TORONTO – In a sport where "measurable" – height, reach, speed, strength – seem so obvious the point of differentiation between players and teams, the element that is often overlooked may be what matters most.
Brains, IQ, QE – the ability to absorb information, think about the time and stay calm under stress – are harder to measure and are often left out in the race to identify the next athletic wonder.
Hey, it's the NBA, you need it too. The truth is that there has never been a great player or winning team without high doses of athleticism and intelligence.
The best ones have more of both.
So it would be unfair to say that the Toronto Raptors second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers is a battle of brains against muscles.
The Raptors are very athletic and the Sixers have their IQ share in the hoops.
But it may be reasonable to suggest that the Raptors' advantage lies in the gray areas that go beyond who is greater or faster or even the most skilled.
If the playoffs are an endless sweep of basketball graduate level with a lot of questions that were not part of the review, the Raptors spin is the study group with the clever kids, preparing not just for what it should be in the test, but also what could be.
"I think we're very clever," said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who was recognized last year by NBA.com's annual general manager survey as one of the NBA's most intelligent players. "Our top five, the overall IQ of our group is very high. I think our five initials can be honestly up there with any other initial five, IQ-wise. Honestly. It gives us an advantage to be able to discover and be able to communicate it … we are able to communicate what we want to do, verbally and physically, much more easily. "
It does not end with beginners. Fred VanVleet may be in this third year but he was coming into playing plans as a rookie. Serge Ibaka is in his 10th season. Norman Powell is on the edge of veteran territory in his fourth year. Pascal Siakam is in his third season, but he never seemed for a moment to be overwhelmed in his first year as Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol have almost 11 years of experience, not to mention several playoff races. .
The Sixers also have some experienced players – J.J. Redick is in his 13th season while Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler are in eighth – but Ben Simmons, 22, and Joel Embiid, 25, are in the playoffs for the second time.
In Game 1, the Raptors looked like the veteran team when they solved the 76ers' puzzle with enough efficiency to get the win and get into Game 2 on Monday night at the Scotiabank Arena with a chance to dominate the series.
They will be looking for their sixth consecutive win this season and appear to be improving from game to game as their newly formed team has now played almost as much in two weeks as in all seasons.
"I think the ability to get close to a team helped us," Lowry said Sunday afternoon. "You know, magic [the Raptors’ first-round opponents], we were able to lock ourselves in and with the Philadelphia 76ers now, we are able to connect.
"It helps us tremendously because we can find out where we want to be, how we want to play, what the rotations will be, what we would like to do, what we would like to stay away from.
"I think this helped our team. You just gave us more time to figure out trends. Listen, these guys [the Sixers] has all the stars. These guys are really good. [But] There are a few trends they have, and that's when you try to figure out what we as a group … what their trends are, how we can take their tendencies, or how to be proactive to their tendencies, not reactive. "
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Among the examples from the first game: The Raptors managed to dismember the center of the 76B stars, the Embiid, with 5 to 18 shots and 16 points, far from efficiency and production in the regular season; Butler, Philadelphia's all-star wing, was 4 to 12 and Toronto held the top six places – the most productive unit in the regular season and in the playoffs – for a manageable net score of more than 9.5 points per 100 opposing opponents to the over-62.2 they had against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
The Sixers will naturally be adjusting for the second game. Both Simmons and Embiid mentioned the need to be more aggressive in bringing defense to Leonard and Siakam, who combined 74 points in 74% of pitches in Game 2.
Likewise, Raptors have areas they would like to improve. That Redick sniper was able to squirm for 12 threes and go 5-for-7 in the third quarter was scored. That the Sixers had 13 offensive rebounds – for the two Raptors – was also a point of emphasis.
But the benefit that the Raptors have is that they can figure it out – both in advance and quickly.
"That helps a lot," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "It's a very intelligent and very experienced group. You see it not only in the game, but you see it on days like today. The movie session is very … it's supposed to be a time of improvement. We are not just telling them, we are working together and there are many good ideas.
"Our training team's ears are open, there's an exchange of ideas because these guys have gone through hundreds of games and many playoff races and all those kinds of things."
In other words, it pays to listen. Chances are there is something to learn and something that can make a difference in Game 2 and beyond.
These perceptions are measured in Ws.