The Toronto Raptors were almost eliminated this weekend. Trailing a divisional rival in the Philadelphia 76ers 3-0, Toronto won town straight after the return of rookie sensation and Rookie of the Year winner Scottie Barnes. This win came without Fred VanVleet, who sat out due to an injury
Barnes, returning after a two-game hiatus after Joel Embiid fell on his ankle, proved how valuable he can be as an on-ball defender. His defensive efforts along with his teammates are stifling Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey and James Harden in these last two games.
Maxey was all set to be the breakout star of this series after scoring 38 points in Game 1 and 80 points total through the first three games. However, he has been limited to 23 points in Games 4 and 5. Barnes playing more as a point guard has helped shut down
The Raptors are the 14th team in NBA history to force a game six after falling behind 3-0 in a seven-game series. So what has caused the sudden shift in this series that looked over a few days ago? Is it that Barnes and OG Anunoby’s perimeter defense has made it tougher for Philly’s backcourt to get hot?
Scottie Barnes’ defense has saved the Toronto Raptors.
While it’s too early to deem VanVleet a Ewing Theory candidate, the results are telling in that Toronto’s best-sustained defensive efforts in this series have come without the All-Defensive performer in the fold. Maxey is too quick for a hobbled VanVleet to consistently lockdown.
Toronto probably should have won Game 3 in regulation, but with Vanvleet contributing just 55 points, he hasn’t helped the cause. Toronto shot over 50% for the first time in the series without VanVleet. The Raptors scored 56 points in the paint, forced 15 turnovers, and procured eight steals in Game 5.
It would seem Toronto is better at moving the ball without VanVleet, as they recorded 24 assists on 42 made field goals. They were more active defensively. clogging passing lanes and pressuring Maxey and Harden with their oversized, long lineups.
VanVleet’s Game 2 stats are telling, mostly about his health. He shot a mere 5-16 from deep and 7-23 overall for the game while he did have seven assists. In Game 1, Toronto also only forced three turnovers.
With VanVleet nursing a hip pointer injury, the Raptors’ long wing players are harassing Philadelphia’s ball handlers and defending like they were before the postseason began. Barnes is a huge part of what the Raptors want to do defensively. His continued good health is a necessity for Toronto to have any shot at taking this first-round series.
VanVleet’s absence opens the door for his teammates to step up. If the Raptors can recover and somehow do the impossible by winning this series, their jumbo-small ball lineup will have proven itself a viable style of basketball once again.