If the 76ers wanted to leave the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night with their dignity, they had no choice other than to beat the Toronto Raptors. They did just that in their last home game of 2018, with a 126-101 victory over the East’s top team.
The Sixers would have walked away with more bragging rights had the Raptors (25-10) had their full squad, but the Canadian foe came to Philadelphia missing three of its best players, including All-Star Kawhi Leonard.
“It was a good win, but to me it doesn’t mean anything,” Joel Embiid said after the game. “They were missing three of their best players and I was bummed that they weren’t playing because this game was marked on my calendar.”
Despite not having Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas — a trio that scored a combined 80 points against the Sixers in Toronto on Dec. 5 — the Raptors are one of the NBA’s deepest teams and still made things competitive, before the Sixers started to create some distance in the third quarter.
“I thought we came out to start the second half really lackadaisical,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We tried to ease into the second half and [the Sixers] were ready to play.”
The Sixers' stars had their way on Saturday, all getting going early in the game, though it didn’t come without some adversity. Joel Embiid finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds; Ben Simmons notched 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists; Jimmy Butler added 12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals, and all three players were charged with a technical foul.
Both Butler and Embiid were given a tech when they were upset with calls or no-calls and were barking at the officials, but Simmons was given his when he walked away from an official and sat down in a courtside seat following a foul call he disagreed with.
Despite the trigger-happy referees, who also gave Nurse a technical foul, the Sixers maintained composure and improved to 22-12 on the season while showcasing encouraging developments.
JJ Redick, who has struggled from three-point range recently, broke out of his slump finishing the night with 22 points, including going 4-of-5 from three and showed off his range with a half-court shot as time expired at the end of the first quarter. After review, the shot was called off, but Redick was visibly relieved to see the ball going in from deep throughout the night.
“I’m confident that I’ll be right there around 40 [percent] if not higher when the season ends,” Redick said after the game. “I think this thing will get turned around. I’m not saying tonight will break the dam open, but over the next 40-something games I’m confident I’ll get that percentage up.”
In addition to the Sixers' starting core faring well, the team’s young players had a great night. Jonah Bolden, who has only played in nine games this season and has spent the majority of his time bouncing between the Delaware Blue Coats and the Sixers, was subbed into the game and immediately made his presence known.
Brett Brown said that he planned on using Bolden more on the team’s upcoming road trip, but because Wilson Chandler did not play (thigh contusion) and the Sixers were in some foul trouble, Bolden was brought into the game in the first quarter.
“Initially, when he came in the game, he made an impact going to bat balls out of the air," Brown said.
Though he air-balled his first shot attempt, he was impressive by anyone’s standards on the defensive end. Bolden blocked a shot 6 seconds after checking into the game and finished the night with four blocks to go with four points and nine rebounds. He was also quick on closeouts that kept the Raptors from getting into a rhythm from outside.
“I have the utmost confidence in myself and those abilities, and when the opportunity is there I’ll do it,” Bolden said. “It wasn’t a thing that I was surprised that I went out there and did it, it was more so a thing that the opportunity was there so I grabbed it.”
Furkan Korkmaz also had a good night off the bench racking up 16 points. But it was Korkmaz’s defensive effort that was most helpful for the Sixers as he added three steals and four rebounds to his stat line.
The Raptors were able to get going early with strong outings from Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet, who combined for 58 points, but lacking the defensive presence of Leonard, Valanciunas, and Ibaka was hard to make up for.
The Sixers head out on a five-game road trip that starts on Christmas Day in Boston.
Before Saturday’s game Sixers general manager Elton Brand said Fultz is progressing with his physical therapy in Los Angeles, but did not offer any timetable for Fultz rejoining the team permanently or returning to basketball activities.
It was better news where Smith is concerned as Brand said that although the rookie will not return in 2018, he is expected to play this season and has been working out regularly at the team’s practice facility.