You know what that means…
Forgive me overusing my favourite GIF, but come on, admit it — it is good to be back, isn’t it??
Now, one-year blip aside, making the postseason is not unfamiliar territory for the Raptors. But you know what is unfamiliar territory: Starting the first round on the road! For all seven postseason trips in the “We the North” era, the Raptors had home court in Round 1.
This year though, the Raptors are the fifth seed, and open the playoffs in the road — against MVP candidate Joel Embiid, former MVP James Harden, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Raptors vs. 76ers Round 1 Schedule
The 2022 NBA Playoffs start on Saturday, with four Game 1s that day, and four more on Sunday.
The Raptors open the series on the road in Philadelphia on Saturday April 16. Tip-off is officially set for 6:00 p.m.
Here’s the full schedule:
- Game 1: Saturday, April 16, at Philadelphia, 6:00 pm
- Game 2: Monday, April 18, at Philadelphia, 7:30 pm
- Game 3: Wednesday, April 20, in Toronto, 8:00 pm
- Game 4: Saturday, April 23, in Toronto, 2:00 pm
- Game 5*:Monday, April 25, at Philadelphia, TBD
- Game 6*: Thursday, April 28, in Toronto, TBD
- Game 7*: Saturday, April 30, at Philadelphia, TBD
Canadian television details have yet to the announced; we’ll update this section as soon as we learn more. Game 1 will be broadcast on ESPN in the United States.
Toronto vs. Philadelphia Playoff History
This is a preview, but we can’t help but look back first. After all, these two Atlantic Division rivals have met twice in the postseason before, and both series went the distance — literally, to the final shot at the final buzzer in Game 7 — and are forever etched in the minds of Raptors fans everywhere.
In 2001, Vince Carter led the Raptors to the second round for the fist time in franchise history, where Allen Iverson and the 76ers were waiting. The series became a classic in the moment — Iverson and Carter traded 50-point games and made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
(Damn straight that’s my own personal copy!)
Game 7 in Philadelphia went down to the wire, but the real story started early that day, when Carter traveled to North Carolina to graduate with his college class. Naturally, Raptors fans handled the unexpected game day trip with class and decency.
Carter arrived in plenty of time for the game, but didn’t shoot the bal well, starting the game 3-for-10. He finished 6-for-18 (with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, and 3 steals) but the biggest miss was the last:
(Television before hi-def… how did we even know what the heck was happening?!)
In 2019, of course, we had redemption. The Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard, had homecourt advantage, and despite a masterful performance from Kawhi in Game 4 and a dominant Game 5, the Raptors dropped Game 6 in Philly, setting up another Game 7, this time in Toronto.
It wasn’t the prettiest game. Every Raptor was cold, it seemed, except perhaps Serge Ibaka; Leonard took the reins and took 39 shots, missing 23 of them — but hitting the most important.
Go ahead, watch it again… you know you want to!
The Raptors, of course, went on to win their first Championship. Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick left Philly, and after two more disappointing playoff flameouts — including a 2021 loss that led to Ben Simmons demanding a trade — the team acquired James Harden to help get them to the promised land.
They’ll have to go through the resurgent Raptors to get there.
Rust vs. Rest
Both teams will have had a full five days of rest heading into Game 1, so the rest/rust debate is at least on even ground. But who does it help more?
The Raptors were clearly banged up at the end of the year; OG Anunoby missed much of the second half of the season with a busted finger and then a thigh contusion, Fred VanVleet was in and out of the lineup with a swollen knee, and Pascal Siakam played a ton of minutes in their absence.
Even aside from that — the core Raptors played a ton of minutes, period. VanVleet and Siakam finished the season 1-2 in minutes per game, and Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. were all in the top 20.
In other words — they needed the break!
But hey, so did the 76ers. Harden was #3 in mpg, and boy, did he look seriously gassed at times. Joel Embiid doesn’t play as many minutes, but the big man is always dealing with some nagging injury or another; overall the week off should do both players a world of good.
So — there might be a little rust to start, especially from Anunoby. But I suspect both teams used the time off to rest and refresh, and it should be a great competitive series.
Raptors vs. 76ers Matchup
So let’s look at the matchup. You’ll find comprehensive deep dives from our friends Zatzman, Murphy, Korean, Smith et all out there, but here are a couple of things that stand out to me:
Best player in the series
You all know the “team with the best player has the edge” adage, and I think Joel Embiid is the best player in the series, period.
You and I both know that the Raptors defend Embiid as well as anyone, even now, without a centre with the height or bulk to match up with him. By collapsing quickly and walling off the lane, Nick Nurse does a great job forcing Embiid to give up the ball — and that leads to turnovers. Embiid averaged 2.5 TOs vs. the Raptors this year, and 4.3 last year; in the 2019 playoffs, he had 28 total in the seven games.
The other thing you can’t discount with Embiid is just how bad the 76ers are when he’s off the court; this year, Philly scores 11.5 fewer points per 100 possession whenever Embiid sits.
So Embiid is the best. But the Raptors defend him well. And he can’t play 48 minutes — and the 76ers are bad without him.
Perhaps having the best player isn’t such a big advantage in this matchup…
The Harden Factor
A couple years ago, you’d easily say James Harden was the best player in this series, or second best at most. And he is, in theory, still capable of dropping a 40-point triple double at any time.
He’s also looked completely cooked lately. And he doesn’t exactly have a fearsome playoff resume, either.
If Anunoby is healthy, the Raptors are better equipped than most to handle Harden — and they can throw Siakam, Barnes and even VanVleet on him, too, to give him different looks.
Depth and continuity
OK, so the 76ers have Harden and Embiid. From there, though, I’d put Siakam, VanVleet, Trent, Anunoby, and Barnes over anyone else on the 76ers roster, except perhaps Tyrese Maxey — who’s looked incredible lately, and may well be the x-factor in the series.
The Raptors haven’t exactly had much success with their bench this year, but, they’ve also not really been healthy all year. Chris Boucher, Khem Birch, and Precious Achiuwa make for a solid enough second unit, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what Thad Young can do.
Philadelphia’s bench is OK on paper - Georges Niang, Shake Milton, Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz can all get hot from deep, and the Raptors are susceptible to role players suddenly getting hot.
Philly will also be without Matisse Thybulle for any games in Toronto, and although I’m firmly on the “Thybulle is overrated” train, he is a starter and robs the team of some of their depth.
The Raptors have also, for the most part, played together longer; Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet have been together for years, Boucher’s a long-timer, and Barnes and Birch have been with the team for more than a year now.
Harden, Embiid and Maxey have only played 21 games together.
I mentioned Maxey already; he’s a quick penetrating guard who can get to the rim and has an array of floaters and push shots, which has been a weak spot for the Raptors at times. He averaged 17.5/3.2/4.3 on 49/43/87 shooting splits.
(Are we sure he’s not a better player than Harden… right now??)
For the Raptors, I’m turn on whether or not Trent or Barnes is the x-factor. So let’s call and audible and say Precious Achiuwa is the x-factor! You still don’t know what you’re gonna get from Precious night-to-night, but neither does the other team. He could hit four threes and defend Harden into three turnovers. He could take over four straight offensive possessions that lead to nothing, and then get caught helping off Danny Green in the corner.
If it’s more of the latter than the former, and Philly isn’t ready for it, Achiuwa could swing a game or two in the series.
LOL. Come on.
Matchups and stats aside, what’s the gut feel of these two teams?
The 76ers stink of desperation and fear. Trading for Harden was a desperation move for the franchise — they needed to move Simmons, needed a superstar in return, need to make a deep playoff run. But by trading a young star for an old star — one with a ton of miles on him — they shrank their window significantly.
It’s win now or bust. And they know it.
There’s also just — from this distance — general bad vibes with the team. Daryl Morey exudes arrogance, even though his teams have yet to win anything. Doc Rivers was — perhaps — the person most responsible for the Simmons situation, after calling Simmons out after last season’s playoff disaster. After the final game of the season Rivers also got testy at reporters who had the gall — the audacity! — to ask about Paul Reed.
That also leads us to think Rivers intends to play washed-up DeAndre Jordan in this series, which would be a problem for the Raptors, like, six years ago. Sixers fans have also all but had it with Tobias Harris, who’s inconsistent at both ends of the floor.
It doesn’t feel good!
The Raptors, though? They’re playing with house money. No one (including me!) expected them to land the 5-seed. Heck, most of us didn’t think they’d make the playoffs, period! This was supposed to be a transition year.
Instead they got the king of all vibes in the draft, returned home, and simply got better and better as the season went on. VanVleet made the All-Star team. Siakam got his mojo back. Everyone on the team feels like they genuinely like each other. They even got the coveted “nobody wants to face these guys in the playoffs” label!
It feels good, man.
Honestly this might well be the toughest Raptors series I’ve ever had to pick. It feels to me like the Raptors are in a great position to upset the higher-seeded 76ers — but does it really feel that way, or is it just my bias creeping in?
Philly has the best player in the series, and potentially the second best too. The former is a traditional centre, a true giant of a player, and the Raptors are, um, lacking in that department. The 76ers have homecourt and a lot more to prove.
But Toronto has the coach, the defense, and the vibes on their side.
I’m following the vibes.
Raptors in six.
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