With their backs against the proverbial wall, the Toronto Raptors gave the Philadelphia 76ers everything they had in Wednesday night’s critical Game 3. However, led by Joel Embiid’s 18 third-quarter points, the Sixers clawed their way back into the game, setting the stage for Embiid’s eventual instant-classic, game-winning three-pointer in the final second of overtime. Rather than the Raptors making it a 2-1 series, with Scottie Barnes’ return on the horizon and the pressure shifting back to the Sixers, we now have a 3-0 series on our hands.
NBA teams are 143-0 when leading 3-0 in a series. You hate to make the assumption that the series is over, but even Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is saying about Game 4, “We’re playing for our pride, our pride is on the line.” Not the words of a man with reaching the second round in mind as a realistic goal.
Still, whether a first-round series win is all but certain or not, a win Saturday afternoon would greatly behoove the Sixers. It’s a story every year, but the eventual NBA champion not only needs to outplay the competition on the court, but also outlast the field on the injury report (I’m sure there’s some outwitting at some point as well). Already this postseason, we have seen Luka Doncic be unavailable for the first three games for Dallas (fortunately for Mavericks fans, Jalen Brunson is making his star turn to give his team a 2-1 series lead), and Devin Booker and Khris Middleton suffer significant injuries to put a ding in the hopes of two Finals favorites.
The Sixers currently have no regular members of the rotation out (Matisse Thybulle will, of course, be ineligible to play in Game 4 in Toronto due to Canada’s vaccine policy), but now news has come out about Embiid dealing with pain in his thumb. Yes, even if the Sixers lose Game 4 with the Raptors playing hard for pride, they’ll still in all likelihood win the series. But every additional game the team needs to play represents additional opportunities for the injury bug to rear its ugly head. The Sixers should do everything possible to limit the number of hard falls to the floor for Joel Embiid and miles on the hamstring odometers of James Harden, plus allow some rest for Joel’s banged-up thumb.
As of this writing, oddsmakers place the Sixers as three-point favorites for the Game 4 contest. Earlier Friday, Barnes’ availability for Toronto was still listed as doubtful.
Nick Nurse sounds significantly less optimistic about Scottie Barnes' availability for tomorrow's Game 4. He said they're not going to rule out the possibility that he'll play, but they still consider him 'doubtful'. He went through "little bits" of practice today.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 22, 2022
In terms of revenge for 2019, a four-game sweep would taste a little bit sweeter than a 4-1 series victory. Get the win to head back to Philadelphia with a good amount of rest in front of you, and hope Trae Young and the Hawks can make the Miami Heat play an extra game or two. We’ll see if the Sixers can bring out the brooms and tidy up this series sweep Saturday afternoon.
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