Nick Nurse perfectly sums up vibe for Raptors-76ers playoff series

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 06: Scottie Barnes #4 listens to head coach Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 06: Scottie Barnes #4 listens to head coach Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors have surpassed every expectation laid out before them this season, winning 48 games and earning the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their reward for their excellent regular season is a playoff confrontation with the rival Philadelphia 76ers.

While the Raptors have beaten Philly three times in four regular-season appearances (and only lost when they played multiple 10-day contract players due to COVID-19), beating Joel Embiid and the middling James Harden four times in seven games with the season on the line is going to be much easier said than done.

The Raptors are going to lean on their star performers in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, but the real matchup that will determine this series is how well Embiid and Harden perform against Toronto’s versatile, chaotic defense. Nurse knows that physicality and unified play will decide who comes out on top.

Nurse was quoted as saying that this series will be a “slugfest” due to the physical nature of both teams. Be in Embiid trying to go to work in the post or Toronto throwing an avalanche of forwards at Doc Rivers, this is going to be some scrappy, intense basketball.

The Toronto Raptors will be in for a physical series against the 76ers.

On one hand, Philly seems like a tough matchup for Toronto given Embiid’s dominance and James Harden’s scoring pedigree. However, due to Nurse’s history of defending Embiid well and Toronto’s unusual roster construction, the Raptors have fared well against the 76ers.

Not only has Embiid shot 38% from the field in his last two games against Toronto, but James Harden hasn’t had a 30-point game against a Nurse defense since the title-winning season in 2019. When that defense is paired with standout performances from reserves like Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher, Toronto might take home a series win.

The Raptors, as confirmed by Doc Rivers, are a team that is comfortable in who they are and how they play. While the lack of amazing shooting can come back to bite them, Nurse’s unique approach to the game is so confusing for opponents that it often gives the Raptors a leg up.

Slowing down Embiid, forcing Harden into some bad turnovers, and making sure Philly’s bench is held in check is no easy task. It will take a completely unified effort and maximum effort to pull off the upset, and setting the tone from a physical point of view is a box they simply must check.

Next. 3 Raptors who will be key to defeating 76ers. dark