We’re finally here after counting down the days this entire week and taking in some thrilling play-in games.
Louis and Samson both did an incredible job breaking down everything you need to know. Incase you missed it, it’s all here below with words and video aplenty.
In my opinion, the Raptors and 76ers feature the most anticipated first round series leaguewide. The only other time a Toronto team belonged in that conversation was probably Raptors-Knicks 2000, where Vince Carter made his playoff debut and was arguably the most popular player in the league at the time.
Philadelphia and Toronto have a storied history. It’s not just in the NBA where both previous series went to seven games, ending on shots from Vince and Kawhi Leonard. Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series walkoff was against the Phillies. The Leafs and Flyers have had their run-ins, including a fan trying to fight Tie Domi in the penalty box. When these two cities collide it’s great theatre, regardless of the sport.
Back to basketball though. In 2019, most of the pressure was on the Raptors because of Masai’s ultimate swing for the fences move acquiring Kawhi. Of course Philly suffered greatly too, losing Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick which broke up their most talented team since perhaps the 80’s. Allen Iverson’s run in 2001 didn’t feature such a stacked roster.
This time, it’s all on Philly. The Raptors have exceeded most expectations by getting to this point, winning 14 of their last 18 games (beating the Sixers twice along the way) to move up to the five seed. They are confidently playing with house money, starting the playoffs on the road for the first time since 2008. Joel Embiid is in his prime and could be the MVP. James Harden bolted both Houston and Brooklyn to get this opportunity. Doc Rivers won a championship with the Celtics in ’08 but he’s blown 3-1 playoff leads a record three times. The Sixers were the East’s top seed last season and couldn’t even get out the second round, losing to the Hawks in shocking fashion.
Getting eliminated in round one would have a devastating effect on all three.
"You got more pressure on you than any player in the playoffs."
Chuck had a message for James Harden 👀 pic.twitter.com/tv1nxWAsZh
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 16, 2022
These will change on a game by game basis.
1. Hobbled All-Stars?
Neither Fred VanVleet (knee) or Harden (hamstring) have been themselves offensively to end the regular season.
VanVleet since all-star break (15 games): 16 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.9 spg, 34/29/87 shooting splits
Harden last 5 games: 16.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 12.2 apg, 34/26/91 shooting splits
Nick Nurse said on Friday that VanVleet’s knee has looked really good in practice. Two of his best defensive games came down the stretch against Minnesota and Orlando, forcing at least 20 turnovers combined. Fred also had 29 points against Miami on April 3rd, his highest scoring output in three months. As for Harden, he’s apparently fine by all accounts but the eye test says otherwise. Tyrese Maxey has taken over as the second scorer with 20.8 ppg in April. That probably won’t be good enough.
Whoever looks more like the all-star version of themselves will swing this series one way or another.
2. X-Factors: Gary Trent Jr./Tobias Harris
Louis touched on Gary Trent Jr’s importance if the Raptors are going to win this series. He can go 8-10 or 1-10 from three at any point, and his shooting will be crucial to open things up for Fred and Pascal Siakam.
Harris is in year three of a five year, $180 million max contract. He averaged 18.7 points before the all star break but that has dipped to 14.3 since and has become the fourth option since Harden’s arrival. Harris will have to make Toronto pay for all the extra attention being thrown Embiid and Harden’s way. Defensively, Harris has been torched when asked to guard Siakam.
3. A full lineup
This is the first time the Raptors will play Philly fully healthy this season. Both Fred and OG Anunoby missed three of the four regular season games, including the last two wins. Doc Rivers will have to adjust to some things he didn’t see previously for Game one.
Tip-Off: 6pm EDT | TV: TSN 1/4 (all of Saturday’s NBA games will be on TSN 1) | Radio: Sportsnet 590
Toronto Raptors Results, Lineups & Injuries
Philadelphia 76ers Results, Lineups & Injuries
Here are the dates for the rest of the series. Enjoy!
76ers- Raptors schedule 👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/MldPM4XM09
— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) April 13, 2022