The Raptors' Defense Was Outrageous In The Clutch

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Photo: Vaughn Ridley (Getty)

The Sixers hit their last field goal in the half-court—a long, and-one leaner by J.J. Redick—with 3:29 remaining in Game 7. Then the Raptors put the clamps on. Philly would only even hit the rim one more time, off a heroic Jimmy Butler transition play. As stagnant and deferential as the Raptors have looked offensively, redeemed only by their lord and savior Kawhi Leonard, they’ve maintained the second-best defense in the postseason, and in the final stretch of this series they got the stops they needed to survive, if barely. On this end, every non-Kawhi Raptor can be trusted.

Their next trip down the floor, the Sixers went to their deadliest weapon, the Embiid-Redick handoff, but Lowry stayed glued to Redick as he tore around the screen, and then the entire team made tidy rotations to plug every gap that emerged. This is basically the whole promise of this Toronto team distilled into one possession:

The next trip down the floor three different Raptors were tasked with keeping Jim Butt contained, and they all acquitted themselves well, bleeding the clock out. Special credit goes to Marc Gasol, who had to dance with him on the perimeter for five dicey seconds. Gasol’s length scared Jimmy out of a shot even after a reasonably successful pump-fake, then got a chunk of his late-clock heave:

The next trip down the floor Lowry again refused to let an Embiid screen shear him off Redick, and the Raptors crammed the Sixers into a doomed two-man game way out by the hash mark. A terrifyingly huge trap by Pascal Siakam and Gasol allowed Lowry to pounce on the lazy pass and set up a bucket on the other end:

One made free throw later, down three, the Sixers secured exactly the switch they wanted and finally (finally!) set up Embiid in the post. Kyle Lowry embraces the post mismatch more than any other point guard in this league, and he can draw on the powers of an all-time rump, but still—it’s Joel Embiid. Lowry’s at a full foot disadvantage. Not only did he hold his ground, he even poked it out of the giant’s hands. If the Raptors recover that ball, it’s the single greatest play of his life.

Either way, it was pretty impressive. Free throws were made, the game was tied; we all know how it ended. The Raptors will continue to struggle to find buckets against the Milwaukee defense, which has been even stingier than theirs in the postseason. But they at least have some credible bodies to throw at Giannis, and a quick-thinking team defense that can respond to all the chaos he creates.