Two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams did battle Monday night north of the border. It included the defending champion Toronto Raptors (11-4) hosting the Philadelphia 76ers (11-5).
The game did not fail to live up to expectations. A one-point game after three quarters, Philadelphia saw both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons struggle big time.
On the other side, Toronto’s new dynamic duo of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet did their thing in a 101-96 victory. Here’s the biggest winners and losers from this huge Eastern Conference matchup.
Winner: Josh Richardson, Philadelphia 76ers
We’re not ready to say that Philadelphia won the blockbuster Jimmy Butler trade this past summer. We are, however, willing to say that it was a wash. Richardson has been absolutely dynamic thus far this season, and that continued Monday night.
The 26-year-old wing dropped 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting while hitting on 5-of-9 from distance. In a game that saw Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid do absolutely nothing from a scoring perspective, Richardson came through big time. He’s now proven himself to be a core member of this squad.
Loser: Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers needed their prized free-agent acquisition to do some more on offense with Embiid and Simmons struggling in this one. Instead, Horford was tentative on that side of the court.
The former All-Star attempted just seven shots in 32 minutes of action, scoring 11 points in the process. He finished minus-8 in a game the Sixers lost by just five points. Simply put, Philly needs more from a veteran who entered Monday’s game averaging a solid 14.7 points per game. Horford must recognize the flow of the game and respond accordingly. That did not happen Monday night.
Winner: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Statistically, it was not an eye-opening performance from this NBA MVP candidate Monday night. However, Siakam came through big time on both ends of the court. He bodied Joel Embiid at times on defense, showing much improved ability on that end of the court. That included a game-clinching steal late in the final stanza.
Offensively, Siakam dropped 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out three assists and blocking two shots. His and-1 with Toronto down two late in the fourth quarter was also the difference-maker here.
Loser: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Entering Monday night’s game, this All-Star center had scored no fewer than nine points in any game in which he played 20-plus minutes throughout his career. Shockingly, Embiid was held scoreless. Legitimately, he did not score a single point on 0-of-11 shooting from the field in 27 minutes.
What makes this even more amazing is that Embiid couldn’t body an older big man in Marc Gasol throughout the game. It really was something else in Toronto on Monday. It also continues Embiid’s major recent struggles against the Raptors. He’s shooting 6-of-29 versus Philly’s Eastern Conference rivals since trolling Toronto during the playoffs this past spring.
Winner: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Siakam might have some competition as he attempts to repeat as the NBA’s most improved player. With fellow guard Kyle Lowry suffering through an injury-plagued campaign, this former undrafted free agent has done it all for Toronto.
That continued in a narrow win over Philadelphia Monday night. Including two clutch free throws late in the game, VanVleet dropped 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He also dished out eight assists and limited his turnovers in the process. Simply put, VanVleet vastly outplayed another ball-dominant guard from Philly.
Loser: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
At this stage in his career, we already know what Simmons is. He can’t hit the outside shot on a consistent basis. This has limited the former No. 1 overall pick’s ability to see his per-game average increase. It’s when Simmons struggles in other areas that Philadelphia is in trouble.
The point guard turned the ball over a whopping seven times Monday night, including a brutal giveaway with his Sixers looking to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. All said, Simmons finished with 10 points and 14 assists with those seven turnovers. That’s just not going to cut it.