Joel Embiid was listed as probable headed into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the 76ers and Raptors, with a case of gastroenteritis. It’s a stomach virus, and is experienced as a lot of stomach pain and diarrhea, which is definitely not the condition you want to be in while playing basketball on national television. Apart from the personal discomfort this no doubt caused for Embiid, it qualified as extremely bad news for the 76ers, who weren’t all that close to bothering the Raptors in Game 1, with a healthy Embiid.
Embiid toughed it out and played in Game 2, but not very well. He was sluggish and exhausted-looking from the jump—presumably from all the shitting—and finished with a relatively pedestrian 12 points and six turnovers in 32 mostly frustrating minutes. Philadelphia’s offense felt the lack, finishing with just 94 points and a 96.8 offensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass. 95 points was enough for the Sixers to lose Game 1 by 13 points, but unlike Saturday’s tilt, when Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam seemed to be taking turns torturing the Sixers, in Game 2 Philadelphia’s defense was outstanding, and forced Siakam into a crummy 21 points on 25 shots. More significantly, Philly’s bench crushed Toronto’s, outscoring Raptors reserves 26–5 and playing Serge Ibaka (minus-17), Norman Powell (minus-18), and Fred VanVleet (minus-21) off the court.
The Sixers fought off a tough second-half push from the home team to notch an impressive 94–89 road win and snatch home-court advantage going forward. No one had a particularly lovely game, but Jimmy Butler was humongous in the second half, pouring in 17 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and keying a huge fourth quarter stand after the Raptors drew within a possession several times in the second half:
Toronto drew within a point twice, but in general their offense was nothing like the buzzsaw that chewed up Philly’s defense in Game 1. Leonard was efficient on his shots, finishing with 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting, but he spent huge sections of the game, including most of the first half, doing a teeth-grinding Kobe-brain alpha-scorer thing—the Sixers would crowd the court in front of him with defenders, and instead of making a quick pass or even just a quick attacking move, he would dither on the ball, head down, testing out jab steps and step-backs. That tentativeness, plus the Sixers shifting to a familiar and effective guard-the-campsite strategy against Siakam, turned Toronto’s offense, particularly in the first half, into a halting, disjointed mess. The Raptors finished the first half with 38 points, and down 13.
Toronto’s late surge got them to within a point with less than a minute on the clock, and the Sixers seemed to be on their heels. Toronto had their chances in this one—they finished a disgusting 3-for-16 on corner threes, and missed several wide open looks down the stretch that might’ve changed the outcome. But Butler, who has assumed the role of Mr. Clutch in Philadelphia, made a smart play to kick the ball back to Embiid at the top of the arc after dribbling into trouble against Danny Green, and Embiid had just enough time on the shot clock to drive on Marc Gasol for what would wind up being the backbreaking bucket:
The game to game defensive improvement for Philadelphia was impressive, even if their offense still hasn’t exactly broken loose against Toronto. But the 76ers have firmly shifted the pressure to the Raptors in this series, and they did it when their own best player was staggering around in a weakened condition. The Raptors are not likely to have things set up in their favor quite so well again in this series, so this result counts as a major letdown, if not reason for alarm. Embiid’s guts should be back to normal for Game 3; the Raptors will have their work cut out for them.