Kawhi Leonard Erupts for 45 Points as Raptors Crush Joel Embiid, 76ers in Game 1

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Kawhi Leonard Erupts for 45 Points as Raptors Crush Joel Embiid, 76ers in Game 1
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 23: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors looks on against the Orlando Magic during Game Five of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors put an end to their Game 1 curse with an easy 108-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.

Game 1 had been a huge problem for the Raptors in recent years. They had dropped nine of 10 opening games in postseason series dating back to the 2013-14 season, including to the Orlando Magic in the first round this year.

Kawhi Leonard went off with 45 points on 16-of-23 shooting. Pascal Siakam continued his string of excellent playoff games with 29 points and seven rebounds.

Philadelphia’s offense was held in check, shooting just 39.3 percent overall. Tobias Harris had a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Joel Embiid was inefficient with 16 points on 18 shot attempts. Ben Simmons had 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

     

Dominant Raptors’ Duo Poised to Make Quick Work of Sixers

All of the talk about Toronto’s depth this season made it easy to overlook that there are two stars on the roster capable of carrying the team.

Leonard has been a star for years. It was hardly a surprise to see him play like one in his first season with the Raptors after returning to full strength following a lost year with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18.

Siakam’s rise in 2018-19 has been critical for the Raptors on many levels. He is an excellent complement in the frontcourt with Leonard, and the team is able to succeed behind that duo with Kyle Lowry again struggling to find his groove in the postseason.

Leonard and Siakam put on a full display of their powers in Game 1, especially in the first half when they nearly outscored the 76ers on their own:

If someone told the 76ers before Game 1 that Lowry, Marc Gasol and Danny Green would combine to score 24 points, they would probably assume good things happened.

The problem is Philadelphia had no answers for Leonard and Siakam. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are the NBA‘s best duo, but the Raptors stars have a strong claim for the No. 2 spot on that list.

Leonard’s reputation as quiet and unassuming might be accurate, but the 2014 NBA Finals MVP is using these playoffs as a reminder to anyone who forgot that he can do whatever he wants on the court.

The Sixers can’t compete with Toronto’s overall depth, so their only chance to win this series is on the strength of their starting five being better than the Raptors.

Leonard and Siakam ensured that didn’t happen Saturday, putting the Raptors on track to make quick work of this series if the 76ers can’t find a way to stop them.

     

It’s Time For Jimmy Butler to Prove He’s a Max Player

After scoring just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, Jimmy Butler didn’t make much of an impact for the 76ers in their quest to get off to a good start in the series.

Sixers owner Josh Harris has been open about his desire to keep Butler, though he’s done it in a way that makes it plausible to envision a scenario in which they allow him to leave if he opts out of his deal this summer.

“We gave up a lot to get Tobias and Jimmy on our team,” Harris told ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We think they’re exceptional talents. We’re going to try to keep them. We know we are going to have to pay these guys in an appropriate way. We get it. It’s expensive.”

The phrase “appropriate way” sticks out, because Butler has struggled at times adjusting to playing with Embiid and Simmons.

“I’m doing my job,” Butler told reporters in February. “I’m doing whatever they ask me to do. I’m playing my role to the best of my abilities, and go out there and play basketball.”

In 55 games with Philadelphia during the regular season, Butler averaged 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists and shot 46.1 percent.

Those are the numbers of a good player, but if Butler is hoping to receive a max contract, the postseason is a great way to prove your value.

Instead, Butler has continued to look like a solid starter on a playoff team. He averaged 15.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets.

With the 76ers needing Butler to be at his best if they want to knock off the Raptors, the four-time All-Star came up short in the opening game.

Leonard made Butler, usually a strong defensive player, look silly on this drive to the basket in the second quarter:

When the 76ers acquired Butler in November, they probably weren’t expecting him to be attempting the fourth-most shots in a playoff game.

If Butler is hoping to be paid like a max player this summer, he needs to play like someone worthy of a deal like that. Nothing that has happened in these playoffs, including Game 1 against the Raptors, suggests the 29-year-old belongs in that category of superstar.

   

What’s Next?

The 76ers and Raptors will square off in Game 2 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

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