Saturday’s post-season opener was a rough day for the Toronto Raptors.
The Raps got crushed 131-111 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. But worse – two key Raptors suffered injuries.
Toronto’s rookie of the year contender Scottie Barnes sprained an ankle. Reserve forward Thaddeus Young sprained a thumb. Both exited the game in significant pain, leaving their status for Game 2 up in the air.
Pascal Siakam’s 24 points led Toronto, while OG Anunoby added 20 points, Fred VanVleet had 18 points and six assists and fouled out early. Barnes added 15 points with 10 rebounds, before injuring his ankle, and being helped off the court in agony from his first NBA playoff game.
Toronto didn’t match Philadelphia’s energy, but kept Philly’s superstars somewhat in check. Joel Embiid had 19 points and 15 rebounds, while James Harden had 22 points and 14 assists. But it was Tyrese Maxey who stole the show for Philly, putting on a 38-point show.
The Raps got outplayed, outhustled, banged around and literally elbowed to the face more than once. The loss adds to the Raptors shaky trend in the opening game of playoff series. The club now has a 5-17 all-time record in Game Ones.
“I’m not surprised they were highly motivated and ready to go. I think there’s a lot of expectations on them,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse of the star-studded 76ers, the No.4 seed facing his No.5 Raptors. “I think they were going to try to bully us right off the floor and deliver a blow and see if we’ll go away. Now we’re going to find out.”
But the Raptors have had a tendency to bounce back after an ugly Game 1. They even lost the opening game of the 2019 playoffs, before going on to win the NBA title that year.
Game 2 will take place on Monday night in Philadelphia, before the series moves to Toronto for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Saturday.
The Raptors will need to force more turnovers on Monday, stop getting beat on contested shots and rebounds, and match Philly’s speed and physicality.
“We could have been way more physical from the beginning,” said Siakam. “Collectively as a team, we didn’t match their intensity.”
The Raptors and 76ers are meeting in the playoffs for the third time in league history. The previous two series went to seven games – in 2001 Philly won; and in 2019 Toronto took it.
The Raps are back in the post-season after missing last year – a lackluster season they spent away from Canada during the pandemic, playing their home games in Tampa.
Earlier in the night, Embiid injured two Raptors by swiping them in the face under the basket while leaping aggressively into the air on defence – Khem Birch in the first quarter and Barnes in the second. Embiid was punished with a flagrant foul on the latter.
Those Raptors were able to return from those bumps.
Philly positioned Embiid primarily close to the basket where he’s so comfortable and physical, and then repeatedly fed the 7-footer the ball. The Raps didn’t create a single first-half turnover. They trailed badly in the rebound category. They were being out-run.
The 76ers compiled a devastating 21-point lead during the second quarter. By half-time Embiid already had 15 points, Maxey went off for 17 and Tobias Harris 16. The Raps needed to adjust.
VanVleet had picked up his third foul mid-way through that quarter, so they’d need to be careful with the All-Star point guard. Nurse rolled the dice and left him in the game.
The Raps mounted a mini comeback in the third, chopping the deficit from 24 points to 11. When the 76ers built it back up, the Raps kept hacking away at it again. But they couldn’t quite get close enough.
Maxey was too hot to handle. Even with Embiid off the floor taking a breather, Maxey kept Philly’s scoring going. He erupted for 21 points in the third quarter alone. The 76ers fans began chanting his name.
Things unraveled for the Raps the fourth. Barnes collapsed to the floor and writhed in pain after 280-pound Embiid landed on his foot. The rookie needed several men to help him off the floor as he winced.
“It’s tough, the kid was playing his heart out,” said VanVleet. “You feel for him. It was his first playoff experience and he goes down with an injury.”
VanVleet fouled out of the game early, in the fourth. Without saying too much and risking a fine, VanVleet suggested he didn’t like some of the fouls called on him, adding that he was eager to watch some different angles of game footage.
“Not my best defensive performance, not happy about it, but again, there’s a lot of basketball left to be played,” said VanVleet. “And I’ll let you guys talk about the officiating a little bit more. I don’t know if the fines are the same on the other side of the table, so you guys have fun.”
Nurse said Barnes and Young both had their injuries x-rayed, and those were negative. Both will go for further imaging on Sunday.