3 Keys for the 76ers to win round one series against the Toronto Raptors
After one of the most tumultuous regular seasons in recent 76ers history, the NBA playoffs are finally here.
The Sixers are set to face the Toronto Raptors, a team that has given Philly trouble throughout the regular season. With the series set to kick off in mere hours, it is time to break down what the 76ers need to do to advance to the second round of the NBA post-season.
Take Advantage of Four Home Games
The first one seems pretty self-explanatory on the surface. Being the four seed in the East, this will likely be the last playoff series the 76ers get with home-court advantage. Last year’s embarrassment in a game seven at Wells Fargo Center still looms in the minds of most of these players, so it is time to capitalize on the four home games in South Philly.
What really makes these four home games important revolves around Matisse Thybulle. In case you missed the final Raptors-76ers game of the regular season, it was revealed that Thybulle is not fully vaccinated and was promptly made ineligible for the contest. The Sixers would drop that game, and it was later stated that unless Matisse changed his stance on the vaccine, he’d be ruled out of any games in Toronto for a potential playoff series.
That potential playoff series is now a reality, and the Sixers will not have one of their premier defenders for the three road games in the series. Against a team that can struggle offensively, Thybulle may be vital to shutting down any momentum from the Raptors. Regardless of how he performs on the offensive end, there’s no denying the 76ers are forced to go into Toronto not at full strength. That means that every game in Philly is going to matter even more.
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Doc Has to Be Smart With Player Rotations
This matchup could not be worse for the 76ers in the coaching department. On one hand, you have Nick Nurse, one of the best coaches in the Association, who brought a title to Toronto with only one year with the core given to him. Nurse has routinely had the Raptors playing above expectation ever since and is one of the brightest minds in basketball.
Across the court, the 76ers faithful have Doc Rivers. An NBA champion as well, but from a much different time. Not to mention Rivers has now picked up the “playoff choker” moniker en route to many failed title runs. From the disappointment of Lob City to the disastrous flame out by the top-seeded Sixers last year, Doc has been associated with some pretty terrible collapses.
History aside, this series is also scary for the Sixers because the Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. Toronto’s entire starting lineup averages over 15 points a game, and that’s before you add in solid scoring from Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa off the bench. Keep in mind outside of Fred VanFleet, these are all young, athletic players who Nurse can run on the court for longer periods of time.
This means that Doc will need to match the Raptors’ depth accordingly so that Toronto doesn’t go on huge runs when the starters are getting rest. It has happened multiple times this season. In all three of the 76ers losses to the Raptors, Philly has gotten out to double-digit leads at some point early in the contest, only to see it evaporate come the fourth quarter. The Sixers bench isn’t deep enough to match the Raptors, but a good coach will make the correct lineups to mask that. Unfortunately, 76ers fans have to lean on Doc Rivers for that task.
Embiid, Harden Have to Close Games
When talking NBA, playoff basketball critics and analysts love to site two big factors for winning a playoff series. Which team has the bigger star power, and which team has the best closers. The second point is an underrated topic, but one that certainly favors the 76ers in this matchup.
Philly and Toronto have played a couple of pretty close games down the stretch. A majority of those swung the Raptors’ way, and execution down the stretch from Philly, especially in the final contest, was horrid. Joel Embiid and James Harden are the two best closers in this series, and the drop-off to the third spot is steep. A matchup like this is going to have close games, and it will come down to who can find buckets in those clutch moments.
James Harden has proven a multitude of times he can hit clutch shots. His Rockets days were littered with game-winning and game-tying shots and while he’s not the man we saw in Houston anymore, he’s still got to carry that clutch gene. I don’t need to lecture anyone on Joel Embiid’s ability to score down the stretch. Embiid finished as the second-best scorer in the clutch this season, only behind Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. With these two on the same team for a deep playoff run, especially in a scrappy 4-5 matchup against the Raptors, the 76ers need these guys to come up clutch.
Mandatory Credit: Mark Blinch.