After avoiding the Play-In tournament and having a few crucial days off, the Toronto Raptors head into the playoffs to face the Philadelphia 76ers in Round One. After winning the season series 3-1, the Raptors hope to bring that energy into this playoff series.
Toronto heads into this game - and the entire series - as underdogs, with many people (including Shaq) not believing the Raptors are up to the challenge. Even the betting odds have Philly as the favourites for tomorrow’s game.
Yet, someone once said “never underestimate the heart of a champion.” The Raptors finished the regular season as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. After missing the playoffs entirely last season, the Raptors only needed the #4 pick in the draft and a few shuffles to turn it around this year.
If anyone can produce a big playoff upset, it’s the Toronto Raptors. Expect them to give Embiid, Harden, and the Sixers a run for their money.
Gary Trent Jr.
INJURIES: Toronto: NONE Philadelphia: Charles Bassey - OUT, Jaden Springer - QUESTIONABLE.
Game 1 of the series starts at 6PM ET tonight and can be watched on TSN.
To really hold the 76ers off in this series, The Raptors will have to try to contain Joel Embiid. The near-MVP has been nothing short of incredible this season, averaging 30.6 points per game, 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Even slowing him down will boost the Raptors chances of winning games.
This is not impossible, as Embiid has even commented himself on how well the Raptors defend him. As previously mentioned, the Raptors won their season series against this team, and that defensive impact can continue in the playoffs and give them an edge against Embiid.
Sometimes injuries are inevitable, but the Raptors have a few concerns in this category. Fred VanVleet has struggled with his knee, OG Anunoby with a finger fracture and now a strain. Scottie Barnes had a few injuries pop up this year and Khem Birch has been in and out of the lineup.
As Coach Nick Nurse intends to keep the playoff rotation tight going into the playoffs, keeping those injuries at bay is crucial to the lineup. Players getting lots of minutes may contribute to this, but if the Raptors can stay healthy, they have a good chance here to win some games.
Nurse mentioned in a press conference that the team will also continue to take COVID precautions as cases rise. Losing players to protocols would be devastating to the series.
The Siakam Factor
After missing the first several weeks of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, Pascal Siakam has had one of his best seasons yet. Averaging career best stats at 22.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 5.3 APG, he is one of the main keys to the Raptors continued success.
In some match ups, Pascal is unstoppable and impossible to guard. Now with Embiid on the other side of the court, he doesn’t exactly have the clearest path. If he keeps playing the way he has been, he poses a huge threat to anyone who gets in his way.
Along with VanVleet, Barnes, Trent Jr., Anunoby, and a contributing bench, Pascal Siakam and the Raptors are the secret assassins who could shake up the playoffs this season. Expect close games, intense energy, and great basketball as the Sixers and the Raptors head into Round 1.
If the LAST series between these two teams taught us anything, it’s that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE in the NBA Playoffs.