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Winners and Losers: Sometimes You Just Can’t Stop the Sixers

Philadelphia returned home and blew out the Raptors to take a 2-1 series lead. If Joel Embiid keeps playing like that, the 76ers will be in the Eastern Conference finals in short order.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Despite a Jordanesque performance from Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have fallen behind the Sixers after a blowout in Philadelphia. Here are the winners and losers from Game 3 of Raptors-Sixers.

Game 3: Sixers 116, Raptors 95

Winner: Joel Embiid

If you’re against a team that has Joel Embiid and you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with the shimmying and dancing and smiling 7-footer, who is cupping his hand to his ear, egging on the crowd, and spreading his arms wide as if to invite a response to his escapades, you’ve probably already lost. Embiid’s hijinks are as sure a sign as any that not only are you getting beat on the floor, you’re probably going to get trolled in the postgame press conference and on Instagram later too. And there won’t be anything you can do about it.

Game 3 was Embiid’s from the start. He was clearly free from any knee pain or the gastroenteritis that helped hold him to 12 points in Game 2; he looked like the player who had a case to be top-five MVP during the regular season. In his first 18 minutes, he scored 18 points. He finished with 33 points on 18 shots, added 10 rebounds, three assists, as well as five blocks, with this one as the peak highlight:

There were more highlights to come. Embiid hit the aforementioned shimmy following that 3—his third of the four he took—and then a few minutes later drove and finished after getting fouled. The and-1 all but sealed the game, and Embiid reacted by waving his arms up and down to signal the foul call until he felt like stopping. No one was going to tell him to. Then came the coup de grâce: Embiid got the ball at the top of the break, pump faked (yep—Marc Gasol fell for it), and then drove in to finish the night off with a thundering windmill dunk. His reaction, an airplane around the Wells Fargo floor and a smile wider than his wingspan, said it all. He had even surprised himself.

When Embiid plays like he did, the Sixers become a force: not just because of his overwhelming talent but because he showcases how good Philly’s elite starting lineup can be. That group has played only 17 games together, and on Thursday all five of them scored in double digits. It was balance accompanied by Embiid’s supernatural abilities, a near-perfect recipe for success, not just in this game but in the playoffs as a whole.

Loser: Pascal Siakam’s Dirty Play

Of all the Raptors players I would have expected to try and pull a Grayson Allen and trip an opponent, Siakam would have likely been last on my list. Add in the fact that Siakam and Embiid are fellow Cameroonians and that the play could have injured an oft-injured Embiid, it made the cheap shot all the more surprising.

What it did show was just how frustrated Siakam—and really the entire Raptors’ team—was when he realized Toronto had no answer for Embiid’s play, and thus, no retort to his playful antics. Embiid, of course, would make sure to block Siakam one more time, rubbing salt in Toronto’s wound. Siakam could at least hang his hat on the fact that he wasn’t the worst Raptor on the floor by any means. That honor—er, dishonor—could have gone to about five other players.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard in a Losing Effort

In Game 3, Leonard was sensational. He created any shot he wanted and made even the ones that looked impossible. Fading away, turning around, absorbing contact, pulling up—no method was a problem for Leonard, who scored 33 points on 22 shots. Unlike Kevin Durant, who can get any shot he wants largely due to his freakish length and impeccable footwork, it feels like Leonard wills his impossible shots into existence with a combination of strength, balance, and accuracy. He makes it look harder but somehow, also easier. That’s how you end up getting mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Jordan:

Loser: The Raptors’ Depth

The playoffs have flipped the narrative on the Raptors. All season long, they were lauded for how their depth players could pick apart any team with an overwhelming wave of scoring and defense. They were so good that Kawhi only had to play 60 games and could make the term “load management” go mainstream without saying a single word. But the postseason, or at least this second-round matchup, has called into question whether their depth is their strong suit. It has created a grand stage for Leonard’s greatness while at the same time poking Kyle Lowry– and Marc Gasol–sized holes in their facade.

This series would be quite the coronation for Leonard if his team would match his unreal performances. Instead, Lowry shot 2-of-10 and only had seven points. Gasol, aside from getting owned by Embiid, could only counter with seven points on six shots. Aside from Leonard, only Siakam scored more than 13 points, and the Sixers’ bench outscored the Raptors’ by eight points. Fred VanVleet, who has lost his powers apparently, missed all five of his 3s while Toronto shot 26 percent from deep. Even if Leonard scores 50, which he just might, it’s impossible for the Raptors to beat a team with more talent and size if they’re not hitting enough shots to keep up.

Winner: Jimmy Butler, Motivational Speaker

In what is the only good use of the wired-for-sound segment I have ever seen, I present to you Jimmy Butler: ultimate teammate, complete irritator, and the only hype man you could ever want or ask for.