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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: Four things to watch in Game 4 between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers

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Kawhi Leonard shoots over Ben Simmons (NBA Getty Images)

After earning a dominant win in Game 1, Toronto finds themselves with their backs against the wall ahead of Game 4.

It might not be panic time for the Raptors but it's close to a must-win as they look to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in the series after losing two straight games. For the Sixers, a win would mean they keep home court while a loss would sway the series back in the Raptors favour.

Philadelphia looks to build upon its dominant Game 3 performance in which Joel Embiid led the way with 33 points (on 9-18 shooting), 10 rebounds, five blocks and three assists while Jimmy Butler flirted with a triple-double as he finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

TAKEAWAYS: Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3

Six different Sixers finished in double-figures while just three Raptors did, led by Kawhi Leonard's 33 points. Postgame, Toronto's All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry addressed this concern by admitting everyone must step up to help Kawhi on the offensive end.

Rotation changes on the horizon for the Raptors?

Among the groups with plenty of room to improve in Game 4 is the Raptors second unit, which has been outperformed in Games 1 through 3.

Just how much has this unit struggled? Through three games, Sixers reserve James Ennis has scored 34 points while the Raptors bench has scored just 30 points as a whole while shooting 12-for-50 (24%) from the field.

MORE: Inside the Raptors' bench struggles

Toronto's second unit has already acknowledged its shortcomings and the fact that it needs to improve, but it has yet to have a positive impact on the series. In Game 3, the bench scored a series-high 15 points but did so on 6-for-20 (30%) shooting from the field.

In nearly 21 minutes of action, reserve Fred VanVleet scored just one point and was 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-9 from deep. Norman Powell led all reserves with six points but did so on 2-for-5 shooting and was a minus-12 in the box score for the 16 minutes in which he appeared.

How can the Raptors improve moving forward?

In a crucial Game 4, head coach Nick Nurse could look to make lineup changes to address some of the issues related to the underperformance of the second unit. As things haven't been ideal when Kawhi Leonard takes a break, Nurse could look to keep Leonard on for more minutes with the reserves in order to improve the flow of the offence. There is also the option of trying someone like Jeremy Lin, who has yet to truly see meaningful minutes this postseason.

As there are a number of options to make it happen, Nurse must explore how to give the second unit a boost.

Will Marc Gasol be more aggressive?

Gasol is one of the best passers we've ever seen at the centre position, but he's been too passive in this series. It's gotten to a point where the 76ers aren't even expecting him to look for his own shot because they know he'd rather set someone else up.

There were a couple of occasions when that hurt the Raptors in Game 3, this one being one of the more memorable:

Gasol takes Embiid out of the play by getting him to bite on his pump fake from the 3-point line, providing the Raptors with a quick 5-on-4 opportunity. Gasol, however, takes one dribble towards the basket and immediately kicks the ball out to Kyle Lowry.

It's not that it's a bad pass to make, but Gasol gives up the ball so quickly that Jimmy Butler doesn't have to fully commit to helping. That allows Butler to close out on Lowry, who, in Gasol's defence, might've had a decent look at 3-pointer had he not immediately looked to make a pass as well.

The possession then grinds to a halt, with Pascal Siakam having to create something out of nothing against Tobias Harris in isolation.

While Gasol has never been a big-time scorer, he's only a couple of seasons removed from averaging 19.5 points per game on decent efficiency. The Raptors don't necessarily need him to score that much to have a chance of winning this series. They just can't afford for both him and Lowry to be passive when the 76ers double Leonard and Siakam.

And of the two, the matchups in this series favour Gasol being the third option more than they do Lowry.

"I always think that really good teams, offensively anyway, usually need a lead guy," Nick Nurse said ahead of Game 3. "And then obviously a second guy. But the third guy is also important too - that there's a third guy you can go to and score.

"Now, we've got Kawhi, Pascal, and Kyle can be that guy. But I think Marc needs to inch his way into that discussion. He's just too talented of a scorer to not put up a few more points."

Toronto's 3-point shooting and assist figures

By now it's clear the Raptors are out of rhythm from beyond the arc - in Game 3, Toronto shot 7-for-27 (25.9%) from deep.

For the series, Toronto is 26-for-91 (28.6%) from deep, down from 36.8% in the first round and 36.6% in the regular season.

Credit goes to the 76ers defence, who has done an excellent job with its rotations to discourage the Raptors' catch-and-shoot 3-point opportunities. Whereas Toronto sank 38.6% of its catch-and-shoot threes in the regular season, it's hit just 18 of 59 attempts (30.5%) through the first three games of the Conference Semifinals.

Because of Philadelphia's swarming 'D,' Toronto has struggled to get into its offensive flow that is predicated on passing up shots that would be considered good for shots that would be considered great. As a direct result, the Raptors' assist numbers have taken a hit.

In Game 3, Toronto assisted on just 15 of its 35 made field goals; it's just the third time this year (regular season and postseason) that the Raptors dished out 15 or fewer assists in a game - the team is now 1-2 in such games.

It could take schematic adjustment, but the Raptors must find a way to knock down perimeter jumpers with the Sixers' aggressive closeouts. Toronto could look to set more screens to free shooters and give them more time before a defender can reach them or look to hit more jumpers in transition, but 3-point shooting is a major key.

The team's 3-point shooting goes hand-in-hand with a more balanced scoring attack. Figuring out their shooting woes should equate to success for the Raptors in Game 4.

Joel Embiid's 3-point shooting

Embiid came alive for the 76ers in Game 3, largely because he was able to get himself going from the 3-point line for the first time this postseason.

Prior to the game, Embiid was 4-for-19 from the perimeter in these playoffs. In Game 3, he went 3-for-4 from 3-point range, with each of his 3s coming against Gasol.

The math says that Embiid is unlikely to shoot that well again - he made only 30% of his 3-point attempts this season and 30.8% last season - but if he does, it's going to be tough for the Raptors to find an answer for him.

Whereas most players his size aren't comfortable making plays for themselves off the dribble, Embiid is more than capable of driving to the basket and finishing strong at the rim.

The Raptors learned that the hard way after Gasol bit on one of his pump fakes at the midpoint of the fourth quarter.

The Raptors will still likely live with Embiid settling for 3-pointers - they should, at least, based on how poorly he shot them this season - but Game 3 was a good example of how much pressure it puts on the defence if those shots start to drop.

Gasol has been able to contain him in the post through three games, but he doesn't have the foot speed to chase Embiid all the way out to the 3-point line and recover. As for Ibaka, he's more nimble than Gasol, but he doesn't have the same strength to match up with him in the post.

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