of Gasol’s touches as difficult as possible, and otherwise force him into a perimeter game.

In the 94-89 win over the Raptors on Monday, Gasol took just six shots. He missed both shots that he took in the paint, one with Harris defending him one-on-one, and he made just 1 of 4 from beyond the three-point line. That’s an ideal game from the Sixers’ point of view, but they know adjustments are coming.

The fact that the Sixers are opening the game with a 6-foot-9 forward on a 7-1 center is not lost on either team, and a lot of thought has been put into what might happen in order to exploit that matchup in Game 3.

“He’s obviously a bigger guy than me, taller, weighs more,” Harris said after practice Wednesday in Camden. “I would assume that they’ll try to look for him down there a little bit more. But we’ll see what’s presented.”

That’s surely one thing that the Raptors will be looking at. If they can get Gasol to post up Harris more, bully him a little in the post, and possibly draw some fouls on Harris in the process, that’s all gravy for Toronto.

“I thought Tobias did a good job, but none of us should not expect Marc to come in and try to be 7-foot and closer to the rim,” Brown said.

But there is also another angle.

Gasol and the Raptors have said they are OK with Gasol’s taking fewer shots and affecting the game in different ways.

Gasol is a former defensive player of the year, and that’s the side of the ball where Gasol really makes his money. Letting the offense flow through Gasol, rather than having him generate points has worked out pretty well.

In addition to being an adept pick-and-roll player who is very good at finding Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Lenonard cutting to the basket (as he did a total of three times in Game 2), Gasol also found Siakam on a couple of slices when a double-team came his way Monday.

“It did creates some opportunities, right?” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday. “A few of those layups Pascal got were directly under the basket from Gasol. There were also some kick-outs there.”

Gasol totaled five assists in Game 2. He has a reputation for being a very smart player and he’s an underrated passer for a big man in the NBA. So there’s no reason for the Raptors not to try to tap into that part of his game when the opportunity presents itself.

“We’re going to find ways to exploit that a little bit,” Gasol said. "We know once the ball gets there and gets into the paint, a lot of the time Joel is coming. When we get there, either I make a play for myself or for somebody else.”

Ye Raptors are likely going to try to draw Embiid out to the perimeter even more than they did in the previous two games in order to open up lanes to the basket. In those cases it’s going to be on the rest of the defense to rotate and cut off some of the more skilled scorers, and it might be in the Sixers best interest to let Harris handle Gasol so that Leonard and Siakam don’t get easy points on those options.

Of course, as with any playoff series, both teams are looking not only at adjustments that they will be making but trying to anticipate how the other team will adjust.

“When you sort of look into the crystal ball and forecast what might they do, we’ve gone through all of that extensively,” Brown said. “I hope that we’ve prepared like we should have and that we’re not going to be surprised."