If the Raptors didn’t have bad luck, it seems they’d have no luck at all.
The fivesome the Raptors started in Game 1 of the playoffs against Philadelphia of the team’s five best players (Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and PG Anunoby) had played a grand total of 21 games and 345 minutes together all season. They were rarely all available at the same time, but when they were, Toronto had gone 15-6, including 15-3 since New Year’s Day.
That’s why it was so weird to see a totally clean injury report before the game.
Of course everything that could go wrong in the opener did – VanVleet immediately picked up two fouls, changing his and his team’s approach defensively completely – Trent never looked right – James Harden surprisingly did look right; most importantly, Barnes got hurt and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to return at any point this season and key deadline pickup Thad Young got hurt too (at least Trent’s potential absence was a non-COVID illness, not COVID or an injury, per the team).
— Barnes will miss Monday’s game, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. That was an ugly sequence that hurt to watch. Joel Embiid had a clumsy game and was embellishing at times like a WWE superstar, but anyone arguing (and there are some) that he did it on purpose or anything of the sort is completely out of it.
— Weird stat (besides the lack of turnovers created by the Raptors, which was damning for a group that thrives on creating chaos): Boxouts by the Raptors (3), boxouts by the Sixers (9). Toronto is a team that has thrived on the offensive glass like few others. While boxing out is more closely associated with defensive rebounding, it can apply to the offensive boards too. Either way, Toronto wasn’t doing much of it.
— A few things we got right in the preview:
Sixers taking game one and Maxey going off. That was from both the eye test and the logic test. He’s good and he was going to get his chances. Nobody saw that game coming, but over 17.5 points was a pretty easy call.
The Sixers pick to start was because they were rested, at home and playing a franchise that stinks in openers. The Raptors dropped to 5-17 in series openers and 2-11 in the first game of the playoffs.
— That Barnes wouldn’t be bothered by the bright lights. The rook nearly dropped a triple double in his debut. He didn’t even attempt a single three-pointer – in fact, he only took six shots and only one (from just behind the free throw line) didn’t come in the paint. Barnes also managed to set up five baskets in the paint for teammates and three three-pointers. That’s going to change whenever Barnes gets back on the floor. What also should change? How much the Raptors hand him the ball and let him work. In Game 1, Barnes had the same usage rate as Precious Achiuwa (and, surprisingly, VanVleet). Far behind that of Siakam, Anunoby and Trent Jr.
— Opponents shot just 4-for-14 when guarded by Barnes.
— Siakam had 14 potential assists (only Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic had more in their first game of the playoffs), but only 7 actual assists. Much of that was because Gary Trent Jr. couldn’t hit a shot
— So now it’s time for Game 2. The good news, for distraught Raptors fans, is the franchise’s incredible luck in openers hasn’t carried over to the second game of a series. The bad news is they still aren’t great historically in said games, going just 9-12.
— No Barnes means they’ll throw a more conventional centre to try to deal with Embiid’s size right from the start (either Khem Birch, who has the strength, or Precious Achiuwa, who has the length, most likely, though Anunoby will still be tasked with slowing down the MVP candidate quite a bit).
— Again we’ll remind you that the last two times these franchises met, each team won twice over the first four games. As bleak as it may seem, things change fast in the playoffs.
— Oh, and per our friends at Covers, the Over is 4-0 in Toronto’s last four games following a straight-up loss of more than 10 points. That said, not sure what to think about that one. With Barnes out, Trent and Young not themselves if they even play and Siakam and Anunoby unlikely to be as efficient as they were in Game 1, and with Maxey unlikely to go off like that again, not sure if the points will be piled up in this one.
But I guess we’ll see.
THREE STARS FROM GAME 1
1 – Tyrese Maxey
2 – Scottie Barnes
3 – James Harden