By: Kylan Watson
The 2021-2022 NBA Playoff journey for the Philadelphia 76ers will start tomorrow evening. They will face a familiar opponent in the Toronto Raptors who a few years ago sent the Sixers home and force Philly to search for another piece. These teams are vastly different from the last time they met in the playoffs. The Sixers will need to press their advantage as the superior offensive team if they want to beat the Raptors in what should be an extremely competitive series.
In the regular season The Raptors won three out of four games against the Sixers. In all four contests each squad had significant injuries or a Covid outbreak that prevented the full squad from playing. So, drawing any conclusions from those matchups is not something anybody should do. The one-time Philly had all of their horses available for the match-up they blew the Raptors off the court. For the Sixers if they want to send the Raptors home, they will need to press their advantage on the offensive end. They have the more talented team, and it will be up to the role players to take full advantage of their offensive opportunities. Especially when the inevitable double or triple-team comes for Joel Embiid. Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey will need to hit their three-point opportunities at a better or similar rate that they have been hitting their shots from beyond the arc since the All-Star break. Harris has hit 40% of his three-pointers since the All-Star Break and Maxey has become a deadeye shooter from beyond the arc hitting 48% of three-pointers. These two will need to continue to do that if they want to make Toronto think twice about daring to send more than one defender at Joel Embiid.
For Toronto they will need to take full advantage of the Sixers inability to get back on defense which allows for teams to get out in the open floor and get easy baskets. They will also need the Sixer killer that is Fred VanVleet to step-up big-time on the offensive end. Coming off a knee injury that has kept him out throughout most of the second half of the season. If VanVleet is his usual self this will create significant problems for Philly who are lacking in the defensive wing department on their roster. For the Raptors hitting their shots from the three-point line and the perimeter will be pivotal to stretch Philly’s defense. If the Raptors can hit their shots the Sixers will need an extraordinary effort from Joel Embiid and James Harden to keep the Raptors down.
The biggest key for Philadelphia will be Doc Rivers in his rotation. Second units rarely win or lose a team a playoff series but last time when the Sixers faced the Raptors in the post-season a key factor was the back-up minutes when Embiid was off the floor. Rivers will have to find a way to get something out of the back-up center position on both ends of the floor. Whether Paul Reed is the answer is yet to be determined. However, in the last few games he brought more energetic play on both sides of the ball to a unit that has not been playing with energy. Philly surviving those Embiid bench minutes will be key in determining who wins this series. Philly will need to get something out of their bench which is dead last in the league in bench points.
This should be a great series and both teams create magic when they get together. The games are usually close and come down to which team can execute better than the other. Philly will need to get as much as they can out of their role players if they want to beat the Raptors and move on to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.