The Toronto Raptors have struggled to stay healthy the past few seasons, with COVID-absences and health issues alike forcing players in and out of the lineup. This year was no different, but it finally seemed as if they were getting everyone back at the right time.
Toronto entered Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers with a completely healthy lineup, but it only took 48 minutes for the tide to turn.
On top of the blowout loss; the Raptors most promising youngster and key piece all season long, Scottie Barnes was forced to leave after being stepped on by Joel Embiid, while Thaddeus Young was also placed on the injury report with a thumb hyperextension. To make matters even worse, Gary Trent Jr. was listed as doubtful ahead of Game 2 due to a non-COVID related illness, putting a lot of pressure on a team that is already severely lacking in depth.
As of Monday afternoon, Barnes has been officially listed as out while Young and Trent Jr. are listed as doubtful, making it a massive surprise if either suits up for Game 2.
Assuming all three players are absent, the Raptors are going to need a bit of a miracle performance to return home with the series tied at 1. As much as they love postionless basketball, the Raptors don’t have much depth at guard, and so the injury to Trent Jr. will likely mean an increase in minutes for one of Armoni Brooks, Malachi Flynn or Dalano Banton. With no disrespect to any of the players mentioned, this is an extremely difficult spot for them to come in and make an impact.
The depth at forward is shot as well, as Khem Birch will have to slot into the starting 5 with the injury to Barnes. Chris Boucher will be one of the biggest X-factors in Game 2 with the absence of Young, as he’ll have to be the biggest impact bench player if the Raptors want to steal one on the road.
The odds are stacked against them, but this Raptors team has played some of their best basketball with their backs against the wall. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam specifically are going to have to step up in Game 2; this is their team and this is the sort of game where that duo may have to drag the whole unit across the finish line. Nick Nurse will no doubt have tweaked the game plan heading into Monday night, although as he mentioned post-game, a few of the issues in Game 1 were out of the team’s control.
“If we’re legal defensively, then we’ve got to [get calls from the ref] or we don’t have a chance, period.”. said a frustrated Nurse after Saturday’s loss. “Nobody can guard [Embiid] if they’re just gonna let him run you over time and time again.”.
The officiating was frustrating, and on the whole the Raptors were dominated physically.
Toronto will have to provide another shock to the NBA world on Monday in a hostile environment down three players. Maybe even more important than the win is getting players back healthy, because the series isn’t over if you head home down 2-0.
There’s lots of time left, and it’s going to come down to how the Raptors can handle adversity. Nurse’s men have done it time and time again, so what’s one more time on the league’s biggest stage.