Alive for Game 5

In the words of Toronto Raptors Head Coach, Nick Nurse: “It’s not 3-0 anymore.”

No, it is not. The Raptors won Game 4 and send this series back to Philadelphia. They are just one win away from being one win away from forcing a Game 7. All they need to do is bring this series back to Toronto for Game 6 – the place they’ve played their best two games – and this series could very well go the distance.

On the other side of the floor, Doc Rivers has blown three 3-1 series leads in his head coaching career. He holds the record. So, that’s a fun little statistic to get our hopes up.

Honestly, the Raptors are in survival mode right now. It’s like they’re playing the Skateboard Scamper mini-game from Mario Party 2. The Raptors are trying to get away, but are being chased down by the giant ghost, Boo.

Will they reach the finish line before getting caught? We’ll see.

Scottie Barnes returned to the Raptors lineup for Game 4 and came off the bench for the first time this season. However, the team lost Fred VanVleet in the second quarter to a hip injury. He will not play in Game 5.

VanVleet hasn’t been 100% for a while. Defence is one of his strengths, but he hasn’t looked like himself in this series. His absence forced the Raptors into a jumbo lineup, which is something they aren’t unfamiliar with. It worked. The team looked the best they’ve looked all series.

We will see a lot of it in Game 5.

Any combination of Scottie, Thad, Pascal, Precious, Boucher, and OG will form the jumbo lineup. Gary Trent will obviously see a ton of minutes as well, now that he’s healthy again.

The 76ers looked rattled in Game 5. They looked like they had been living in a hotel for five days and were over it.

Joel Embiid took out his frustrations on the referees. Yes, Joel, the referees are out to get you. That’s it.

He went to centre court after the game and mockingly clapped at the referees, and continued to do so until he was off the floor. Wow, all it took was one loss for him to sink to this level? Oh man, if the 76ers lose Game 5, he might melt like an ice cube in the desert.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the referees hit him with two quick fouls to start the game.

I don’t know if you want your star player acting like a sore loser while you’re still in control of the series, at 3-1. But, as a Raptors fan, I will encourage this behaviour.

Perhaps the torn ligaments in his thumb are starting to get to him?

I’ve torn ligaments in my fingers from playing basketball before; it’s not fun. You are aware that your fingers are not functioning properly, at all times. Even when you sleep, you have to be aware of where your fingers are resting.

When Embiid gets frustrated, he seems to forget how to act.

Also, he seems to pick himself off the floor an awful lot. Surely, he has better balance than he’s been exhibiting. It’s comical at this point.

There were numerous occasions in Game 4 when he was just flat out shoving Raptor players. I’d say the goal is to keep him frustrated. That may be harder to do in Philadelphia, where he likes to play to the crowd quite a bit. Plus, I’m sure the officials will be a bit intimidated by the setting, though they’ll never admit it.

To win this game, the Raptors can’t be down 12 points after the first quarter. They can’t afford to play yo-yo with the scoreboard. Down 21, cut the deficit to 7, it grows back to 14. Can’t do that. They did it in Game 1 and Game 2 and it didn’t work out for them.

The game needs to be close, or the Raptors need to be the ones who get out to a 10+ point lead and maintain it. Otherwise, they won’t win.

With VanVleet out, the three-point shooting takes a hit. However, that may force us to be more aggressive and attack the basket; thus, we draw fouls and slow the game down with free throws. That’s not a bad thing.

Trent needs to continue putting up his 20+ point games, with pesky defence.

If OG Anunoby is hitting threes early on, that’s a good sign. To me, he’s the most important player for the Raptors tonight, if they want to push this to a Game 6. I’m almost hoping that he gets into a small shoving match with someone a few minutes into the game. Those types of exchanges always seem to bring out the best in him.

Siakam needs to continue to be aggressive. He and Barnes will be the main playmakers tonight, without Fred.

Scottie Barnes will probably be the starting point guard, which is apropos considering Magic Johnson compared Barnes to himself, just a few days ago. I expect him to have a good game.

It needs to be an all-cylinders effort tonight from the Raptors. What I mean by that is, everyone needs to play up to their potential and we’ll be just fine. It seems like we’ve figured out a way to slow down the 76ers offence. Hopefully, that carries over now that the series is back in Philadelphia.

But at the end of the day, we can talk about on-court performances all we want. I think the outcome of this game will be largely determined by the mentality of the two teams, before they even step on the floor.

If the 76ers really wanted to, they could squash us tonight by 20+ and end this series tonight. However, if they are starting to doubt themselves, or hear whispers about blowing a 3-0 lead, then they leave themselves vulnerable.

As for the Raptors, they need to go into this game with a “do or die” mentality. I’ve been seeing a lot of “the pressure is on Philly” talk and sure, the pressure is on them. But the pressure is also on the Raptors. You lose and you’re done.

They need to tap into the same mentality they had in 2019 when they came back from being down 2-0 against Milwaukee, to win four in a row. They need to tap into the same mentality from the NBA Finals, when they went to Oakland and won Game 3 and Game 4.

Go take it. Go force a Game 6.

Either way, we go home after this game.

Might as well force the 76ers to come with us. Toronto is lovely this time of year.

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