Both the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers have opportunities to close out their first-round playoff opponents 4-1 on Tuesday night. If both win, each could rest for a few days before tipping off in the second round against one another in Toronto this weekend.
It’s only natural that the Raptors may be imagining how helpful a break at home could be – especially if the 76ers eliminate the Brooklyn Nets in five and get a rest. It’s easy to thirst after that valuable recuperation time and look right past Game 5 Tuesday night at home against the Orlando Magic.
“You just don’t want to screw around in these series. If you lose this one, you’re back in Orlando, you’re adding miles, adding stress, whatever it is, to your team,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “It does make it important and hopefully we’ll realize that.”
Toronto fans could be forgiven if they’re feeling a little apprehensive about the team closing out a seven-game playoff series in five games. After all, it’s something the Raptors have not yet done in franchise history.
It took the Raptors six games to finish off the Washington Wizards last year and the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017. It took them seven to beat the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in 2016.
“This team, let’s see if they can start their own history tomorrow,” Nurse said. “I’m not trying to be rude in any way, I just want this team to form its identity. What’s happened in the past has no bearing or relevance to what’s happening now, to me. I like to steal [Chicago Cubs manager] Joe Maddon’s line and say ‘we don’t vibrate on those frequencies of the past.’ ”
One of the new Raptors, Danny Green, wasn’t part of those series, but worries about a different challenge.
“The hardest part mentally is not getting too fat and happy or too satisfied because we are up 3-1 and feeling comfortable and being lackadaisical,” Green said. “We still want to have that same sense of urgency we had in Game 2 because we were down 0-1. That is the key. Just keep the mentality: that the job is not done.”
The Raptors no doubt want to keep pace with the other powers in the East, who are moving swiftly through the first round. The No. 4-seeded Boston Celtics already swept the No. 5 Indiana Pacers out of the postseason on Sunday, and the top-seeded Bucks are calmly taking apart the No. 8 Detroit Pistons.
The Raptors have shown a sharp increase in their intensity the past three games – especially on defence. And the chemistry is increasing between starters who didn’t get a lot of time together during the regular season because of injuries and roster changes.
“In Games 2, 3 and 4, we’ve gone out there and really guarded,” Nurse said. “That is who we are, are becoming, need to become, need to be each and every minute of each and every game.”
Although both the Raps and Sixers appear poised to close out, anything in happen in either of their series. The 76ers-Nets series early on looked like it could be a possible upset by Brooklyn. It has also featured some spicy talk between Nets agitator Jared Dudley and Sixers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Magic stunned the Raptors at home in Game 1, and yearn to keep alive their first playoff appearance since 2012.
The game will be part of a big night for Toronto sports. Aside from the sold-out crowd inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, there will be thousands more outside for a combined viewing party for both the Raptors game and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ deciding Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
“We wanna finish it at the house,” said Raptors star Pascal Siakam. “That’s our objective and we go out there with that and knowing that we could definitely use some rest, for sure.”