The first two games in the series are in the book, and the Toronto Raptors — down 0-2 — have a chance to defend their homecourt. Entering the game on Wednesday, the Raptors find themselves searching for answers on slowing down the Philadelphia 76ers.
Facing the possibility of falling to 0-3 in the series makes this game a must-win. No team in the history of the NBA has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit. It’s truly a shame that the Raptors find themselves in this situation, as a reward for escaping the play-in tournament has been a matchup with Joel Embiid and James Harden.
The Raptors have struggled with guarding elite big men all year and now have had the pleasure of attempting to slow arguably the best center in the league this season. The 76ers have been able to get everything they wanted against the Raptors, with both games being fairly uncompetitive.
It could be due to poor officiating, or it could be due to the Raptors’ lack of offensive weapons to keep up with the 76ers. Either way, the Raptors have to defend their homecourt or risk a first-round exit from the playoffs, which hasn’t happened since the 2014-2015 season.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet, NBATV, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Philadelphia – James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto – Scottie Barnes (ankle – doubtful), Gary Trent Jr. (non-COVID illness – questionable)
Philadelphia – Charles Bassey (shoulder – out), Matisse Thybulle (ineligible – out)
Things are getting chippy
We all knew going into round one that this would be one of the most physical playoff matchups this year. So far, that has held true, especially when it comes to officiating, as it seems like whenever the Raptors breathe on an opposing player, the result has been two free throws. The numbers back that up with a 35 to 64 free throw advantage for the 76ers so far throughout the first two games in the series.
Joel Embiid has been the primary beneficiary of what has been a physical series, already racking up a total of 25 free throws. But, while Embiid may be a superstar talent and an unstoppable force around the rim, his antics have gotten on coach Nick Nurse’s last nerves, and he wasn’t shy about letting Joel know this.
After game one on Saturday night, Nurse spoke about the preferential treatment he felt Embiid had been receiving, stating, “Like, we had a couple of times where we beat him to the spot, and he bowled us right over, and they just let him lay it in.” along with “I don’t care if you’re 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, if you beat him to the spot and he runs you over, it’s a foul,” Nurse continued. “I thought he threw three or four elbows to the face. He got called for one. OK. I mean, we’re gonna stand in there. We just need, if we’re legal defensively, then we’ve got to have them called, or we don’t have a chance, period.”
After their exchange on the court after Monday night’s 112-97 loss, Nurse continued to speak his mind about how poorly he feels the series has been officiated. While Embiid also decided to chime in during his presser. Things will only continue to get more chippy as the series continues.
We Need A Hero
Not only do the Raptors find themselves down 0-2 in the series so far, but they also are once again battling the injury bug that has been biting them since the second half of the season began.
Now in the most important part of the season, the Raptors are without the services of Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. Before Barnes was injured during the closing minutes of game one, he had registered a stat line of 15-10-8, a near triple-double in his debut playoff game. Trent Jr., who had been the Raptor’s go-to microwave scorer all season while only missing 12 games the entire year, had been battling a non-covid illness that only allowed him to play nine minutes in game two before he checked out for the night, going scoreless.
If neither Trent Jr. nor Barnes can return to the lineup for this playoff series, someone will need to step up in a big way if there is any hope of advancing. The Bench has been a weak spot for this team all season, but now is the time for a hero to emerge to soften the missing production of two key players.
Blast from the past
Emotions and nerves are running high as we all wait for tip-off at 8 PM for the biggest game of the post-season. So I figured now would be a great time to look back on the last time the Raptors hosted a playoff game in Scotiabank Arena. It was June 10th, 2019, game five of the NBA Finals versus the Golden State Warriors. The starters for that game consisted of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol.
One glance at the box score, and you’ll notice all but two players who registered minutes in that game have since departed from the team. Although the Raptors ended up losing that game 106-105, after a Kyle Lowry corner three for the win didn't connect, we all know the Raptors were able to close the series out in six delivering the city of Toronto their first NBA title.
Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Chris Boucher are all that remain from the 2019 championship season. Each of them will have to step up and contribute in a big way if the Raptors hope to make a deep run in the playoffs this year. Hopefully, their championship experience will begin to turn the tides of this series in the right direction, and that will start with a win tonight in game three versus the 76ers.