The Philadelphia 76ers made an absolute statement in Game 1 thanks to a 20-point victory over the Toronto Raptors. They still need to secure three more victories to advance, but with significant injuries to the Raptors — namely Scottie Barnes — the path is certainly easier than it seemed leading into Game 1.
Can Joel Embiid lead this team to victory and secure a 2-0 series lead before heading to Toronto?
Let’s break it down.
Scottie Barnes’ Injury to Have Huge Impact
The Raptors suffered a significant blow to their starting lineup in Game 1. Barnes (ankle) is officially listed as doubtful after Embiid inadvertently stepped on his foot in Game 1. The injury looked extremely painful and it would be stunning to see him return for Game 2.
It’s truly a shame, considering he was just two assists shy of a triple double in his first-career playoff game. He absolutely belongs at this level.
Besides Barnes, the Raptors have listed both Gary Trent Jr. (illness) and Thaddeus Young (thumb) as doubtful. Considering Barnes averaged 35.4 minutes per game, Trent averaged 35 and Young averaged 18.3, their depth is going to be put to the test.
Without Barnes and Trent, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby will see their roles increase dramatically. Additionally, I’d imagine we will see more minutes from Armoni Brooks and Yuta Watanabe.
If any coach can navigate these injuries, it’s Nick Nurse. However, there’s only so much talent that Nurse can pull out of a roster that was already outgunned in this matchup.
The big issue for the Raptors will be that they’re missing the length and positional versatility that Barnes provides. They’ll be much more limited in their defensive schemes and they lost a secondary facilitator on offense.
I think this may force the Raptors to play more drop and less switch on defense, as they’ll be less capable of dealing with different offensive looks. This should open up more opportunities for Tyrese Maxey and James Harden, in particular.
Welcome to Harden’s World
The 76ers look to build off their strong performance in Game 1 and with the Raptors’ injuries, they certainly should be able to head to Toronto with a 2-0 series lead.
Let’s just say this now: James Harden is exponentially better at unlocking this offense than Ben Simmons was. The pressure that he creates and the gravity he has not only curves and disrupts defenses, but he uses that to make his teammates better.
He posted a stat line of 22 points, five rebounds and 14 assists on Saturday, and he assisted on 45.2% of his teammates’ made shots, per Cleaning the Glass.
Harden can continue to do this, as he and Maxey hunt VanVleet as a mismatch when they’re on offense. Whoever VanVleet is guarding will likely get an opportunity to score.
The more impressive thing is they didn’t need Embiid to score in order to dominate. Embiid made his presence known on the defensive side of the ball, and the 76ers mixed it up enough with how much pressure Embiid put on Siakam, forcing the Raptors to struggle offensively.
Now, with Barnes likely out, I’d imagine Embiid can commit even more to defending Siakam and giving him less space to operate.
Additionally, if Maxey and Tobias Harris are going to continue playing at this pace, you can book the sweep right now. While another 38-point performance is unlikely, Maxey handled every defensive look the Raptors threw at him, and Harris knocked down his open looks and even was calling for the ball.
The Sixers’ starters all dominated, and with their core four all playing 37+ minutes, they should continue to do so.
The Raptors need this game. However, the saying goes: a series does not start until a road team wins a playoff game.
So, while they want to avoid going back to Toronto down 2-0, they certainly are not out of it just by losing in Philadelphia again. However, if they lose this game via another dominant showing by Philadelphia, their chances certainly will be slim.
Toronto needs significant contributions from VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby to stand a chance, and in this matchup — where the 76ers can mix up their defensive looks — this is a tall ask.
The 76ers have more depth at this point, and the injuries to Barnes and Young — along with Trent’s illness — severely handicap Nurse’s ability to game plan and make mid-game adjustments.
This line only moved two points from its Game 1 spot, and now the Raptors are likely without Barnes, Young and Trent. Considering the sheer amount of minutes they all play, this line feels short coming off of a 20-point 76ers win.
I’ll back the 76ers to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and cover the spread.
Pick: Sixers -6.5