Sixers vs. Raptors: Joel Embiid scores 31 points in Game 2 win

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3 observations after Embiid (31 points), Sixers grab Game 2 vs. Raptors originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers fought to hold serve Monday night.

They won a testy matchup over the Raptors at Wells Fargo Center, beating Toronto by a 112-97 score to go up 2-0 in their first-round playoff series.

Joel Embiid had 31 points and 11 rebounds.

Tyrese Maxey posted 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Tobias Harris notched 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Scottie Barnes missed Game 2 with a left ankle sprain. Gary Trent Jr. played after being listed as doubtful with a non-COVID illness, but he was unable to complete the game.

Game 3 will be Wednesday night in Toronto. Here are observations on the Sixers' win Monday:

Toronto hits first 

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s pregame media session was fiery.

Nurse emphasized that, though he expected the series to be physical, he saw Game 1 as unfairly officiated. He said he hoped the officials, unlike Saturday night, had “the guts” to at least review plays on which his players got struck in the face.

Toronto played an especially physical, pissed-off first few minutes, shoving the Sixers into a quick deficit. Fred VanVleet made two early three-pointers and saw a third spin around the hoop and out. That shot would have given the Raptors a 14-2 lead.

Before the opening media timeout, both Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby had two personal fouls. Embiid and Anunoby also each received a technical for a dead-ball mini-dust-up. The five-time All-Star pushed back against the Raptors’ fast start with an edge, figuring the officials would indeed reward him when he got fouled. Embiid in the first quarter took 12 foul shots and scored 19 points, his total for Game 1. He celebrated an and-one layup that tied the score at 13-all with a scream more commonly found late in the fourth quarter.

He reacted similarly after another and-one hoop with 1:25 left in the first, although at that point Embiid was perhaps less irritated and a touch more pleased with how his night was trending. Frustration with Embiid and James Harden’s foul drawing has become the norm for Sixers opponents. While there's often room for debate and passionate disagreement, plenty of plays are, without room for interpretation, legitimate fouls. Embiid responded to Toronto’s initial surge by being steadfast about picking those up.

Injury concerns amid excellent basketball 

With Embiid on the bench and Paul Reed at center, the Sixers outscored the Raptors by 12 points to begin the second period.

Danny Green, Shake Milton and Harris all knocked down catch-and-shoot threes during that stretch. Green also enjoyed stepping in to take a charge and draw Anunoby’s third personal foul. Foul trouble piled up fast for the Raptors; Nurse lost his challenge with two minutes before halftime trying to overturn Trent’s fourth personal.

Maxey was patient the game after exploding for 38 points, but he rattled off eight quick ones early in the second. While Maxey is obviously not among the NBA’s largest guards, speed hasn’t been his only advantage against VanVleet. The Kentucky product hasn’t minded VanVleet’s off-ball bumps and attempts to disrupt his rhythm. When he’s gotten the ball in his hands and a chance to drive, Maxey has seemed to love the look of that matchup offensively.

The one concerning sight from the Sixers’ great start to the second was Harris’ grimace and grab at his right shoulder after he fouled Siakam. Back in January, Harris said he initially hurt his right shoulder during a Nov. 16 game against the Jazz. On Monday night, he spoke briefly with Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson during a timeout but stayed in the game.

The Sixers maintained their double-digit lead when Embiid checked back in and even built it to 15 points at halftime. However, Embiid went back to the locker room with a limp after appearing to hurt his left ankle on a drive by Harden into traffic with 37.9 seconds left in the second.

Whether or not they were 100 percent healthy, Embiid and Harris were sure effective after intermission. Embiid leaped high to slam home a Harden alley-oop and converted a nifty leaner to extend the Sixers’ lead to 24 points. Harris made a wing three and a turnaround jumper, but he was most enthused after stripping Precious Achiuwa.

The Raptors aren’t a team that tends to wilt, but the Sixers’ third-quarter push had to be demoralizing. If they weren’t already discouraged, Embiid made a tough corner three and Maxey drained a jumper from several feet beyond the arc that put Toronto down 27 points.

No coasting to the finish line

VanVleet made four threes and poured in 15 points in the first quarter.

The All-Star guard then went frigid, though; he finished the night 7 for 23 from the floor. Especially with Trent's status shaky, the Raptors need VanVleet to provide shooting firepower and conduct efficient half-court offense in order to mount a series comeback. The Sixers again won the transition game, scoring 22 of the night's 32 fast-break points.

Matisse Thybulle, who's ineligible to play in Games 3 and 4 because he's not fully vaccinated against COVID, was among the defenders on VanVleet. Thybulle played just 10 minutes and recorded three blocks.

Not surprisingly, Maxey was the young Sixer who lifted the team at an uneasy moment. The Raptors began eating into the Sixers' advantage with Embiid on the bench. Embiid's re-entry didn't quell that run and a Khem Birch layup cut Toronto's deficit to only 11 points. That's when Maxey restored order by picking up a loose ball and nailing a three-pointer.

Green later emphatically (and unexpectedly) threw down a dunk, putting all five Sixers starters into double figures. Still, the Raptors kept pressuring the Sixers and delaying their chance to finally let loose a deep breath. The Sixers are in a superb spot, but Toronto clearly isn't resigned to the series being over.