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Is there a way to a series win without a healthy Raptors roster

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The Raptors are bloodied and hurt, refusing to concede anything as they go home 2-0 in a series they’re still looking for a game they were in after the first quarter.

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What you won’t hear is someone throwing in the towel.

It’s not in their nature. That said, through two games, you have to squint pretty hard to find a path to the successful conclusion to this series the Raptors want.

This is not a diss of this team. It’s the reality of being a team that’s down Scottie Barnes, still hasn’t seen a performance from Gary Trent Jr. at anything near health and unsure if that will happen, and one that started the series knowing full well that they had to be near perfect 1-9 or 1-8 in their rotation to move forward with everyone healthy.

After Game 1, the feeling was that the Raptors weren’t close to themselves. They didn’t turn the Sixers around at all, a vital part of their regular-season success. They’ve been badly passed, even on the offensive boards where this team has been dominating their competition all year. And worst of all, they lost the physical battle by a wide margin, which is certain death for a team that must work and outplay their opponents to win.

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Game 2 was much better in all of these aspects. The Raptors have re-established themselves as the best team on the offensive boards. They generated more turnovers than their opponents and put Embiid on his back enough times to hurt the big man’s feelings.

So much so that Embiid felt the need to speak with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse as the clock ran out.

On the surface, all of these things are positive for the Raptors until you remember they lost Game 2 by 15 points again.

So where does that leave things?

As Fred VanVleet pointed out after the game, there are no new bodies coming in to save the day.

So it’s on people like VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher who have to find a way to get the job done.

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The problem is how.

VanVleet, as the leader of this team, put the blame squarely on himself.

“Certainly I have to be better myself,” VanVleet said. “I take full responsibility.

I think if I play a little better in those two games, I think we have a better chance of succeeding. Again, watch the tape, see how I can be better as the leader of this team, and see how I can help these guys.

VanVleet was at his elite best in that first quarter of Game 2 playing the full 12 minutes of the frame.
Offensively, he led the team with 15 points, making four of his six three-point attempts while defensively, he put cover on Game 1 star Tyrese Maxey who went scoreless in just over 10 minutes, although he managed three assists.

VanVleet only turned the ball over once but had two interceptions to make up for it. He was close to perfect for 12 minutes and his team had a point lead.

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That’s the Raptors’ margin of error right now without Barnes and with Trent Jr. valiantly trying to play through illness but unable to make an impact.

VanVleet’s second quarter was the opposite of his first. He made just one of his nine shots missing all six from range while Maxey went for a quarter-best 11.

Philly edged Toronto by 16 in the quarter and the Sixers never looked back.

Embiid, the ultimate difference maker in this series hasn’t scored a single point this term. He managed an offensive rebound and three under his own basket, but otherwise he was not a factor. And Philly owned the neighborhood.

Embiid would finish with a record 31 and 11 boards, but the game’s turning point happened without him.

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Maybe the approach is just to let the big man have his. Maybe take some of that defensive capital thrown at him in waves and sprinkle it everywhere else like on James Harden or Tobias Harris or yes, Maxey.

Embiid still scored 21 of his 50-point total over two games from the line.

Maybe a little less focused attention on that one is the answer.

And yes, we know how hopeless that suggestion sounds, but at this point, is it worse than continuing to do the same thing that didn’t produce anything you hoped for?

There is some optimism that home court and the benefits it brings can sway this series a bit more in the direction of Toronto.

Toronto was itching for that kind of opportunity after being denied two straight years of pandemic basketball.

We have no doubt the fanbase will rise to the occasion, as they have throughout this momentous run of 2019.

But can this advantage they give the Raptors compensate for the loss of Scottie Barnes and potentially another game without the impact of Gary Trent Jr?

This extremely thin margin of error is barely recognizable to the naked eye.

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