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Pascal Siakam Saves the Raptors From a Sweep

Five thoughts on Toronto avoiding a 76ers sweep at home.

Pascal Siakam made sure the Raptors were not swept on their home floor. Toronto’s All-Star forward went for a game-high 34 points in a 110–102 victory over the 76ers on Saturday. The Raptors led for the entirety of the second half and denied a few Philadelphia comeback bids led by Joel Embiid, who had an uncharacteristic off game, and James Harden, whose shooting struggles continued (5-for-17). Here are five thoughts on Game 4.

‘It’s Not 3–0 Anymore’

Toronto coach Nick Nurse noted before his team took the court on Saturday that if the Raptors won to bring the series score to 3–1, it wouldn’t be 3–0 anymore, offering a rosy outlook on a deficit that no team in NBA history has overcome. After his team broke through with a 110–102 win Saturday afternoon to force a Game 5 Monday, Nurse said, “It’s not 3–0 anymore. Let’s go have some fun in Philly and see what we can do.” 

76ers coach Doc Rivers has been on the wrong side of a trio of 3-1 comebacks in his career. Philadelphia still has three opportunities (two at home) to close out Toronto. After a 20-point loss in Game 1, the Raptors drew closer in each of the next two games before breaking through with a win Saturday. And Embiid’s apparent thumb injury could end up prolonging this series even further.

Pascal Siakam Raptors

Siakam Stepped Up

Siakam was the best player on the court for the 44 minutes he played in Game 4. His 34 points set a new playoff career-high and were more than he scored in the previous two games combined. After not attempting a free throw in Game 3, Siakam got to the line at will and connected on 13 of 15 opportunities. His aggression inside helped Toronto attempt more free throws (35) than Philadelphia (25) for the first time in the series. With Fred VanVleet missing much of the game and Scottie Barnes not at 100%, Toronto desperately needed a career game from Siakam and it got one.

Toronto’s Bench Production a Welcome Surprise

Nurse is known to play his tight rotation big minutes—Siakam and VanVleet were No. 1 and 2 in minutes per game during the regular season. He was forced to dip into his rotation in Game 4 and was rewarded with a series-high 36 bench points. 

Barnes came off the bench the same day he was announced as Rookie of the Year and he scored six points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa both played bothersome defense on Embiid and saw some shots fall on the other end of the court. 

But the real sixth man for Toronto was Thaddeus Young. The veteran had scored four points in 20 combined minutes in the first three games before tossing up 13 points, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and one nasty stepback that sent Embiid to the floor. If the Raptors are to send the series back to Toronto, they need similar production from their reserves.

Raptors Overcome Injuries

Toronto’s difficult draw against Philadelphia has only been worsened by a slew of injuries to its impact players. 

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VanVleet left early with a hip injury—he was visibly upset when he came out of the game and ripped his jersey while walking to the locker room. He was limited to 15 minutes and managed only five points while he was on the floor. 

Barnes returned to the lineup for Game 4 after missing the previous two, though he played 26 minutes and appeared to reinjure himself. 

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And Gary Trent Jr., whose play was hampered by a non-COVID illness in the first two games in Philly, played inspired basketball in the two games in Toronto, scoring 24 for the second straight game. 

Gutsy play from Barnes and Trent and some surprise production from the bench allowed Toronto to muster a win despite its injuries, but the team would be much better off heading back to Philadelphia with VanVleet and Co. as close to 100% as possible.

Embiid’s Thumb a Concern

The longer this series goes on, the less time Embiid has to heal his injured right thumb, which he will reportedly get an MRI on. Had the 76ers closed out the Raptors, Embiid would have had around a week to recover before a series against the Heat or Hawks. But Toronto forced at least one more game and that’s at least another 30-plus minutes that Philadelphia’s big man will be banging around in the paint with a finger injury that was clearly bothering him. 

A few sets of late free throws allowed Embiid to cross the 20-point threshold, but this was his worst game of the series. He had five turnovers, grabbed just eight rebounds and his frustration boiled over in the fourth quarter when he was hit with a technical foul for a push on Siakam. The 76ers go as their back-to-back MVP finalist does and he did not look like himself Saturday. 

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