The Toronto Raptors advanced to 39-16 on the season with a road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, who have only lost six times at home this season.
After missing one game for precautionary reasons, Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup and finished with 20 points and six assists. The Raptors All-Star point guard sank five of his nine 3-point attempts on the night. Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka led the way for the Raptors offence that benefitted from a big scoring first half.
Toronto led by as many as 21 points on the night and held off Philly's fourth-quarter rally to escape with a 12-point win.
For more on how it all went down, here are four takeaways from the game…
Kawhi Leonard's aggression
In just under 35 minutes of action, Leonard finished with a game-high 24 points but shot just 3-for-11 from the field.
How he managed to do it was simple: Getting to the free throw line.
The Raptors All-Star forward sank a career-high 16 free throws on 17 attempts, which tied a career-high set in the Raptors' New Years Day win over the Jazz. Leonard getting to the line has been a key to the team's success this season - Toronto is now 16-3 when he attempts nine or more free throws and it is a much more modest 12-9 when he attempts fewer than nine foul shots.
Despite his inability to get going from the floor, the Sixers double teamed Leonard throughout the fourth quarter to limit him from drawing fouls and adding to his team-high point total. As teams continue to gameplan for Leonard - especially in the postseason - his ability to draw fouls and get to the line will be a major factor in keeping the offence afloat.
Lack of depth catching up with 76ers
The 76ers are struggling with injuries, again missing starters JJ Redick (nausea) and Wilson Chandler (quad), with rookie Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala inserted into the starting lineup in their place.
However, as was the case in their last game against the Kings, the duo weren't able to produce much on the offensive end, with Muscala recording eight points on 1-for-3 shooting and Shamet six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
With no real offensive threats coming from outside the 76ers' Big 3, the Raptors were able to zero in on Simmons and Butler, with the latter himself struggling from the field, shooting just 5-for-12 for his 18 points.
Glaringly, without Redick and Chandler, the 76ers connected on just 7-for-24 3-point attempts (29.2 percent), and with the trade deadline fast approaching, they are almost certain to make a move, with some 3-and-D and frontcourt help likely on the way.
Defence → Offence for the Raptors
The Sixers, who average the fourth-most turnovers in the league (15.7), again failed to take care of the ball in their loss to the Raptors.
Toronto's defence forced a total of 18 turnovers on the game; it is the 13th time this season that the Raptors have forced 18 or more turnovers, and they are 9-4 in such games. It is also the 13th time that the Sixers have committed 18 or more turnovers this season - they're 6-7 in those games.
In addition to forcing an abundance of turnovers, the Raptors were able to convert these extra possessions into 30 points on plays like this:
Lowry goes coast-to-coast and finishes with euro-step floater!#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/MZeYnMpyWT- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 6, 2019
Toronto has been one of the better teams at taking care of the ball this season as it averages 14.0 turnovers per game; it committed one fewer than its season average in the win. Philadelphia was able to convert Toronto's 13 turnovers into 16 points, but the 14-point differential in points off turnovers proved to be a major difference in the game.
Offensive rebounds prove costly for Philly
Toronto outrebounded Philly on the offensive glass 15-5 for the game, generating plenty of second-chance opportunities. Late in the fourth quarter their scrappiness paid off as they closed the door on the 76ers with their hustle.
Philly trailed by 113-105 with 2:47 remaining after Landry Shamet's potential four-point play was waived off after he was assessed an offensive foul for kicking out his legs, but what followed was surely one of the most frustrating stretches of the game for coach Brett Brown.
As the Raptors took the ball down the other end with Philly's defence scrambling, they managed to generate two extra possessions with the game in the balance after securing two offensive rebounds.
First, it was Ibaka who tapped the ball out off the Pascal Siakam miss and on the ensuing play, Siakam secured the ball off Fred VanVleet's miss, giving them another opportunity to score. They were unable to convert it into points, but the Raptors were able to wipe enough time off the clock to effectively end any hope of a 76ers comeback.