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The Raptors are as confident as they’ve ever been

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Five minutes into the Toronto Raptors’ 108-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the crowd at Scotiabank Arena roared in anticipation.

The player with possession wasn’t Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam, because Toronto was defending in half court. Sixers center Joel Embiid worked off the lane on the right side one-on-one against Marc Gasol, his Toronto counterpart. Embiid unleashed his full repertoire of footwork, but Gasol absorbed every jab, drop step and pivot, affording Embiid not a modicum of space. Embiid was ultimately forced to kick the ball out for the Sixers to reset.

NBA arenas rarely offer rousing applause mid-possession, but Raptors fans understand the value of neutralizing Embiid in this series. And they also recognize quality bodychecking when they see it.nfl nike jersey cheap

“They like hockey,” Gasol said after the game in appreciation of their defensive appreciation.

The Raptors dominated the Sixers on both ends of the court Saturday night, and while it wasn’t a perfect outing, Toronto largely executed the big-ticket items on its Game 1 agenda.4

With 45 points, Leonard matched his career high, regular season or playoffs. Siakam was a paragon of efficiency while scoring 29 points on 80 percent shooting, slicing through the Philadelphia defense to the rim at ease; that was the highest field goal percentage by a Raptors player in a 25-point playoff game, per ESPN Stats & Information. Gasol and Serge Ibaka — once he found his footing in the second half — led a team-wide defensive effort that challenged Embiid with aggressive but selective help. Lowry managed a poised and hyper-intelligent game, and Toronto’s transition defense stifled Philadelphia’s break.

“We came out, just played our type of game, our brand of basketball,” Lowry said.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In the two weeks since they dropped their postseason opener to Orlando, the Raptors have cultivated a steely confidence. NBA playoff basketball is essentially advanced problem-solving, and with each successive victory, the Raptors look, sound and behave like a team that feels it can crack any code presented to it over a seven-game series.

Any apprehension that a starting unit that played together for only 161 minutes over 14 games might not share the kind of 5-man telepathy needed to play championship-caliber basketball has been extinguished. Toronto’s current rotation has too much experience, basketball IQ and collective character to fall victim to common postseason pressures. On those criteria, the Raptors believe they match up with any team left in the playoff field.

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