For the Toronto Raptors to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, they might have to match Marc Gasol's minutes with Joel Embiid's for the remainder of Eastern Conference Semifinals.
That hasn't been the case through the opening games of the series.
Gasol started both games in Toronto matched up with Embiid, but Serge Ibaka was on the floor with the All-Star for 13 minutes in Game 1 and 13 minutes in Game 2. While Embiid didn't shoot particularly well from the field in those minutes, he was able to punish the Raptors in ways he couldn't when he was being defended by Gasol.
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According to NBA.com, 19 of the 28 points Embiid has scored so far in the series have come with Ibaka in Toronto's lineup. He has made only four of his 11 field goal attempts (36.4 percent) with Ibaka on the court, but Embiid has benefitted from getting to the free throw line in those minutes, where he is a perfect 10-for-10.
Ibaka isn't the first defender to have a hard time keeping him off the foul line - only James Harden attempted more free throws per game in the regular season - but it's fouls like this that neither him nor the Raptors can afford considering how poorly Embiid is shooting from the perimeter this season:
Gasol, for comparison, has limited Embiid to nine points in 36 minutes. Not only has he helped hold him to 3-for-14 shooting (21.4 percent), Embiid has attempted only four free throws - of which he's made three - with Gasol on the court.
Even though the 76ers are a top-heavy team with three other All-Star calibre players in Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, a lot of their success in Games 1 and 2 boiled down to which one of Gasol and Ibaka was guarding Embiid.
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That doesn't necessarily mean Ibaka has no place in this series. If there's one limitation Gasol has at this stage of his career, it's defending pick-and-rolls, as he doesn't quite have the foot speed to switch outright onto the likes of Simmons, Butler and Harris or consistently hedge and recover.
It's something the 76ers took more advantage of in Game 2, particularly when Greg Monroe was playing centre.
Monroe is a more willing screener and roller than Embiid, and it freed both him and Philadelphia's ball handlers for several open shots in the first half with Gasol on the court.
In total, the Raptors were outscored by four points in the 15 minutes Gasol played without Embiid in Game 2. That's quite the difference from the 11 points the Raptors outscored the 76ers in the 11 minutes Gasol shared with Embiid.
Ibaka would likely fare better than Gasol if he were in more of those situations. Whereas Gasol is equipped to defend bruising, back to the basket centres such as Embiid and Nikola Vucevic because of his size and length, Ibaka has the speed and athleticism to guard more mobile bigs.
Even if it's only for 10-15 minutes per game in this series, that could be crucial to the Raptors winning the battle of the second units, which the 76ers - a team not known for their depth - are currently dominating.
The Raptors wouldn't likely have to worry about Gasol's minutes if Nick Nurse were to match his with Embiid's either. Embiid logged a few more minutes than Gasol in Game 1, but Gasol logged a few more minutes than Embiid in Game 2.
With his knee injury and ... other ailments, the 76ers will likely keep Embiid around 30 minutes for most of the playoffs, basically the same amount as Gasol has been playing with the Raptors.
These are ultimately the matchups the Raptors had in mind when they acquired Gasol at the trade deadline, and it's probably time they made the most of it.
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