TORONTO – Some of the 76ers’ faces were different. Yet, the result here remained the same.
The Toronto Raptors defeated the Sixers, 113-102, in Wednesday night’s much-anticipated contest.
The setback was the Sixers’ 13th straight road loss against the Raptors. Toronto has also won 20 of 22 series meetings dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Wednesday’s game was a showcase of two of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.
The Raptors (21-5) have the league’s best record. Meanwhile, the Sixers (17-9) are the conference’s third-best team.
But on this night, Philly was doomed by an inability to stop Kawhi Leonard in a game that featured two of the league’s top small forwards.
Leonard made five of six three-pointers en route to 36 points. He also had nine rebounds, a game-high five steals and one block. The Sixers' Jimmy Butler also had a standout game in a losing effort. He finished with a game-high 38 points and 10 rebounds.
The Raptors broke the game open with a 9-0 run to take an 90-81 advantage with 9 minutes, 7 seconds remaining with Leonard and star point guard Kyle Lowry on the bench. They came back in with 6:01 left and the Raptors up, 96-88.
Toronto opened their cushion up to 15 points (103-88) after Leonard’s fast-break dunk with 4:00 remaining. The Raptors went on to win by 11.
In addition to Leonard, the Sixers were doomed by 21 turnovers and a subpar performance by Joel Embiid.
Embiid had his second-worst shooting performances of the season, going 5-for-17. He finished with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for his 24th double-double.
“The past few games, I’ve been trash,” said Embiid, who has shot 14 of 42 in the last three games combined.
Ben Simmons recorded his 17th double-double but continued his turnover woes against the Raptors. The point guard had eight points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds to go with seven turnovers. He has 18 turnovers in two games against Toronto.
Butler, Embiid and Simmons are the team’s three stars. The Sixers must depend of all three in order to make a deep run in the postseason. So it’s obvious that Embiid and Simmons will have to play much better than they did on this night.
“There’s also the reality that there’s an 82-game season and these things do happen,” coach Brett Brown said of the pair’s performance. “It’s always, how do you respond? How do you rebound? Do you generally feel like we’re getting better?”
JJ Redick was the Sixers' second-leading scorer with 25 points.
This was the Sixers’ biggest regular-season game during Brown’s six-year tenure as coach. It also marked the first time under him that they came to Canada with a legitimate chance to win.
A lot of that had to do with their Nov. 12 trade for Butler. The Sixers acquired the four-time All-Star and Justin Patton from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.
However, he wasn’t the only starter playing against the Raptors for the first time as a Sixer. Wilson Chandler was acquired from the Denver Nuggets in an offseason trade. He was sidelined with hamstring strain when the teams met on Oct. 30.
The two tried to help propel Philadelphia to its first victory in Toronto since a 93-83 decision on Nov. 10, 2012.
Brown touched on why his team had been unable to win in Toronto during his tenure.
“Some of that is because they are really good most every year I’ve been up here,” he said following Wednesday morning’s shootaround. “Some of it’s because you are trying to grow a team and that’s the stages we were at.
“But the fact is the fact. Now we’re arriving with a different set of players.”
The coach won’t judge the results of a game in early December too harshly. However, he felt playing the best team in the league was a fantastic challenge. That’s why he looked forward to the litmus test, to see where the Sixers were.
The Sixers, weren’t fazed early on. They jumped out to a 23-14 lead on Redick’s pull-up three-pointer with 3:15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they couldn’t stop Leonard. He got wherever he wanted to on the court, no matter who guarded him. That enabled the Raptors to get back into the game.
The small forward made five of his first six shots. His fifth basket came on a 26-foot three-pointer that pulled Toronto within 33-32 with 8:01 left in the half. The Raptors took their first lead of the game (34-33) on a pair of foul shots by Lowry 23 seconds later.
After the lead seesawed, Toronto went on to take a 53-49 halftime lead. The Raptors held that lead despite making just three of 15 three-pointers and shooting 38.9 percent in the first two quarters. The Sixers committed 11 of their turnovers in the second quarter.