I am not afraid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Sorry, should I have started with a more traditional topic sentence and introduction?
All right, take two. From the top.
It is the third meeting between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Playoffs. The first series was in 2001 and ended with Vince Carter rimming out at the buzzer in Game 7. The “Graduation Game” for those of you who know what that means. The second series was in 2019 and ended with Kawhi Leonard hitting nothing but rim (four times), before the ball feel through the net at the buzzer in Game 7. It is forever known as, “The Shot”.
Now, we have the rubber match. A sports trilogy.
And like I said before, I am not afraid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
To be honest with you, this is a new feeling for me heading into a first round playoff matchup. I have always been nervous for the Raptors as they head into the playoffs. Even when they faced Orlando in 2019, who they were clearly better than, there was some trepidation.
That trepidation was justified after they lost Game 1.
As we stare down James Harden and Joel Embiid, I actually feel confident about our chances. It has very little to do about the fact that the Raptors went 3-1 against them in the regular season. I know that is a talking point right now and the media will bring it up whenever they can, but that is not the root of my confidence.
I just believe in this Raptors team. I believe in the coaching staff, lead by Nick Nurse. I believe in the culture of the team and their collective mindset.
Nick Nurse is not like every other NBA Head Coach. He is unafraid to implement any defensive scheme he thinks will work. To that end, I feel confident that he will find a way to minimize the impact of Embiid. There is a reason why Embiid has struggled against Toronto in his career. There is a reason why he once scored zero points against us in a game.
The Raptors know how to handle him. Sure, everyone on our team is 6’9 and may not be able to look him straight in the eye, but still, I am not afraid.
And then there is James Harden. He is a great player, make no mistake about it. So, what? Is that supposed to scare me. Am I supposed to believe that Fred VanVleet and co. cannot handle him?
I know the NBA is all about big name players and star power, which is why when the American media looks at this matchup, they ignore talking about the Raptors altogether because we do not have that “big name”.
Shaquille O’Neal even said the Raptors were going to get swept. Swept. 4-0. That is not happening, Mr. Shaq. Sorry.
Please, keep giving the Raptors – the most consistently overlooked team in the NBA – another reason why they cannot compete. I love it. Keep fuelling the fire. They thrive off of it.
And do not get it twisted, I am not overlooking the 76ers, either. I just think they are beatable and are not as scary as others make them seem. They have a solid supporting cast of player, but are Tobias Harris, Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, and Matisse Thybulle really supposed to scare me?
Are they any better than the Raptors supporting cast? No. So, what are we doing here?
This series is going to come down to schemes and execution. It is not going to come down to talent because both teams have it.
I trust Nick Nurse to outcoach Doc Rivers. Sorry, I just do.
The Raptors are one of the hardest working teams in the league. They close out shooters like few other teams do. You will never see five players on the floor who will watch a three-point shooter take an open shot, without at least one of them running to get a hand up. I promise you that.
And when they want to turn it on defensively, they have a championship level effort. I remember first seeing it in that first round Orlando series in 2019. It is still there, even though only four players remain from that championship team.
The defensive DNA has transferred over to Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes.
If I can jump off my bandwagon for just a moment, I will address some concerns I may have for the Raptors. The first one being the fact that this is going to be a physical series. The physicality does not concern me. The foul trouble does. I think the veterans will be able to take care of themselves, but players like Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa, who are brand new to this, may get into foul trouble.
I do not have the statistical evidence, but I have seen enough playoff series to know that players who are fresh to the spotlight, often try and do too much and get in early foul trouble as a result. I think all the way to Chris Bosh picking up two early fouls in one of his first playoff games for the Raptors.
So, I will be watching for that.
My other concern lies with the Raptors propensity to go for scoring droughts that last 3-5 minutes. That cannot happen in the playoffs, even if your defence is solid. You just cannot take on that much water and expect to bail yourself out every time.
So, foul trouble for the kids and shooting droughts. Those are my worries.
No matter what the 76ers do on offence, I am confident the Raptors coaching staff will find a solution, even if it takes a game to find it.
I am excited for this. The pressure of having home court advantage is off. All we have to do is take one game in Philadelphia and the series swings in our favour. I expect the series to go to seven games because why break tradition?
The Raptors continue to be a bundle of joy to watch and root for.
I think they are for this. I think they are about to open a lot of eyes and surprise a lot of people.
Do not say I did not warn you.
Here we go.
Time to play the game.