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Toronto Raptors looking to adjust to 76ers’ physicality

PHILADELPHIA – In Game 1 of their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors got hit in the mouth and now it’s on them to make adjustments and fight back in Game 2 Monday night.

The Raptors took all sorts of blows in Saturday’s 131-111 loss.

There was not too much brotherly love on display in Philadelphia.

From centre Khem Birch’s face absorbing 76ers centre Joel Embiid’s elbow, to veteran forward Thaddeus Young spraining his thumb, to rookie Scottie Barnes injuring his left ankle after Embiid stepped on it, the Raptors got beat up.

“I knew it was going to be physical. Even last game in the regular season was physical,” Birch, who is listed at six-foot-nine and 233 pounds, told reporters on Sunday. “I just feel like we have to be more physical as well.”

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Listed at seven feet and 280 pounds, Embiid is the biggest problem the Raptors face in trying to win a battle of physicality with the 76ers.

However, it’s a battle that must be won if Toronto hopes to survive this best-of-seven series.

“Obviously, he hit a couple of our players and stuff but it’s part of the game,” said six-foot-nine, 200-pound Raptors forward Chris Boucher. “We just gotta be tougher and hit him back.”

During the regular season, the Raptors ranked second in the league with 13.4 offensive rebounds per game, but the Sixers beat them in that department 10-7 in Game 1.

Embiid had four offensive boards alone and grabbed another 11 on the defensive glass, preventing the Raptors from getting extra-shot opportunities. His big body — the space he created with it and the bumps he delivered with it — disrupted Toronto’s strategy.

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“The game plan wasn’t bad, (we) just didn’t execute it to the level we needed to,” said Raptors all-star guard Fred VanVleet. “We were a little soft, a little slow and that’s not a team you want to get behind the 8-ball with (and) let them start feeling good.”

Hurting matters more for Toronto heading into Game 2 is the injury status of the club.

Barnes was confirmed out for Monday’s game the sprained ankle and was in a walking boot at the pre-game shootaround. Young and Gary Trent Jr., (non-COVID illness) were listed as doubtful.

All three are key rotation players and could force the Raptors to find more creative ways to backfill if they’re unable to suit up.

“We’re going to have to be a little fluid with what we’re doing,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, alluding to deeper end-of-bench players like Yuta Watanabe, Dalano Banton, Armoni Brooks and Malachi Flynn who may have to be called upon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2022.

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