The four seed vs five seed match-up in the first round of the eastern conference playoffs will be the Philadelphia 76ers against the Toronto Raptors. Philadelphia will have home court advantage as they finished the regular season with a record of 51-31, compared to Toronto who finished the season, 48-34.
The Raptors won the season series over the 76ers, 3-1. Which is not the be all, end all. As we know in today's NBA, there is no telling who will be on the floor for each team, night to night. Now, with that being said, the Raptors do hold two wins over the 76ers with both Joel Embiid and James Harden playing. Is that a sign of things to come?
Keys to Victory for the Raptors
Toronto Raptors Head Coach, Nick Nurse (Photo via USA Today)
Add Seasoning To Cook
Pascal Siakam was given the nickname, "Spicy P" by ESPN NBA Analyst Jalen Rose. I believe that he lost the right to that nickname after his flavorless performance in the 2020 playoffs. There was nothing spicy about Siakam's, 17 points per game on 39% shooting from the floor and 19% shooting from beyond the three point line. Siakam has to find the salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning if the Raptors want that winning recipe.
Siakam has to be able to score in multiple ways. He cannot be one-dimensional. If he is not able to hit the three point shot at a consistent rate, it will really affect the Raptor's offense in a negative way, causing spacing issues for the other offensive creators. If Siakam is able to give the same production against the 76ers in this series as he did this regular season, they will have a huge chance to win this series. Against Philadelphia this season, Siakam averaged 30.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game, while shooting 50.7% from the floor.
Everything including the Kitchen Sink
Toronto Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, has built up the reputation has one of the best coaches in the NBA. One of the reasons he is regarded is such high fashion, is that, he is willing to go outside the box. NBA fans remember seeing the Raptors use a box and 1 or triangle and 2 defense against Steph Curry in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Nurse is probably watching film right now and coming up with equations on how to slow down James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey. Nurse's defensive game plans throughout the series will be key to a series win for the Raptors.
Rook or Crook
Since the all-star break, stand-out rookie, Scottie Barnes, is averaging 17 points, 7.7 rebounds, while shooting 53% from the floor and playing 35 minutes a game. Barnes has become a very important part of the Raptors' success. As great as Barnes as played, his biggest weakness is his lack of a consistent outside jump shot. Barnes shot 30% from three point range this season.
The big question is if you have Barnes and Siakam in the game at the same time. Are they able to work with the lack of space they may run into in the playoffs? As teams will be very intentional about leaving non-shooters wide open and making it as hard as possible to get shots at the rim. Barnes has to be ready for the bright lights for Toronto to have a chance in this series.
Keys to Victory for the 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers head coach, Doc Rivers (photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)
No fancy or clever headline for this one. James Harden needs to show up and be the first ballot hall of famer, top 75 all-time player that the 76ers traded for. Harden's legacy is on the line in this series. As I mentioned earlier, Harden has all the great player accomplishments outside of a championship ring. I don't believe players need championships to be considered all-time greats but they do need to show up in the playoffs.
Harden has had a history of coming up short in big time games. He is now where he wants to be, with the 76ers. There are no excuses if he comes up short again. Harden cannot duplicate his performance from the regular season against Toronto. Harden has played against Toronto twice since joining the 76ers, averaging 15 points and 11.5 assists per game, while shooting 33% from the field and 12% from three point range. That is not a typo, 33% from the field and 12% from three are correct. Harden has to average at least 22 points and 8 assists while shooting 45% from the floor and 38% from 3 for the 76ers to win this series. If the 76ers lose this series and Harden does not show up, he will forever go down as the "didn't show up in big moments" player.
To The Max
Tyrese Maxey has emerged as the number three option for the 76ers and they will need him to be a consistent scoring option in this series. During the regular season, Maxey averaged, 19.8 points per game while shooting 52% from the floor and 50% from three. Now the 76ers can't expect that same level of efficiency during the playoffs but need Maxey to show up in a major way.
If he is able to knock down the three point shot and be a threat off the dribble. It will free up driving lanes for Harden and post up room for Joel Embiid.
The Other Guy
The Toronto Raptors have so many options when it comes to that person who will show up in big moments. Game one could be the Fred Vanvleet game, game two could be the Pascal Siakam game. Game three could be the Scottie Barnes game. Maybe one of the games, Gary Trent Jr goes off for 30 points like he did in the last regular season match-up between these two. It seems like the Raptors have a plethora of options when it comes to players who will show up in the big moment.
Who will be "the other guy" for the 76ers. The answer should be Tobias Harris. Keys words are in bold there. Harris gets paid like a first, second, or at the least, third option on a great team but is now the fourth option on this team. If Harris and his 35 million dollar salary can show up in a major way, he could be the "x-factor" in this series.
Harris has not played bad this season, in fact, he has been very efficient, shooting 48% from the field and 40% from three point range since James Harden joined the team. In this series though, they will need more from him if they want to win. If Harden has an off day, can the 76ers run their offense through Harris in critical moments. They will need this from him.
This will be a hard fought series, full of low scoring games. Joel Embiid will ultimately be too much for the Raptors to contain in this series as he will average 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Embiid will lead the 76ers over the Raptors in a classic seven game series.