Should we talk about it? Still too fresh? Here, I’ll give you a moment to process and then we’ll get into it.
Alright, game three was a heartbreaker. After two mostly lousy and frustrating games, the 2-0 hole inspired a valiant effort from the Toronto Raptors. Their defense looked much more crisp as they forced the Philadelphia 76ers into a number of Joel Embiid-led turnovers early, and they finally found some answers for the Harden-Maxey backcourt. They looked like themselves — which is what made the eventual 104-101 overtime loss so tough to digest.
You can point to a whole number of things as the difference between 3-0 and 2-1 — a healthy Barnes, more offensive production from the two All-Stars, a couple made free throws, better defense on an inbounds play. One more thing goes their way and maybe they take game three. Alas, the Sixers are the team with the MVP candidate and that’s been the most important difference.
So why shouldn’t you be gutted? Well, this Raptors team is not in their contention window yet. This is a team of the future. As opposed to the 2019 Sixers, the game-winning dagger that beat them did not crush legitimate hopes of a title. No, we didn’t expect them to be on the verge of a sweep, but this series should not be cause for alarm. The Raptors’ core is capable of doing big things, and whatever number of games they have left should serve as useful postseason basketball experience.
That being said, getting swept sucks! The Sixers are the betting favourites by three points on DraftKings (Sixers winning by three?? Never heard of it). Let’s see if the Raptors can stave off elimination in front of their home crowd.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, TNT, 2:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Philadelphia – James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Toronto – Scottie Barnes (ankle – doubtful)
Philadelphia – Matisse Thybulle (ineligible – OUT), Charles Bassey (shoulder – OUT)
Can Toronto Make History?
143 NBA teams have faced a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series. All 143 have gone on to lose the series. 89 (62%) of those teams were swept in game four. Three took it to a game seven. The Raptors face a steep, unprecedented climb, especially considering the most dominant player in the matchup is wearing a Philly jersey.
But as Nick Nurse told media on Friday: “Somebody’s gotta do it. And if it gets to 3-1 it’s not 3-0 anymore, and 3-1 has been done.” These things are all technically true! Plus, Nurse left out that Doc Rivers has blown more 3-1 leads than any coach in NBA history. Isn’t it fun how you can make virtually impossible things seem so plausible? If the Raptors take game four, they’re practically in the driver’s seat!
Scorers Gotta Score
While OG Anunoby, Gary Trent, and Precious Achiuwa all had big games on Wednesday, Siakam and VanVleet — the team’s leading scorers and All-Star/All-NBA representatives – combined for just 24 points on 9/29 shooting (2/12 on threes). They looked gassed by the end of the game and were off on some of their jumpshots, but there were also spots where they could’ve been more aggressive.
Before game three, Nurse commented that Siakam, who attempted 18 and 20 field goals in the first two games, should be in the 25 FGA range. Siakam finished game three with 16, and took just five shots in the second half and OT, making zero of them. Siakam is deserving of All-NBA honours and is the Raptors’ best player, which is why Philly’s defense is so keyed in on him. Hopefully with an extra day of rest, Siakam — and VanVleet, whose knee is banged up — will have more juice to attack the defense at the end of game four. The role players stepped up, but at least one of Siakam or VanVleet should be reaching their season scoring average.
How cruel is it that the player who gets knocked out of this postseason — the postseason that’s all about development and getting players experience in high-leverage games — is the one whose development is the most important for the franchise’s future? He put up 15 points on 4/6 shooting, 10 rebounds, and eight assists in 31 minutes before being inadvertently stepped on by Embiid in game one. He looked like one of the most comfortable players on the team, and it’s a shame that we missed out on Playoff Scottie for the truly competitive games.
Reports from a few days ago seemed optimistic about his return for game four, but he’s now officially listed as “doubtful.” Obviously, keeping Barnes inactive would be wise if there’s any risk of re-injury — a full offseason of training will be more valuable than a couple playoff games down 0-3. On the other hand, Scottie Barnes in front of a Toronto playoff crowd? One can dream.