PHILADELPHIA • The Toronto Raptors may have ended the regular season as the National Basketball Association's No. 2 team but, if their bench continues to be outscored and outplayed, they may soon be taking a back seat in the post-season.
They are in a 2-1 hole after Thursday's 116-95 loss at third seeds Philadelphia, with their reserves contributing just 30 points on 24 per cent shooting in their three Eastern Conference semi-final games, compared to the opposition's 73 points on 44 per cent shooting.
They managed 15 points to the Sixers' 23 on Thursday, an improvement on an abysmal five in Game 2, where they were outscored by 21, while it was 10-24 in Game 1.
"I think our bench has been good," said Sixers coach Brett Brown. "The bench has come in and given us a spark and continued on the defensive effort that we're trying to put out."
Forward James Ennis has stepped up, scoring 10 points to bring his three-game average to 11.3 with regular sixth man Mike Scott sitting out the first two games.
Centre Joel Embiid finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for his 12th double-double in 15 career play-off games.
Jimmy Butler added 22 points, nine assists and nine rebounds while J.J. Redick delivered 15 points for the Sixers, who have won two straight including a gritty 94-89 victory in Game 2. Game 4 will be in Philadelphia tomorrow.
Kawhi Leonard paced the Raptors' attack with 33 points while Pascal Siakam added 20.
Leonard has scored at least 30 points in five of Toronto's eight play-off games this season, including all three games against Philadelphia. But he was matched by Embiid, who was at his theatrical best, jiggling his shoulders and rocking a mock baby after scoring baskets.
"I need it. When I have fun, my game just changes," said Embiid.
"I have always been told that if I don't smile during the game, I'm either having a bad game or I'm not into it. I know that to get my game going, I have to have fun."
Philadelphia led 64-53 at half-time thanks in large part to Embiid's 18 points. The Sixers also shot eight of 14 from three-point range in the opening half.
Misses out of first 12 shots attempted by the Toronto Raptors in the last quarter of their 116-95 Game 3 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
Leonard powered the Raptors with 17 points in the first half, and continued his fine play in the third quarter with another 14 points to keep Toronto within eight (89-81) heading into the fourth.
"We've got to help him," Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who had seven points, said of sharing Leonard's scoring burden. "Myself especially."
As it was, the Raptors missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the fourth and eventually lost due to poor shooting and rebounding.
"I think we got outplayed in just about every area we could get outplayed. In overall physicality, energy, cutting, rebounding, passing," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
"I think the first adjustment we're gonna have to make is we're gonna have to play a lot more physical.
"If we don't do that, then the prettiest things that we do offensively aren't gonna matter much."
DPA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE