Plenty of adversity to handle, but Raptors have been here before

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You don’t lose a series in Game 1, but the Raptors, through plenty of their own fault and some circumstances beyond their control, find themselves in a decidedly bigger hole than anyone expected this early.

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Losing Scottie Barnes, likely for however this season lasts, is a huge loss.

Yes, he’s a rookie in theory, but for the Raptors he’s so much more.

As a number of the Raptors pointed out post game, Barnes, who sprained his left ankle when Joel Embiid came down on his left foot with all his weight, was on his way to a triple-double in his first ever playoff experience. There was never been a moment too big for the young man the Raptors will build around for years to come.

He’s nowhere near a finished product yet, but he’s already capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways from scoring, defence, rebounding, making those who share the floor with him better.

His youthful energy and will to win will also be missed.

Now add on to that the likely expected loss of Thad Young with that hyper-extended left thumb for at least the series and then Gary Trent Jr. likely out for at least Game 2 and the Raptors have their adversity plates overflowing.

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The personnel losses are beyond anyone’s control. All the Raptors can do is select someone else to fill those minutes. The good news is they’ve done that all year with success, though rarely has it been Barnes’ minutes to fill.

What they can do and what they must do if they have any hope of avoiding an 0-2 hole in the series is find a way to take back the physicality lead in this battle.

The Raptors, when they are at their best, are a punch-first team.

They set the physical tone and force their opponent to respond, normally resulting in retaliation fouls.

Philly owned that throughout Game 1.

Embiid, James, Harden and Tobias Harris, even Tyrese Maxey, set that tone early and the rest of the rotation followed suit.

I think that we’ve got to get to some more of our identity, which I don’t think showed up as much (Saturday) night,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “For whatever reason, maybe it was the moment, the bright lights, and playoffs, and all that stuff. But again, good experience for us. We’ll learn from it, and we’re going to have to be a lot better in handling the moment Monday, for sure.”

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Fred VanVleet beat himself up a little Sunday morning as he met with the media following a practice at Temple University. He was well aware the guy he was guarding, Tyrese Maxey, went off for 38 and readily admitted as much, but VanVleet knows the focus remains on limiting Embiid and Harden before everything else.

We’ll try to tighten up a little bit and see where we can limit him,” VanVleet said of Maxey, “but the first two problems are Joel and James for sure. Sometimes, you’ve got to give up something, it definitely didn’t need to be 38 to the guy that I was guarding but sometimes when you’re game-planning for things it’s a give and take.

“I thought we guarded Joel pretty well and James okay so we’ve got to clean up the other stuff,” he said.

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But before any adjustments are made to what the Raptors do with Maxey or Embiid or Harden or even Tobias Harris, who had 26 in the series opener, the Raptors have to look inward.

“When you look at the game, it’s kind of hard to even focus on any of that,” Chris Boucher said of what the Sixers did to them. “Obviously they went to the free throw line but we didn’t play well either. Lot of things we could have stopped if we played hard, if we followed the game plan. That’s what we need to focus on, to be honest.”

Khem Birch, who took an Embiid elbow to the chops and had to pass a concussion protocol test before returning, agreed with his young frontcourt mate. The Raptors just need to be tougher.

“I mean I knew it was going to be physical,” Birch said. “Even last game (vs. Philly) in the regular season was physical. We are on their home court;we beat them three times in a row so I knew they were going to come out more physical than they were before.

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“But also, I just feel like we have to be more physical as well, regardless of what happens just because they have a big team like we do. They’re probably even bigger so I feel we have to come with that mindset (Monday).”

When Nurse suggested this series was going to be a slugfest following one of those midweek practices, Pascal Siakam laughed at his choice of words.

It’s pretty clear now Nurse’s word choice was not an accident.


Coming off a beatdown like the Raptors suffered at the hands of the 76ers in Game 1, the fix-it list was always going to be long for Nurse and his staff.

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But the list got infinitely tougher to address when all the battle wounds and illnesses were compiled.

It looks very much like Nurse and company will go into Game 2 down starters Barnes and Trent Jr. as well as key reserve Young.

About the only good news is Embiid’s massive elbow somehow missed Birch’s nose and took him flush on the mouth instead.

Birch cleared concussion protocols during the game and has shown no ill after effects from the blow in the morning so at least he’s good to go.

The news on Trent Jr. is he’s been battling through a bug since last Sunday. The team kept the issue quiet although Nurse did suggest there were a few health issues lingering throughout the week leading up to Game 1.

He’s kind of come in and out of it over the last, let me think here — I’d say a week,” Nures said of Trent Jr.’s illness. “He was out for a bit, came back for a bit. Give him a lot of credit for going out there and  effort (Saturday) night, because he was struggling, obviously, as you could all tell. So, I give him credit for himgoing out there and manning up a little bit. But we’ll see where we’re at with him as we go here.”

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All three of Barnes, Young and Trent Jr. will be listed as doubtful for Game 2 and while Nurse normally plays his cards pretty close to his vest when it comes to revealing lineup ins and outs, he said he’s not expecting any of the three for the game.

Young spent the morning having his MRI and then joined the Raptors as a spectator at practice with the thumb on his left hand (his shooting hand) taped.

Barnes had his MRI while the team was practising.

So now not only does Nurse have to get the remaining healthy bodies in his lineup to at least match and hopefully better the fight and the energy the Sixers brought to the floor in Game 1, he has to decide who of the remaining bench players gets promoted either from second unit to first or end of the bench to active.

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Nurse came into this series expecting to limit things to an eight-manrotationbut now with Barnes, Young and Trent Jr. out, he expects he’ll expand things to about 11 as he searches for that extra spark residing on his bench that can help offset all those losses.

“I think it’s going to be one of those situations where you’ve seen me do this before where we’ll maybe try somebody and if they have a good stint, they end up getting the rotational minutes,” Nurse said. “You could say a lot of times this year we played eight, or seven, or whatever, pretty heavy, but then all of a sudden, you’d see a game where we play 11. Where maybe Delano would play six minutes in the first half and then Malachi would play eight in the second. We’d stick Armani in there, we’d stick Yuta, whoever, as we kind of searched to see what we canuse at the time. It might be all of ‘em, for little stints.”

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If there is optimism for the Raptors in overcoming all of these potentialabsences, it comes from the fact that they have weatheredsimilar storms before.

“We’ve played without guys all year,” VanVleet said. “Obviously at this time of year you would like to have all your best players but we’ll see what the situation is, find out in the morning who’s in, who’s out and then it’ll be time for somebody else to step up.

“We’ve responded to adversity well all year, we’ll have to do it again,” he said. “Playoffs is certainly a different level but I’m confident in the entire group that we have the bodies to step up.

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