PHILADELPHIA—The national anthems were winding down and Marc Gasol was working on his game.
In a pantomime series of post moves, the Raptors centre would fake over his left shoulder, spin and shoot over his right, fake over his right shoulder, spin and shoot over his left.
He knew he had to do more to be part of the Raptors offence — if not scoring, at least being more involved as a facilitator — and it was if he was reminding himself of what he could do in the minutes before Game 3 of the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia 76ers.
It didn’t work particularly well.
Gasol — or anyone else for that matter — was unable to give Toronto a spark at either end of the floor as the Sixers rolled to a 116-95 win at raucous Wells Fargo Center here on Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Joel Embiid widely outplayed Gasol and the Sixers put the game away with a 11-1 run in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The final indignity on a night with many was when Embiid pump-faked his way around Gasol and drove the lane for a thundering windmill dunk and a 26-point Sixers lead with about five minutes to go. It finished a dominant 33-point, 10-rebound game for Embiid, sending both him and Gasol to the bench to watch the rest of it.
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With Kawhi Leonard on the bench to open the fourth after playing the entire third quarter, the Sixers turned an 89-81 lead after three quarters into a 100-82 advantage with nine minutes to go against a group of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, Pascal Siakam and Gasol.
“I always think that really good teams — offensively anyway — usually need a lead guy, and then obviously a second guy,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse had said earlier Thursday. “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 (Lowry) 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.”
But he didn’t and the Raptors had nowhere else to turn.
Lowry had a brutal night, 2-for-10 from the field, and the backup threesome of Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell and Serge Ibaka was once again invisible.
Nurse did try to massage Gasol’s minutes a bit, or at least change up his matchups in the kind of subtle changes that were expected.
The coach got Gasol out of the game a couple of minutes earlier than usual in the first quarter while Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid rested and also chopped up Gasol’s second-quarter minutes in different segments than usual.
It didn’t have any significant impact either way as Embiid had a solid game against both Gasol and Ibaka, who was once again ineffective.
It’s the conundrum that Nurse faces: He can’t run Gasol for 42 minutes — a 34-year-old not used to that workload can’t handle it — but Ibaka has to be better when he’s on the floor.
There is little doubt the Raptors could use some more offence from Gasol as the series with the Sixers unfolds, but the question has to asked: At what cost?
Toronto thrives on ball move on offence in a halfcourt game with quick read-and-react and ball-swinging decisions that see the ball get in the paint and kicked back out. They like to score in transition, or at least in early offence off running situations where they can take advantage of Siakam’s speed and Danny Green’s floor-spacing three-point shooting.
To think they will abandon that for a steady stream of Gasol post-ups against smaller opponents would be counter-productive and bog them down in a slow-paced game that doesn’t suit their personnel, and would be a stark change from what the Raptors are used to doing.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps
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