Not Dead Yet – The Raptors live to fight another day after a tough Game 4 win
The High 5 – Week in Review – Week 27
The High 5 is where I review the last week of Toronto Raptors basketball including how the team did, who were the impact players as well as some news and notes from around the league.
The Thumb – How was the week?
The Raptors were still reeling from losing so many players when Game 2 tipped. They ate a loss after being served a healthy dose of Embiid with a splash of shooters. Game 3 was a decisively better effort. If not for a miraculous shot by Embiid, Toronto could have and probably should have won.
But with the season on the line, the Raptors escaped elimination on Saturday afternoon with a massive Game 4 win. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air for a franchise and fanbase that lost their wind after a worst-case-scenario start to this series.
They also saw the return of Scottie Barnes. Even though he was limited, the newly crowned Rookie of the Year still pulled down double digits in rebounds and tossed in a handful of points. Regardless of his production on the stat sheet, his presence on the floor made a world of difference as Toronto was able to defend stronger and rebound more efficiently.
Add in the rollercoaster ride of production from VanVleet and Siakam, the sudden emergence of injuries and the increasing level of chippiness and you finally had the ingredients for a compelling series.
Toronto has a modicum of momentum going into Game 5. The Sixers will no doubt want to close out the series in front of their fans, so Toronto’s task has never been more difficult. If the Raps are to pull off another improbable win, it will take everyone playing at their best. Confidence should still be high; the Raptors have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Series Record (1 – 3)
Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers – Game 2 L 112 – 97
The start to this game was the opposite to the previous one. This time, the Raptors immediately sent a message that they would not be bullied. OG and Embiid picked up double technicals after some early shoving. Toronto had momentum for a moment, it was exciting but short lived as the 76ers came roaring back. The combination of not enough bodies and too many fouls made the margin of error for Toronto razor thin. Their defense was slow, and their shooting went cold. It was a battle of attrition, and the Raptors wore down in defeat.
Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors – Game 3 L 104 – 101 OT
It’s been too long since Toronto’s last home playoff game and they were given a raucous ovation when they took the floor. The crowd was an immediate factor, they injected energy into the players not yet seen and for the first time this series, Philly looked confused. Toronto played significantly better defense. They forced turnovers and finally got loose in the open floor. The drama was turned up to 11 down the stretch with the Raptors forcing overtime, but Embiid sent shockwaves throughout the building when he nailed a game winning triple with less than a second on the clock.
Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors – Game 4 W 110 – 102
They say a cornered animal will fight desperately to escape, and with Toronto facing elimination, there was nowhere to hide. The Raptors were ready to fight, and they received a huge boost when Scottie Barnes made his return. VanVleet picked up a hip injury and was sent to the locker room in frustration, but Trent Jr. carried the slack for the second game in a row. Siakam was exceptional, he shouldered the load for Toronto for most of the game. The Raptors put in a complete effort for the critical win.
The Index – The Leader – Player of the Week
With all the hype and attention on the bigger names in this series, many would be surprised to know that the most impactful player for the Raptors has been Anunoby. He was outstanding in Games 2 and 3 where he showed off his range and versatility as a scorer. He surprised the Sixers with his ability to hit tough shots and his understated strength. With Embiid occupied with Toronto’s other bigs, OG often found himself with lopsided advantages where either his strength or speed would win out the possession. In Game 3, he wasn’t as effective at scoring, but he was still physical on defense and wouldn’t give an inch to Embiid in the paint. There is no reason why OG can’t continue with this production, the Sixers do not have an obvious counter.
Honourable Mention: P. Siakam
The Middle – The Enemy – Best Opposing Player
Could it really be anyone else? Sure, James Harden has been quiet yet efficient, Maxey stole the hearts of Philadelphia residents everywhere and Harris is holding his own on the defensive end, but to say the best opposing player is anyone other than Joel Embiid would just be foolish. It would be like trying to ignore the proverbial and literal elephant in the room. Embiid, whose Pokémon form would be some sort of Rhino-Bulldozer, has been causing chaos against Toronto. He stomps about with the delicacy of an avalanche, toppling 6’9” trees, taking bodies and smashing faces. And though he plays defense as if he is on skates and tumbles after every play, his offensive presence is undeniable and unavoidable. He is starting to wear down a bit but if the Sixers win this series, he will undoubtably be the reason why.
Honourable Mention: T. Harris, J. Harden, T. Maxey
The Ring – The X Factor – Standout Performance
Pascal Siakam – Game 4
Pascal, a player known for his spiciness, was feeling the heat after a lacklustre second half in Toronto’s heartbreaking Game 3 loss. 12 points with no free throws is unacceptable from a player of his calibre. Twitter was a dystopian landscape of hot takes, naysayers, nonbelievers, doubters, and fair weathered fans all ripping on the young vet. Unfortunately, Pascal has heard it all before. The difference is that where before he would have wilted, he now stands strong. Game 4 was a perfect response to his poor performance and proved that Siakam can compete at his best on the highest stage. Siakam was all world on Saturday. The only thing not working was his 3 pointer, but beyond that, his game was next level. This is the Siakam Toronto needs. The vocal leader, the rim runner, the jump shooter, the spin cycle, the energy. Most impressive was that he scored 15 of his 34 when it mattered most, the 4th quarter. Siakam gave Toronto the push needed for a desperate win.
Honourable Mention: G. Trent Jr (Game 3, 4), OG Anunoby (Game 2, 3)
The Pinky – The Unsung Hero – Key Contributor
Gary Trent Jr.
When Scottie Barnes rolled his ankle the Raptor world held its collective breath. And when the news came out of a potential sprain, the sky started to fall. Truly, it was a devastating loss. But do you know what hurt Toronto more? Missing a healthy Gary Trent Jr. Toronto was smacked around in Games 1 and 2, the games where Trent Jr. was feeling the effects of his illness. His lack of production put so much pressure on VanVleet and limited Toronto’s backcourt efficiency. However, since recovering, he has posted back-to-back 24-point games. Games 3 and 4 have obviously been Toronto’s stronger performances and it is no coincidence that they are the games where Trent Jr. has felt his best. His shooting spreads the floor and demands respect which opens space for Siakam and others to operate. Gary has flown under the radar, but he can be a game changer if he catches fire.
Honourable Mention: S. Barnes, P. Achiuwa, C. Boucher
News and Notes
- Good Vibes – To put a cherry on top of a magnificent rookie season, Scottie Barnes was named the Rookie of the Year. He beat out an outstanding rookie class. Barnes is the future of the franchise, and it may be here sooner than expected.
Around the League
- Kyrie Things – The incomprehensible Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets let the fans get the best of him in Boston. He gave them the old double bird on a couple of occasions while cussing out fans when provoked. He spoke strongly on the necessity of respect after the game and his refusal to acquiesce to abuse from the fans. Regardless, he was still fined $50000.
- Lulu Carolina Blue – North Carolina’s freshman golfer, and former NBA sharpshooter, JR Smith is now a brand ambassador for Lulu lemon. This endorsement is a product of the newly agreed upon NIL deal. In short, this deal allows NCAA students to make money off their name and likeness.
- Smart Decision – Congrats to Boston’s Marcus Smart who took home the Defensive Player of the Year award. This award is rarely given to a guard, but Smart was a sensational perimeter defender in a game that is played more and more beyond the arc.
- Patty Cakes – Congrats to Brooklyn’s Patty Mills who won this years Sportsmanship award. This is basically your “most respectful nice guy” award. And Patty Mills certainly is respectful and seems like a really nice guy!
Toronto remains with their backs against the wall heading into Philly on Monday night. It is win or go home the rest of the way for the young Raptors. If they survive Monday’s battle, they will be back in Toronto on Thursday for Game 6. Game 7 will be in Philly on Saturday if necessar
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