The Toronto Raptors’ five-game winning streak feels like ages ago — and now they’re in danger of going under .500 in the standings. What makes tonight’s game harder than usual is that the Raptors’ key players may see the Gatorade symbol pop up faster than usual tonight. They are on the second game of their back-to-back, with very little rest in between, as they had to travel from Boston to Philadelphia last night.
So coach Nick Nurse and his team might have their work cut out for them. On the other side, the Philadelphia 76ers are shorthanded, as they are missing most of their key players for one reason or another. We all know what Ben Simmons is going through. The team is persevering through a Covid outbreak with Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe missing several games. However, bad news for the Raptors — the Sixers may be getting some reinforcement, as Harris has been upgraded to “Questionable” for tonight’s game.
With or without Harris, the Raptors are facing a tough Sixers team that, like the Raptors, has adopted the “next man up” mentality. Sophomore Tyrese Maxey has taken advantage of Simmons’ absence and the ragtag bench crew of Georges Niang, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, and Andre Drummond has advantage of the vacated minutes by their regular starters.
It looks like the Raptors will be without Pascal Siakam, who’s still working his way back into shape. Sad to say, but Siakam’s absence should give some level of rhythm to the team’s offense. However, that’s one less big for the Raptors, who will face a bigger, athletic frontcourt of Drummond and Paul Reed. Hopefully, the Raptors’ shooting woes disappear tonight, as they are combined 13-for-55 (23.6%) from behind the arc the past two games.
For a team like the Sixers, it will be interesting how Nurse will game plan defensively. Perhaps, the key could be stopping Tyrese Maxey, who dropped a career-high 31 points against the Milwaukee Bucks? We will see, and here’s how you can watch the game:
Where to Watch
TSN, NBA TV 7:00pm ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam
Philadelphia — Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey
Toronto — Khem Birch (knee — OUT), Yuta Watanabe (calf — OUT)
Philadelphia — Ben Simmons (Personal Reasons — OUT), Matisse Thybulle (healthy & safety protocols — OUT), Isaiah Joe (health & safety protocols — OUT), Joel Embiid (health & safety protocols — OUT), Seth Curry (Foot — Questionable), Tobias Harris (health & safety protocols — Questionable), Grant Riller (Knee — OUT)
Doc Rivers and the Underdogs
Doc Rivers has been much maligned for his dubious record in playoff elimination games and coming up short, but one thing’s for sure — he can coach. Some of his finest coaching moments happened when his team overachieved despite being left for dead. He weathered the injuries of Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in Orlando, leaning on the ragtag crew led by Darrell Armstrong and company.
Rivers also had an overachieving transition period as a Clippers coach when he led a team with no blue-chip players to the playoffs in 2019. Now, he’s doing his magic again without Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid. The Sixers are doing better than expected despite the games missed by their key players.
I know the Raptors coaching staff is trying to find minutes for everybody. Still, I’m hoping that Khem Birch’s return should end the Precious Achiuwa-Chris Boucher combo on the floor, whether it’s tonight or the next game. The pairing is just not working, as their two-man lineup is posting an abysmal 75.3 Offensive Rating while being -19 on all of the minutes that they’ve shared together.
Unfortunately, the offense just looks terrible whenever both Boucher and Achiuwa are on the floor. The lack of respectable shooting screws up the floor spacing for others, and both Boucher and Achiuwa require spoon-feeding for them to be effective. What’s worse, their decision-making with the ball can be an eyesore at times.
Upsetting the Apple Cart
The Raptors’ season started looking wobbly, but the five-game winning streak showed a team that found their role. The identity has always been there for the most part — The Raptors will be physical defensively, especially at the point of attack, and hunt for transition baskets. But it was the half-court offense that’s different this season. OG Anunoby took over Siakam’s spot as the #1 option and has showcased another level of growth to his game. Then there’s Scottie Barnes’ surprising offense, where the Raptors have managed to milk his post-ups no matter how awkward it looked at times.
Unfortunately, Siakam’s return has caused some disruption on whatever rhythm the team has established prior. Anunoby is averaging only 15 points per game since Siakam’s return, down from 20.6 points. Siakam’s minutes with the starters didn’t look pretty either, as the Siakam-VanVleet-Anunoby/Trent Jr/Barnes lineup is only posting a 98.1 Offensive Rating, compared to the VanVleet-Anunoby-Trent Jr-Achiuwa-Barnes lineup that has a 110.4 Offensive Rating.
Through two games, the “eye test” suggests that the team is going through growing pains adjusting to Siakam and vice versa. With Siakam looking rusty, perhaps the minutes should not be the only thing that should be “eased in” for Siakam. Perhaps Siakam should start with the starters as the 3rd or 4th option on the offense and let the game come to him?