After a spectacular first round performance that saw the Toronto Raptors take out the Orlando Magic with a 4-1 series win, they look to carry that momentum into round 2 on Saturday as they take on the Philidelphia 76ers at Scotiabank Arena. Ahead of the game, Toronto fans are wondering: can the Raptors beat the 76ers? To answer that question, there are two main matchups to consider that could determine the outcome. I'm talking about Kawhi Leonard vs. Ben Simmons and Marc Gasol vs. Joel Embiid.
The Raptors have had a lot of success against the 76ers over the last 3 seasons, playing 12 games and holding a 9-3 record. Three of those wins came this season and the Raptors defeated them by at least 11 points in each game. A key reason they walked away with those wins was Kawhi Leonard's ability to shut down 76ers young star Ben Simmons.
Simmons had a great season this year, averaging 16.9 points and 3.5 turnovers per game. But up against Leonard and the Raptors, he only managed to average 13 points and a hefty 8 turnovers per game. The one time Philly did beat Toronto, Simmons finished the game with 26 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists and that only happened because Leonard was absent. Leonard's defence has proven to have an impact on Simmons' performance. Leonard holds a perfect 13-0 career record against the 76ers and I'm sure he's looking to keep that clean sheet.
Leonard absolutely dominated in round 1 over Orlando, showing Toronto and the NBA what playoff Kawhi is made of. He averaged 27.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists in the 5 game series. With the way he's been playing on defence as well, I think Simmons is going to have his work cut out for him.
As for Joel Embiid, he can be one difficult man to stop once he gets going. Standing 7 feet tall and possessing an enormous amount of power and strength, plus his ability to hit three's, it's clear that he'd be a tough person to guard, especially in the paint. If there is one guy that's capable of holding Embiid back, it's Raptors' big man Marc Gasol.
As a Raptor, Gasol has yet to play against the 76ers. But, Gasol did play them twice this year as a member of the Grizzlies - as the stats show, he might be the man to shut Embiid down. In the 2 games Embiid and Gasol went up against each other, Gasol managed to get his way, holding Joel to just 14.5 points per game with a miserable 28.6 shooting percentage.
Of course, anything can happen in basketball, especially in the playoffs. But Raptors fans should go into this series with confidence knowing that the team has the talent and the key players to conquer round 2 and make their second-ever appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors are a different team this year. They have power, skill, depth, promise that they've never had before - and who knows, this year could see them make it all the way through to the NBA finals.