Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers meet in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, starting in Canada on Saturday evening. The Raptors overcame the Orlando Magic in five games to progress, while Philadelphia won four straight to beat the Nets after a disappointing Game One display.
The Eastern Conference playoffs are beautifully poised. All four teams have a convincing argument that they can make the NBA Finals, it is balanced, and we could be treated to 14 games over the two series.
Toronto bested the Sixers 3-1 in the regular season series, though the postseason matchups will have a different look with both teams having made big midseason trades.
This could be a historically great series. Here are three things that will play a big role in the outcome…
Joel Embiid’s troublesome knee has been a headline-making story for weeks. Embiid missed a game in the first round but looked like his dominant self in the four games he played.
Brett Brown managed Embiid, keeping him below 25 minutes in three of the games he featured in. The Cameroonian had fun against the Nets, he was able to batter Jarrett Allen in the paint and was a force defensively.
Facing Toronto will be a sterner challenge. Marc Gasol can challenge Embiid physically and will drag him to the perimeter when Toronto run pick and pops. Serge Ibaka is an able deputy should Gasol get in foul trouble.
The sky is the limit for Philadelphia with Embiid. Without him, this could become a one-sided series. His knee remains one of the postseason’s biggest stories.
Guarding Danny Green
That leaves, out of the starting fives at least, Tobias Harris on Danny Green. Harris has been patchy defensively as a Sixer, and now faces an experienced three-point shooter who will be running off endless screens.
Green and Harris are some way down the list for most recognisable names in this series, but their roles are just as crucial. Harris has to hit his shots for Philadelphia to have a chance, though guarding Green, who is no stranger to clutch postseason moments, will be his greatest test.
Green was lethal this season, shooting 45% from beyond the arc. The Sixers have had trouble against perimeter players all year. Harris will have to be aware, and Philadelphia’s communication perfect, to stop Green getting good looks.
Butler versus Kawhi
Butler and Leonard are elite defenders, capable of shutting down any opponent. They are diverse offensive options.
Butler will be the go-to man for Philadelphia in crunch time. Leonard will be the same for Toronto.
Whatever Brown and Nick Nurse do with them during the rest of the game, they will be matched up in the dying seconds. With a close series and close games probable, who delivers in the fourth quarter could determine which city is celebrating an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.