Down Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, the shorthanded Toronto Raptors had no answer for the one-two punch of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons Saturday night.
The Raptors fall to 25-10 but maintain a 1.5 game hold of the East's No. 1 seed as the Milwaukee Bucks fell to the Miami Heat Saturday. The Sixers improve their league-best home record to 16-3 and move up to No. 3 in the East in a win that could prove to be crucial later on in the season.
From the return of Kyle Lowry to Ben Simmons' dominant performance, here are four takeaways from the game.
Kyle Lowry's Return
After missing the past four games with lingering thigh and back issues, Kyle Lowry made his return to action in his hometown of Philadelphia Saturday night.
Lowry picked up where he left off early on, scoring 10 points in the first quarter to go along with three rebounds and three assists, but his rust showed as time went on - a sentiment shared by head coach Nick Nurse who added that his team's point guard isn't all the way back yet.
"[Lowry] obviously wasn't 100 percent. I think he was struggling there a little bit at the end, so we got him out of there. But he was pretty good. I thought he was up the floor, and he was defending and fighting and doing his thing."
The Raptors' All-Star guard finished the night with 20 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field and 2-for-9 shooting from deep. He added six rebounds and a team-high five assists in under 31 minutes of action.
Lowry's assist numbers often dictate the Raptors success; the team is 14-4 when Lowry dishes out 10 or more, but the team finished with just 17 assists on 37 field goals tonight.
Philly's Paint Domination
As if missing Kawhi Leonard wasn't tough enough, the Raptors were forced to play without centres Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka, whose presence was sorely missed on the interior, a point emphasized by Nurse.
"I think they probably made a point, obviously, for [Embiid] and Simmons to spend more time at the front of the rim tonight with our lack of size, with both our bigs out, and Kawhi is our next biggest guy. He did a good job. I thought he got down there - he really got physical, too.
Philadelphia dominated on the inside, outscoring Toronto 60-44 in the paint on 30-for-43 shooting (69.8 percent).
Joel Embiid was the biggest beneficiary, scoring a game-high 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting, while Ben Simmons also took advantage as he missed just two shots on a night where he scored a season-high 26 points.
Philly's aggression resulted in the team attempting 35 free throws on the night; Raptors guard Kyle Lowry credited the home team's win to the play and physicality of Simmons and Embiid:
"Those guys are good. They're massive... When they're downhill in transition and ducking in like the way they were, it's being physical - we've just gotta find a way to be more physical. They played well tonight. Tip your hat. They won the game.
The first loss of its kind for Toronto
Back-to-backs are tough and in most cases, it shows; teams come out visibly fatigued from the night before which often results in underwhelming performances.
The Raptors, however, were an exception to this generalization prior to Saturday night.
Toronto entered Philadelphia with a spotless 6-0 record on the second night of back-to-backs, but tonight their fatigue showed, a point emphasized by head coach Nick Nurse. When asked about the impact of a back-to-back on the team's performance, Nurse told reporters:
"I thought we came out to start the second half really lackadaisical. We tried to ease into the second half, and they were ready to play. I think we had three straight turnovers to start the half. It was only six or something at the half, and it was like 16 before we got out of the locker room. We fought right back and started playing a little better, but we just had a few too many runs, mental lapses that last a little bit too long tonight."
The Sixers outscored the Raptors 26-20 in the third frame to enter the final quarter with a 12-point cushion that was too much for Toronto to overcome.
A combination of fatigue and shorthandedness proved to be the downfall of the Raptors Saturday night, but their achievement of winning six games on the second night of a back-to-back before suffering their first loss is something to write home about.
A season-high for Simmons
As mentioned earlier, the Sixers Ben Simmons took full advantage of the Raptors missing Ibaka and Valanciunas on the inside.
The second-year guard finished the night with a season-high 26 points on 11-for-13 shooting from the field to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists in under 34 minutes of action.
The big takeaway from Simmons' aggression is the residual effect and the eight assists he was able to dish out by penetrating and finding open men after the defence collapsed to help. It is just the eighth time this season that Simmons has scored more than 21 points, but the 76ers improved to 6-2 in such games.
Moving forward, an aggressive mentality and approach from Simmons will only mean good things for his team.