The Sixers are just one day away from kicking off their 2022 playoff campaign against a very familiar opponent. The Toronto Raptors will travel across the border for the opening two games of the series, the first of which will be played on Saturday at 6PM EST.
The tale of the tape
The Sixers and Raptors are two very different teams. Philadelphia is all-in on the rightful heir to the MVP Throne, Joel Embiid, and this was evidenced by Morey’s aggressive mid-season trade to land James Harden. The Raptors are a youthful team who have been able to curb a full rebuild by investing in young talents like rookie Scottie Barnes.
The two teams are in very different places compared to when they last played against each other in a postseason contest. The Sixers and Raptors did face off four times in the regular season though, and Philadelphia is a disappointing 1-3 in those games.
As previously noted, this isn’t the first time that these two teams have clashed in the postseason. The most notable occasion was back in 2019 when the Sixers suffered a game 7 heartbreak at the hands of Kawhi Leonard. Toronto would go on to eventually win it all, much to the disappointment of those in Philadelphia. However, the Raptors lost to the Sixers back in the 2001 conference semifinals in a remarkable seven-game series that saw Allen Iverson and Vince Carter at their very best.
What to watch
It’s game one of the postseason and it’s in Philadelphia. There’s going to be a rampant atmosphere in the Wells Fargo Center and rightly so. Only compounding the urgency to make up for the 2019 heartbreak is the fact that when the Sixers venture across the border, they’ll be without Matisse Thybulle due to his vaccination status. They have to make the most of when their premier defender is able to take to the court.
Toronto has a stiff defense, and they’ll need to lean on it if Fred VanVleet’s injury keeps him out of game one. He’s questionable at this time and likely won’t have his status revealed until nearer tip-off. They held the Sixers below 150 points in all four regular-season games and rank second in steals per game. The Raptors also have the 9th best defensive rating in the league, while giving up the fewest points off turnovers of any team. Their task is simple – contain the beast that is Joel Embiid.
As for the Sixers, they’ll be banking on Embiid’s presence opening up the pick-and-roll game and shots from three-point range. Toronto is only hitting 34% of their shots from beyond the arc, while the Sixers rank 7th in the NBA at converting them. If all eyes are drawn to Joel Embiid, it’s only going to open up the floodgates for the Sixers to start firing them in from deep.
Embiid has averaged 26.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in games against Toronto over the last two seasons, per StatMuse. He’s posted above 20 points in five of his last six against them. However, his projected points total for game one is 33.5.
There’s no questioning that Embiid is the heart and soul of the Sixers, the best player in the league, and more than deserving of the MVP award. However, with all that hype comes inflated lines. Toronto are a strong defensive team and while it’s rarely advisable to bet against Joel Embiid, there could be a 7-point safety net of value here.
Both teams play solid defense and it’s hard to imagine Toronto being able to keep up with the Sixers if the pace quickens, especially if Fred VanVleet is absent. Betting the under (216 points) at -110 is probably the smartest move for the opening game.
The Sixers are favored by 4 points against the spread, but given Doc’s inability to close out games, any time you’re banking on the Sixers winning by more than two possessions is terrifying.
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Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire