“Fear urged him to go back, but growth drove him on.”― Jack London, White Fang
Games 1 and 2 of the Sixers first-round series against the Toronto Raptors are in the books. Philadelphia emerged victorious in each, winning both in decisive fashion. Now they’ll look to rewrite some “Tales of the North.”
Game 3 figures to be a pivotal one. The Toronto Raptors can begin clawing back into the series. They’ll need to win four out of the next five in order to advance. But if the Sixers win, they’d take a commanding 3-0 series lead. No team has ever come back from that type of hole. That just might fossilize Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and the rest of Jurassic Park.
If the Raptors are the raptors in this metaphor, then Joel Embiid is our Tyrannosaurus Rex. The alpha of all alphas, the king of Jurassic World. The NBA scoring leader has continued to play like the most valuable basketball player on the entire planet. Big No. 21 is averaging 25 points and 13 boards per game. He’s fully cratering the Dino’s defense with his indomitable size-agility-skill combination, generating just under 12 free throws per night, forcing key enemies to play conservatively in order to avoid fouling out.
The Process seems to be occupying all kinds of real estate in Toronto head coach Nick Nurse’s mind. The signal caller who has long masterminded ways to flummox JoJo into turnovers has pivoted to lobbying for calls; and lobbying rather intensely, we might add.
Tyrese Maxey has been an absolute sensation. The sophomore star followed up his 38-point explosion in Game 1 by whipping the home crowd into a frenzy once again, dropping 23 points on just 11 shots in Game 2. He has everyone wondering how on earth this guy fell to number 21 in the 2020 NBA Draft.
I watched Game 2 with some non-basketball fans who had to comment “wow, that little guy really makes everyone in the stadium go crazy, huh?” Yes, yes he does. Tyrese Delirium Maxey Pandemonium.
MAXEY chants in South Philadelphia. pic.twitter.com/AjHgtV3qD0— Lauren Rosen (@LaurenMRosen) April 17, 2022
‘Rese is scoring over 30 points per game on just 16 shots per outing. Can you spot the future SuperMaxey contract smile below, breaking some playoff efficiency charts?
Through games on April 18, which NBA players have done the most (or least) with their minutes during the 2022 playoffs, per TPA?— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) April 19, 2022
Full data on @SportsMathNet: https://t.co/YBVQW2FUGr pic.twitter.com/0PdMei9F2g
But things will undoubtedly get more difficult with the series voyaging northwards. The next two games may be a lot less fun than the first two.
The Raptors figure to be a completely different team playing with the support of their absolutely rabid fanbase. Perhaps coach Nurse can cash in some of his lobbying chips by getting a more friendly whistle at ScotiaBank.
If the Sixers want to take an insurmountable three-game lead, they may need to play their best game of the series yet.
Surprisingly, oddsmakers like Philadelphia’s chances for Game 3. They’re now two-point favorites despite the change of scenery, per DraftKings.
And that may have something to do with the injury report. Possible Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes is listed as doubtful. The stellar young forward’s presence was missed sorely in the second game, getting his ankle stepped on accidentally during the first one. If he were suddenly available, that line might shift by two full points. He’s a true weapon with an extremely bright future.
Marksmen Gary Trent Jr. simply hasn’t looked right.
A terrific shooter who tormented the Sixers with 30 points when these teams met late in the regular season, the Duke product has been battling a non-COVID illness. He’s shot just 2 of 14 in this series, and could only manage 10 minutes in the last game before being ruled out. We’re not expecting to see Barnes. Trent Jr. is up in the air, but with a quick turnaround (the Sixers-Raptors will be playing Game 3 the same evening the Nets-Celtics will tip off Game 2) it wouldn’t be a surprise if GTJ still wasn’t at full strength.
The Raptors are listing Scottie Barnes as doubtful for tomorrow’s Game 3 in Toronto. Gary Trent Jr. is questionable. Thad Young isn’t listed on the injury report.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 19, 2022
The best news of the day is the Sixers’ relatively clean injury report heading into Game 3:
Matisse Thybulle (ineligible to play) and Charles Bassey (right shoulder sprain) are the only players on the Sixers' injury report for Game 3.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) April 19, 2022
Scottie Barnes is listed as doubtful, Gary Trent Jr. as questionable.
We were keeping a close watch on Joel Embiid following two plays where the star appeared to get banged up. On this one below, he appeared to roll his left ankle:
Here’s a look at the play where Embiid got his left ankle or knee caught up in a crowd. pic.twitter.com/rzzP6OJHqK— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 19, 2022
And on this one, he got his shooting arm jammed on a freak collision with Matisse Thybulle:
Here’s where Embiid appeared to get his arm caught. Was grabbing the inside of that elbow before departing. pic.twitter.com/kJGO2HtRYg— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 19, 2022
But Embiid indicated he was alright after the ball game. So far, no news is great news.
Matisse Thybulle, as you’re aware, is not eligible to travel to Canada. He only elected to receive one dose of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. International travelers need two doses to gain entry across the border. Weeks ago, Thybulle shared his rationale for opting out of the full double-dose as it became clear the Sixers would face Toronto and their vaunted vaccine mandates in the first round; now the best home court advantage in the league by a country mile.
Danny Green will continue to fill in for Mathief in the starting unit. Thankfully, Green appears revitalized at the perfect time for the 76ers.
But they will sorely miss Thybulle’s presence defensively. Thybulle had three blocks and five points with a made triple in just 10 minutes of action last game. It’s a big downgrade for Philly’s rotation that they won’t have their best perimeter (All-NBA caliber) stopper. The Washington product was one of just 11 player to receive a vote for Defensive Player of the Year. Thybulle is the team’s best pound-for-pound athlete without the ball; the “with the ball” honor of course goes to Maxey. Maxey is Super Mario and the basketball is his boost star. Can you hear that Mario-with-a-boost music?
Tyrese Maxey steps on the gas for the SLAM pic.twitter.com/S4VKyXfi40— Sixers Nation (@SixersNationCP) April 16, 2022
Nick Nurse, as noted, has lobbied officials for more calls. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a few more in Ontario. Embiid “respectfully” told Nurse to “stop bitching about calls.” They exchanged words in the last one, we’ll see if there’s more back and forth Wednesday night.
- We’ll also be keeping an eye on the physicality-level of this series. The Raps looked like they wanted to send a message that they will not be bullied, and if anything, they’ll do some bullying of their own:
Tough collision between Embiid and Siakam. Common foul is the call pic.twitter.com/7JeHkdNTAa— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) April 18, 2022
Hopefully there’s nothing out of bounds, but if the Sixers found themselves in position to steal this one late, it wouldn’t shock anyone if the Raptors started getting desperate and chippy.
- We mentioned this briefly, but we’ll be keeping an eye on what kind of shape Embiid’s ankle and elbow are in. He looked pretty limited after checking back into the prior game’s closing frame. While appearing to favor that right elbow a bit, he only had three points in his final 9 minutes, to go with a couple turnovers, and a missed layup. Not very Embiidesque. Joel made it to the finish line. But we’ll need to see that he’s back at 100 percent before we can fully relax.
- Tyrese Maxey has a chance to launch his budding stardom into the stratosphere. If he has another big game in another Sixers win in either Game 3 or 4, it’s going to be full-on Maxey fever back home in Philly. That’s if it’s not already.
- James Harden only has nine field goals through two ball games. Back in 2019, the dude scored nine field goals in a single quarter. We’ll see if he can break out in that points column. But the point guard from Compton, Cali has this team clicking on all cylinders. Through two, just like the regular season, only Chris Paul has more dimes than James.
- Tobias Harris has been a hyper-efficient two-way player thus far. We’ll see if he can continue to thrive in the 3-and-D-plus role coach Doc Rivers has him adapting to.
- Despite their 2-0 lead and dominance thus far, if the Sixers were to lose Game 3, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to imagine this series ultimately going seven. And with Barnes eyeing a return, Trent Jr. perhaps shaking his flu, a Raptors team that might be vulnerable Wednesday could get stronger and scarier the longer they’re able to stave off extinction.
- The Sixers come in with the best TS% (67.1) and offensive efficiency (135.8) of the entire playoffs. They’re second in overall plus-minus, trailing Golden State, as Steph Curry’s squad is in the midst of throttling Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets.
- The Sixers have fared well in the holy trinity of stat categories we came into the series watching intently: turnovers (they trail but only 20-19), rebounds (they actually lead here 80-71), and transition points (they’re smashing this one 52-32). If that trend holds, it’s curtains for Toronto.
They’ll look to keep the offensive barrage going tonight. Let’s get it.
When: 8:00 pm ET
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario Canada
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBATV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic