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Toronto Raptors

Fred VanVleet shines as Toronto Raptors pick up big-time win over Philadelphia 76ers

Make that four in a row for the Toronto Raptors.

Led by Fred VanVleet (23 points), Pascal Siakam (23) and Chris Boucher (17), the Raptors defeated the Philadelphia 76ers by a final score of 110-103 on Sunday, making for their fourth straight victory.

The Raptors are now 16-15 on the season.

For more on the game, here are some thoughts at the buzzer...

1. The injury report

Kyle Lowry missed his third straight game with a left thumb sprain.

Instead of going big against the 76ers by starting Boucher or Aron Baynes in place of Lowry, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse decided to go small with VanVleet, Norman Powell, DeAndre' Bembry, Siakam and OG Anunoby.

2. Heating up

The 76ers threw the first punch, jumping out to a 22-8 lead in the first quarter. As expected, their size gave the Raptors trouble on the offensive glass, and they were getting anything they wanted in the paint.

Then, the Raptors went on a run of their own.

Over the final 4:33 of the opening period, the Raptors outscored the 76ers 20-2 to get themselves back in the game and take the lead. The run started with Siakam, who was aggressive attacking Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris early, and ended with VanVleet, who closed the quarter with four straight 3-pointers.

Siakam and VanVleet combined for 21 of Toronto's 28 points in the first quarter. Everyone else on the Raptors combined for seven points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field.

3. The bank is open

One of the four straight 3-pointers VanVleet hit in the first quarter? A circus shot that Lowry would be proud of.

4. Getting it done off the dribble

Following one of Toronto's recent wins over Milwaukee, I wrote about how much VanVleet has improved as a pull-up shooter from midrange.

His development as a pull-up shoot from 3-point range is equally as impressive.

Last season was the first time VanVleet really started to shoot 3s off the dribble. According to NBA.com, he attempted 3.0 pull-up 3s per game and converted them at a 32.7 percent clip. That was enough for him to crack the top-50 in makes, but VanVleet was near the bottom of that group in efficiency.

This season, VanVleet is up to 4.0 attempts per game and is converting them at a 35.5 percent clip.

Those numbers still don't put him in the same category as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and James Harden, but he continues to make great strides as a shooter off the dribble, both from mid-range and 3-point range.

5. Let it fly

Boucher wasn't much of a factor offensively in the first half.

The second half? A completely different story.

After going scoreless in the first and second quarter, Boucher got himself going in the third quarter with a couple of late 3-pointers. He then caught fire in the fourth quarter, draining three more 3-pointers to help the Raptors take the lead.

Whenever Joel Embiid or Dwight Howard gave him space, Boucher didn't hesitate to let it fly. His five made 3-pointers matched a career-high.

Boucher's performance is even more impressive considering he logged a season-low four minutes in Toronto's first matchup with Philadelphia this season, almost certainly because of matchup reasons. Plus-minus is far from a perfect stat, but the Raptors outscored the 76ers by 32 points in Boucher's 25 minutes on Sunday.

That should give you some idea of the impact he made.

6. Not in Boucher's house

Oh yeah, Boucher can block shots as well.

He swatted three shots, one of which came at the expense of Embiid underneath the basket.

7. A quiet night for Embiid

Entering Sunday's game, Embiid had career averages of 19.3 points and 10.6 rebounds on 43.6 percent shooting from the field and 26.2 percent from 3-point range against the Raptors.

Embiid posted another double-double with 25 points and 17 rebounds, but he once again struggled to score efficiently, going 6-for-20 from the field and 1-for-3 from 3-point range.

It was Embiid's least efficient game of the season to date.

The Raptors doubled Embiid rather aggressively whenever he touched the ball, but it started with Baynes, whose minutes were matched with Embiid's for most of the second half. What Boucher gave the Raptors offensively, Baynes gave them defensively.

8. Simmons in attack mode

Simmons made his return after missing two straight games with an illness and picked up right where he left off.

After scoring a career-best 42 points against the Utah Jazz, Simmons led the 76ers in scoring against the Raptors with 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field and 10-for-14 from the free-throw line. Him attempting 14 free throws is perhaps the most encouraging part of his game, as it's only the fourth time this season Simmons has attempted double-digit free throws. Whereas Simmons can look tentative attacking the basket sometimes, he kept his foot on the gas all game long.

It wasn't quite enough for the 76ers to come away with the victory, but it was good to see Simmons stay in attack mode.

9. What's next

The Raptors and 76ers will run it back on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The Raptors will then travel to Miami to take on the Heat (Feb. 24) before returning to Tampa for a three-game homestand.

Including Tuesday's matchup with the 76ers, the Raptors have six games remaining in the first half of the schedule. The season is flying by.

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