Brett Brown knows it’s early.
He also felt that the 76ers’ first match-up of the season with Atlanta Division rival Toronto represented a noteworthy challenge.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they were reminded the hard way that when going up against a talented, deep opponent, the margin for error is that much slimmer.
And in Tuesday’s 129-112 loss to the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, 23 turnovers proved to be too much to overcome.
Toronto scored 29 points off the Sixers’ miscues, which were a consistent issue throughout the evening.
“The bottom line is the bottom line,” Brett Brown said afterwards. “You can’t win with that volume of turnovers.”
Nevertheless, despite having trailed by as many as 26 points in the third quarter, the Sixers managed to trim the deficit to six by the late stages of the fourth.
But Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s prized off-season trade pick up, made sure the Sixers’ momentum halted there. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year came up with a key steal that led to a Pascal Siakam lay-up that widened the gap to 10, 121-111.
Moments later, Leonard drilled a three that effectively put Tuesday’s tilt out of reach.
He went for 31 points (10-19 fg, 2-5 3fg, 9-10 ft) in all, while adding seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
“He is really that good,” said Brown, who coached Leonard in San Antonio. “It’s great to see him playing basketball again.”
The Sixers had a 31-point scorer of their own Tuesday in Joel Embiid. The 7-foot All-Star was instrumental in fueling his club’s late push, scoring eight points in a row to make it a 117-111 game with three and a half minutes to go.
Embiid has now registered seven double-doubles on the new year, and on Tuesday became just the second player in franchise history to register five 30-point, 10-rebound showings in the first eight games of a season.
(Wilt Chamberlain had six such outings in the Sixers’ first eight games of the 1965-66 season)
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Strong Effort at Finish
With the Sixers down by 25 points in the final minutes of Tuesday’s third quarter, the mostly-bench unit consisting of Jonah Bolden, Markelle Fultz, Amir Johnson, T.J. McConnell, and Landry Shamet put together a modest run that gave the team some life.
The spark carried into the fourth period, when the starters returned to the floor, and ultimately threatened to erase a 26-point deficit.
Even though that didn’t happen, the Sixers still viewed the way they played down the stretch as a silver lining of sorts.
“The positives were that group that came in at the end of the third, the bench guys, really gave us a little bit of life,” Brett Brown said.
“Definitely encouraged by what we did to come back,” Joel Embiid said. “Obviously, we were short, but the whole game, the turnovers reflect on why we were in that situation in the first place. We have to make sure we do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Speaking of Turnovers…
They were a subplot to Tuesday’s game that simply couldn’t be overlooked.
Prior to this week, the Sixers, through six games, ranked fourth in the NBA with 12.2 turnovers committed per 100 possessions.
Between their games Monday and Tuesday against Atlanta and Toronto, respectively, the Sixers combined for 42 giveaways.
“Forcing too much,” said Ben Simmons, who had 11 turns versus the Raptors. “They’re good defenders, and it’s a learning experience for me.”
The reigning Rookie of the Year was covered a good amount by Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green as well.
Simmons plans to be more patient the next time around.
“You just have to take care of it, be more assertive when you have the ball.”
Leonard’s New Look
Kawhi Leonard’s departure from San Antonio was one of the biggest stories of the summer. Whether he stays in Toronto beyond this season remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure in the present:
On first blush, he and the Raptors seem to make a pretty good match.
Counting Tuesday’s game, in six appearances with Toronto, Leonard is averaging 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.0 steals.
“To see Kawhi play basketball at the level he is playing it does not surprise me,” said Brett Brown.
Leonard missed all but nine games a season ago due to injury.
“They’ve always been good,” Joel Embiid said of the Raptors. “This year, they’re really good too. Last year, they had 59 wins. This year, I think they will be right around there.”
‘Gram of the Game:
The high-scoring man of the game for the Sixers also provided arguably the highest energy play of the evening.
Following their second back-to-back of the season, the Sixers will be idle Wednesday, before opening their November slate Thursday in a match-up with the LA Clippers. The Clips entered action on Tuesday with a 4-2 record. Part of the Blake Griffin trade with Detroit last February, Tobias Harris is enjoying a strong start to the season, averaging team-highs of 21.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.