Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors looks on from the bench during the second half of an NBA preseason game against Melbourne United at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, Oct. 5, 2018. Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers changed the early narrative surrounding their second-round series with the Toronto Raptors in Game 2. After getting blown out in Game 1 and looking like they might be overmatched, the underdog 76ers stole home-court advantage and gave themselves a chance to take a 2-1 series lead in Game 3.

The series shifts to Philadelphia Thursday night in what might ultimately be the turning point of the series. A win for the 76ers would put them in command of the best-of-seven set with another home game looming. If the Raptors can win convincingly on the road, they will once again become heavy favorites to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Is Thursday’s matchup more likely to resemble Game 1 or Game 2? Both teams have reasons to be confident.

Philadelphia took a split in Toronto, despite Kawhi Leonard outscoring Joel Embiid 80 to 28, a ratio that is unlikely to continue over the next few games. The Raptors shot just 36.3 percent from the field and 27.0 percent from three-point range in Monday’s loss, and they’ve got to believe both of those numbers will improve in the next contest.

Leonard was the one constant in the two games at Scotiabank Arena. He almost beat the 76ers single handedly in the series opener by scoring 45 points on 23 field-goal attempts. Even as Leonard was hounded by Ben Simmons and double-teams in Game 2, he managed to record 35 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 54.1 percent shooting. Toronto outscored Philadelphia by four points in Leonard’s 42 minutes on the court.

Since winning the 2014 NBA Finals MVP award, Leonard has proven to be among the best postseason performers of all time. He was terrific in the first round with averages of 27.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on 56.6 percent shooting. Leonard will continue to score with high efficiency and hit open shooters.

It’s not nearly as certain that Philadelphia will get those kinds of games from Embiid, who was their best player all season. The big man was limited by an illness in Game 2 and has been dealing with a knee injury the entire postseason. The result of those ailments has been 44.6 percent shooting in the playoffs and one DNP.

Even when Embiid was healthy last postseason, he was stifled by Al Horford in the second round as the Boston Celtics eliminated Philadelphia in five games. The All-Star faces another challenge in Toronto’s Marc Gasol, who has successfully slowed down Embiid on multiple occasions this year.

Gasol didn’t face the 76ers as a member of the Raptors in the regular season. He did play Philadelphia twice when he was still with the Memphis Grizzlies. Embiid totaled just 29 points while missing 20 of his 28 field-goal attempts.

The 76ers did manage to win on the road Monday when Embiid was largely ineffective on the offensive end. That’s the benefit of having four All-Star-caliber players and the reason why Philadelphia is considered to be a contender in the East. Jimmy Butler led the 76ers with 30 points and a few clutch baskets in the final minutes of their Game 2 victory.

Toronto doesn’t only have an answer for Embiid. Leonard wreaked havoc on Simmons in the regular season, and the guard hasn’t been a major factor in this series. Simmons has been efficient from the field, though he hasn’t gotten a ton of clean looks. Simmons has totaled just 20 points and eight assists.

Philadelphia was held to 95 points or fewer in both Game 1 and Game 2. Toronto hasn’t given up more than 98 points since their postseason opener.

Maybe Embiid and Simmons will play better at home, but there’s a good chance their struggles to score will continue. Conversely, players like Pascal Siakam and Danny Green should improve upon their combined 10-33 shooting from Game 2.

Leonard will be Leonard. The Raptors will score more than the 89 points that were almost enough for them to steal a victory Monday when they played particularly poorly on offense.

The Raptors are 28-15 on the road this season. They managed to win relatively comfortably in Philadelphia during the regular season.

Look for Toronto to retake control of the series Thursday night.

Game 3 Prediction: Toronto over Philadelphia, 105-97

Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard will be a free agent in 2019. In this picture, Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors shoots a free throw during the second half of the NBA season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, Oct. 17, 2018. Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images