TAMPA, Fla. — The 76ers did something Sunday night that hadn’t happened since Dec. 26.
The Sixers were at full strength when they went into the Amalie Arena to face a the Toronto Raptors. The last time that happened was against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It was the second game of the season.
On Sunday, the Sixers had their full complement of players with the return of Ben Simmons and sixth man Shake Milton. But that didn’t prevent them from losing, 110-103.
Simmons missed the past two games with an illness, while Milton was sidelined five games with a sprained left ankle.
The Raptors are playing their home games in the Cigar City this season due to Canada’s border restrictions and the public safety measures in Toronto.
The Sixers have been unsuccessful wherever the Raptors play their home games. This marked their 16th consecutive regular-season road loss to Toronto. They’ll look to snap that skid when the teams meet again Tuesday night.
The loss dropped the Sixers to 20-11 and snapped a two-game winning streak. Philly is now clinging to a ½-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference standings. (The Nets, 20-12, defeated the Los Angles, 112-108, Sunday, marking their sixth consecutive win.) The Raptors, meanwhile, (16-15) extended their winning streak to four games.
On this night, Simmons displayed the aggressiveness he had while scoring a career-high 42 points against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 15, his last game.
He finished with a game-high 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting to go with nine rebounds and five assists. Milton, however, was rusty. He had nine points on 3-for-11 shooting and was a minus-24. In the first half, the third-year guard went 0-for-5 from the field was a minus-11 in 11 minutes, 11 seconds on the floor.
Joel Embiid had 25 points and 17 rebounds for Philly two days after finishing with a career-high 50 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks. On the night, the MVP candidate made just 6 of 20 shots while being double- and triple-teamed.
“As soon as I crossed halfcourt, they sent two or three guys at me to make sure I wasn’t going to be the one that beat them tonight,” Embiid said. “But overall, I thought I stayed within myself and within the team concept and made a lot of passes out of it. We just didn’t make enough shots.”
Tobias Harris finished with 13 points, but made just 1 of 9 three-pointers. The Sixers shot 38.3% overall, including 29.7% on threes.
Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam scored 23 points apiece to pace the Raptors.
Once again, the Sixers’ bench was their Achilles’ heel.
In addition to Milton’s struggles, Matisse Thybulle was a minus-23 and Dwight Howard had a tough time defending Raptors reserve big man Chris Boucher in the pick-and-pop.
With Boucher leading the way, the Raptors had a 35-16 edge in bench points.
As has been the case recently, the Sixers blew big leads when they went to their bench.
Philly’s chemistry and defensive continuity took a hit once Milton was inserted into the game as the first player off the bench.
“You just get through the season and keep working on it,” Doc Rivers said of the bench. “It’s 31 games into the season. It hasn’t been this way all year with our bench; it’s just been this way lately.
“So we’ll work our way through it. I thought in the second half, we never matched up right correctly as far as transition. I thought that’s where they beat us more.”
Boucher thrived in the Raptors’ transition play in the second half.
He scored all 17 of his points after intermission on 6-for-6 shooting, making five threes. Boucher missed his two shots in the first half.
The Sixers did shake up their rotation a little bit.
Mike Scott and Tyrese Maxey didn’t play, Furkan Korkmaz saw just 2:13 of action after Thybulle picked up his third foul in the second quarter. Rookie guard Isaiah Joe took Korkmaz’s spot in the rotation.
“It’s just a look,” Rivers said. “Everyone earns their minutes. It’s always a fair competition. Right now, we are going with Isaiah.”
Thanks to Embiid (six points), Seth Curry (six), and Simmons (five), the Sixers jumped out to a 22-10 lead Sunday with 4:18 left in the first quarter. However, the Raptors closed the quarter with an 18-2 run to take a 28-24 lead into the second quarter. VanVleet hit four three-pointers during the run.
Toronto went on to extend its lead to six points (41-35) midway through the second quarter. But the Sixers regrouped and went into the locker room up, 55-52.
They extended their lead to 13 points (72-59) on Milton’s first basket, a three-pointer, with 7:24 left in the third quarter. However, the Sixers played like a team allergic to big leads. They were up 11 at the 2:34-mark of the quarter. But VanVleet hit a technical foul with 21.7 remaining to cap a 12-0 run to put Toronto up, 83-82.
However, Simmons made a pair of foul shots at the other end, as the Sixers took a 84-83 lead into the fourth.
Toronto All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry missed his second straight game with a thumb injury. The North Philly native and Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product is averaging 17.7 points.