Toronto is of course no stranger to playoff basketball. Prior to the 2021-22 season, which was not real per the official canon, the Raptors had been part of the NBA’s springtime dance for seven consecutive seasons.
Now that they’re back, though, it feels a touch different. First off, the Raptors haven’t begun a first round series on the road since all the way back in 2008, when they opened the most forgettable series the team’s ever played in Orlando against the Magic. They’ll be on the road for the post-season return, with an equal parts intimidating and fragile Sixers crowd in the place ready to flip sides and boo the shit out of their own team at a moment’s notice.
Beyond the location, the biggest change from recent post-season openers is the sense that we really don’t know what to expect from this version of the Raptors. During the Kyle Lowry era, you more or less knew the complexion of the team under the playoff pressure cooker. They’d spook easy early on, settle in by mid series any time LeBron James wasn’t opposite them, and could count on Lowry to be the tablesetter from which everything else flowed.
Lowry’s not around anymore. And while this version of the team has a predictable play style, it’s anyone’s guess how Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby will react to being the main dudes — the guys everyone will be looking to when things get hairy. And they absolutely will get hairy. Their championship pedigree should serve them well, you’d think.
Beyond that, it’s unclear how the in-season steps forward made by Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Gary Trent Jr. and even Chris Boucher will translate to the post-season environment, where weaknesses get poked and the easy stuff is harder to get to. It’ll also be the maiden voyage for Vision 6’9 as a concept in a playoff series. One game won’t make or break the Raptors’ ethos, but for the first time in ages, there’s more mystery than proof of concept for the playoff-bound Raptors. We’ll get a good idea of what we’re looking at when the ball goes up just after 6pm Saturday. Prepare to overreact accordingly.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Game 1. Also, be sure to read Chelsea Leite’s excellent preview of the game here.
Where to Watch
TSN 1 (Canada) & ESPN (US) @ 6pm ET (or whenever Grizzlies-Wolves Game 1 wraps)
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Philadelphia — James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto — No injuries to report
Philadelphia — Charles Bassey (shoulder — OUT)