The Philadelphia 76ers finished the 2021-22 regular season with a record of 51-31 and ended in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. It was a long and eventful season highlighted by Joel Embiid winning the scoring title and a mid-season trade to secure James Harden. It now feels as if the slates have been wiped clean as the Sixers will enter the postseason with their championship goals still up for grabs. Philly will face off with the Toronto Raptors in the first round as the win-or-go-home mentality must begin now.
Who are the Raptors
The Toronto Raptors had a much improved 2021-22 season after making the return to Toronto for the full season. They posted a regular-season record of 48-34 and have shown some impressive flashes throughout the season- especially of late. The Raptors will be far from a walk-through as they are loaded with long and athletic wing players and coached by one of the best basketball minds in the sport, Nick Nurse.
Toronto has done quite the impressive job creating an organizational identity and finding guys that fit their scheme. Their playstyle is highlighted by their defensive switchability and positionless basketball. 11 out of the 17 rostered players on the Raptors are between 6’7 and 6’9, while no players are taller than 6’9. They change defensive schemes often and utilize the long wingspans of many of their players to disrupt passing lanes.
The Raptors and 76ers have faced off four times already this season, with Toronto coming out on top in three of the four matchups. It is an entirely different team than the one that knocked the Sixers out of the playoffs during the 2019 playoffs. Still, some of the same concerns remain. Nick Nurse has been known to scheme up some of the most effective defensive schemes to match up with Joel Embiid.
How Matisse Thybulle’s Status Affects the 76ers
One of the largest storylines heading into the matchup is the status of Matisse Thybulle, who is ineligible to enter Canada due to him not being fully vaccinated. Thybulle opened up about his decision following the final regular-season game, which I encourage everyone to check out, but the bottom line is this status will not change ahead of the playoffs, and he will miss at least two (and likely three) games in the opening series.
Regardless of your thoughts on the subject, it is clear the absence of Thybulle will be a challenge for the Sixers. The 24-year-old has started 50 games for the Philadelphia 76ers this season and has become a valuable part of the team. The Washington product is the Sixers’ best perimeter defender and likely their best overall athlete on the roster. Facing a team loaded with athletic wings, Thybulle’s absence is not one that will go unnoticed. Danny Green will move into the final spot in the starting lineup, as he already comfortably has, but Thybulle’s absence will likely mean the 76ers will need to count on limited minutes from Isaiah Joe, Furkan Korkmaz, or Shake Milton against the Raptors.
On the one hand, this likely isn’t a series that Thybulle would play major minutes due to the spacing issues he brings on. On the other hand, being without a key rotational piece for all away games against the Raptors is an additional hurdle for which the 76ers did not appear to be braced. The absence of Danny Green was greatly felt during the Hawks series last year as he missed time with a strained calf, and heading into this postseason shorthanded by any means is disappointing.
The line for the Sixers to win the series has shifted a little bit already, but they are currently -185 favorites to win the series on Draftkings. The Philadelphia 76ers are favored by 4 points and -200 on the Moneyline for the opening matchup.
This is not a matchup that the 76ers will be able to walk through by any means. The Raptors are almost certain to out-hustle Philadelphia for just about every loose ball and expose the lack of athleticism on the Sixers roster. It is set to be a bloodbath with a high level of physicality and is sure to be an exciting series.
At its core, the NBA is still a star-driven league, so the 76ers should feel confident that Joel Embiid is by far the best player in the series. Fred VanVleet has had a very impressive past few seasons, but James Harden likely is considered the second biggest star in the matchup. Whether the depth and athleticism of the Raptors will be too troublesome is still to be seen.