The 76ers just got done beating the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors, the team that eliminated them in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals and beat them earlier this year, 101-96 in Canada.
So Sunday’s 110-104 victory over the Raptors was huge for the Sixers, but coach Brett Brown had to know that the first questions in his postgame press conference were about few frantic minutes when the Raptors were pressing their way back into the game.
Actually, Toronto began coming back earlier. The Raptors were 18 points down after the Sixers’ James Ennis hit two free throws with 4 minutes and 57 seconds left.
The press would come a little later, after the Raptors cut the lead to 105-92 on two Kyle Lowry free throws with 3:07 remaining.
Following those free throws, it was pure chaos, as the Sixers played as if they have never seen a full-court press.
In the final 3:07, the Sixer committed six of their 20 turnovers, including three consecutive miscues by Joel Embiid that forced Brown to take him out of the game with 2:08 left. Embiid would later be reinserted with 47.2 seconds left.
The Sixers were fortunate to have big enough cushion that allowed them to withstand so many mistakes. Toronto would cut it to 109-104 with 14 seconds left but got no closer.
Still, the Raptors made a big impression with their comeback effort.
So when Brown was asked what happened, he reverted to one of his favorite phrases.
“Where do I begin?” he said.
Besides the three late turnovers from Embiid, the Sixers also had an 8-second violation and two turnovers from rookie Matisse Thybulle, who otherwise played a major role in the win with a career-high 20 points.
“They came out with a really aggressive press,” Thybulle said. “I need to be tougher with the ball and we will be more prepared the next time we face a press like that.”
Give Toronto credit for fighting until the end, but the Sixers had to do a better job reading the initial double-team and passing the ball before the Raptors converged.
After Embiid’s third turnover, Brown went with an extra ballhandler, bringing in point guard Raul Neto to replace the Sixers center.
“I think in general I was trying to get ballhandlers on the floor at times and to have them still be your best defensive team, it doesn’t work,” Brown said. “So you just hope as professional players we can handle that situation a little bit better, and I believe that we will.”
During the last few minutes against the press, the Sixers looked disorganized, but it was a continuation of a fourth quarter to forget.
Besides being outscored, 36-24, the Sixers committed 11 turnovers in the quarter and allowed Toronto to shoot 12-for-22 from the field, including 3-for-7 from three-point range. The Raptors also made nine of 10 foul shots.
The Sixers had led by as many as 20 points in the quarter.
The Sixers survived and improved to 17-7, including 12-0 at home. Brown looked at the big picture and was glad his team didn’t get burned by its failure to handle the late-game press.