The Philadelphia 76ers have successfully defended their home floor in the opening two games of their best-of-seven series against the Toronto Raptors after coming away with a 112-97 victory at Wells Fargo Center on Monday night. Joel Embiid got off to a hot start and continued his dominance throughout the rest of the matchup as he finished the win with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey was great, again, for Philadelphia as well chipping in 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists of his own.
On the other side, OG Anunoby led the charge on the offensive end for the Raptors as he finished with 26 points but inefficient performances from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam hurt Toronto's chances of stealing a game on the road that they desperately needed. Now, the series shifts to Toronto where the Raptors have to hope they enjoy a more favorable outcome than the first two games in Philadelphia provided.
Here are three major takeaways from Game 2.
1. The toll of Toronto's injuries
Toronto didn't have Scottie Barnes in this game. Gary Trent Jr. tried to play, but was fighting an illness that eventually knocked him out as well. Thaddeus Young was initially listed as doubtful with a thumb injury. Oh, and Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby both came into this series at less than 100 percent. This is not a healthy Raptors team.
That's a problem for most coaches, but it's especially dangerous for Nick Nurse, who tends to push his starters as far as they can go. With so few bodies to rely on, Nurse rode a few players past the point of sensibility. VanVleet did not rest once in the first 32 minutes of the game. He left with his team down more than 20 and ultimately played 44 minutes. Pascal Siakam wasn't far behind with 41. Nurse left starters in until the final moments.
This is the playoffs. Players are asked to do more than they otherwise would. But eventually, Toronto's starters are going to hit a breaking point, and these injuries are only pushing them closer to it. It's clear that Nurse doesn't have a backup guard that he trusts, but he's going to have to find one if he's going to keep his best players healthy enough to finish this series.
2. Philly's backup center battle
The last time Philadelphia played Toronto in the playoffs, the Raptors outscored the 76ers by 109 points in the 99 minutes they played without Joel Embiid on the floor. That hasn't quite been the case in this series. Philadelphia is not just holding its own, but actually winning the non-Embiid minutes thus far. Toronto's roster limitations, especially in regards to injuries, are a big reason why, though, and if the 76ers expect to win four rounds, they're going to have to find a way to survive those minutes against better opponents.
Fans have been clamoring for more Paul Reed ever since the Sixers traded Andre Drummond. Doc Rivers suggested before the playoffs that Reed would get his chance against smaller opponents while DeAndre Jordan would be used against bigger ones. Considering how poorly Jordan has played all season (and last season, if we're being honest), Toronto represented a shining opportunity for Reed. The smaller Raptors present the sort of smaller opponent that Rivers wanted to use Reed against, and if he makes the most of these minutes, there would at least be an argument for him to knock Jordan out of the rotation.
Through two games? It's been a mixed bag. Reed has scored just three points across 22 minutes. The Sixers won big in his first stretch tonight, but he was on the floor for a large portion of the run in which Philadelphia's 29-point lead was whittled down to 11. Rivers had to bring Embiid back into a fourth quarter in which it looked like the 76ers wouldn't have to use their starters. Miami is likely looming in the next round, and that means Bam Adebayo. Giannis Antetokounmpo could be waiting for them in the Eastern Conference finals. If Reed is going to take Jordan's job, he's going to have to do it over these next few games.
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3. See you for Game 5?
Availability for Toronto has been a major storyline throughout the first two games, and it likely will be moving forward. However, it's important to note that now, Philadelphia has to deal with a major absence of its own. The unvaccinated Matisse Thybulle is out for Games 3 and 4, and the 76ers appear to have adjusted already. He's played just 29 minutes in the two home games thus far and hasn't looked particularly good in those matchups.
But having Thybulle as a security blanket holds quite a bit of value for Philadelphia. They played Danny Green 38 minutes in Game 2, but they didn't have to. Now, as the scene shifts to Toronto, they're either going to have to keep pushing their 34-year-old shooting guard to hold up over significantly more minutes than he's used to or they're going to have to learn to trust Shake Milton or Furkan Korkmaz a lot more than they do at the moment.
Philly's defense has held up just fine without Thybulle in the first two games of the series. It nosedived in the regular season when he sat. We'll have a much better idea of how badly he's needed after these next two games in Toronto, and even if the 76ers win this series, it will give us a glimpse into how many minutes they'll use him in future matchups.