Short-handed Raptors tighten grip on fifth with win over Sixers


It was a chance for Nick Nurse to try some stuff, but not stretch his creativity too far. He needed the Raptors to play hard and compete, but it wasn’t the biggest game of the season and he knew it.

So, some stuff was OK.

“Maybe in things we’d like to try defensively that we need to work on, or look at some different schemes and things like that, depending on … how creative I want to be with some of that stuff,” he said.

But not too much stuff.

“I mean, we’ve got a bunch of stuff that we’ve put in that we haven’t used, but that’s not unlike any other season (when) you’re going into the playoffs,” Nurse added. “We think about cracking it out every now and then, but we usually decide against it.

“If you crack it out now, it’s going to get scouted pretty heavily.”

And the last thing any team headed to the post-season wants to do is give possible opponents any fodder, so the Raptors kept things kind of close to the vest in an entertaining 114-109 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.

The win reduces Toronto’s magic number to one over Chicago to clinch fifth place in the East.

The game wasn’t played the highest level of intensity early on, hardly surprising with two games left in the regular season for each team and post-season slots guaranteed.

But when it got close in the final two minutes — the Raptors led by just four with 2:00 on the clock — the emotion and intensity was up. When Scottie Barnes hammered home a dunk to put Toronto up by eight with about 75 seconds left, it was like playoff volume.

Pascal Siakam put on a show with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his second triple-double of the season, almost certainly earning himself a night off when the Raptors wind up the home portion of their schedule Friday night against Houston.

Precious Achiuwa had a career-high five three-pointers — including an audacious pull-up shot in transition that gave Toronto a 10-point fourth-quarter lead — as part of a 20-point night.

Gary Trent Jr. also had 30 for Toronto, and Joel Embiid finished with 30 for the Sixers.

Despite the fact it was Toronto’s 80th game of the season, starters Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby were out and they’d wrapped up a playoff spot Tuesday, the Raptors did what they generally do: fight for an entire game.

They got down 13 points in the first six minutes of the game, when Philadelphia made its first five three-pointers, but grinded it out the rest of the way.

“I hate to get in that mind to say the consequences aren’t that (grave),” Nurse said before the game about the outcome, whatever it would be. “To me, we want to win and we want to play really well, period. I just don’t think you can think that way.

But knowing they’ll open the playoffs on the road in just over a week against a talented opponent regardless of where they finish, the Raptors are not at all focused on finishing fifth or sixth.

“I’m trying to find a reason why it does (matter) other than fifth sounds better than sixth,” Nurse said. “I think there’s so much uncertainty about any of it, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. Doesn’t matter a whole lot.”

The Raptors rested VanVleet and his sore right knee and were also missing Anunoby and Yuta Watanabe, both of whom are chasing Sunday’s season finale in New York as a return date.

The more significant absence was Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle, who was declared “ineligible to play” on Wednesday. Sixers officials would not confirm Thybulle’s COVID-19 vaccination status, but the league will not seek any change to Canadian laws to allow unvaccinated players into the country to face the Raptors, regular season or playoffs.

“As we saw here in New York City, those are city ordinances; in other cases, they’re state,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week. “And in the case of Toronto, there are Canadian issues that we have to comply with.

“Those rules are well known to all players, and for any player who chooses not to get vaccinated, they know they are at risk of not being allowed to play in Toronto. That’s the facts that we’re all going to have to operate under.”


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