The Raptors show a characteristic fighting spirit to stay alive in the series against the 76ers

The biggest win for the Toronto Raptors came before the ball went up, when Scottie Barnes walked to center court at Scotiabank Arena, receiving the NBA Rookie of the Year award from the Toronto Raptors president. , Masai Ujiri, and held the trophy aloft for the crowd.

“Scottie, Scottie, Scottie,” came the chant.

It won’t be the last time in his career that Barnes hears his name rain down from the rafters of the Scotiabank Arena. And it’s easy to imagine much more, like “MVP, MVP, MVP.”

All on time.

But for now, Barnes and the Raptors can keep fighting what has always been an impossible fight, but hey, there has to be a first, as the Raptors hope to become the only team in NBA history to bounce back from a 3- 0 in 144 attempts.

Barnes played but was limited by his lame ankle, while Fred VanVleet’s availability in the series is in question after he left the game early in the second quarter with a hip strain.

The Raptors overcame it all in a hard-fought 110-102 victory that extended their best-of-seven first-round series with the fourth-seeded Sixers to a Game 5 on Monday night in Philadelphia.

The hope is that Barnes’ ankle will be much better by then, though VanVleet’s condition has to be a concern.

Meanwhile, the Raptors simply fought, almost literally at times when both Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby skirmished with Sixers star Joel Embiid, who was clearly shaken by what he believed was an overly physical approach on the part of the Raptors. Raptors and there was not enough support. the referees

The Raptors certainly saw it differently and will try to replicate his annoying, harassing style that their long, aggressive wingback lineups are so well suited for.

Toronto was led by Siakam, who brushed off questions about a below-par Game 3 outing with a determined and grounded 34-point performance in Game 4. He got to the free throw line 15 times after failing to earning a single free throw attempt in Game 3. His three-point play early in the fourth quarter followed by a steal and a layup by Precious Achiuwa gave Toronto a seven-point lead with 9:11 remaining. From there, Siakam worked his way up the line seven times. He also assisted on a key 3-pointer by Anunoby that put Toronto up 12 with 3:44 left, giving the Raptors some breathing room in a game that offered little opportunity to relax.

The Raptors won despite shooting just 42 percent from the floor and 8-for-34 from 3 because they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to the Sixers’ six and had just 11 turnovers to Philly’s 15. The Sixers were led by Embiid, who scored just 21 points, nine below his season average, while Trent Jr. had 24 for Toronto.

In a way, it was fitting that with their season on the line, the Raptors doubled down on the positionless approach they’ve been experimenting with all season. With VanVleet having to sit out the second half and Barnes limited with his ankle, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse assembled a lineup of five 6-foot-9 (give or take) wings in Siakam, Achiuwa, Thad Young , Anunoby and Chris Boucher. The only adjustment down the stretch came when Nurse traded Trent Jr. for Boucher.

But regardless of the outcome of the series, Barnes’ progress has been the continuing success story for Toronto, which was able to recruit him after its so-called Tampa Tank, its response to the 2020-21 season pandemic.

The 20-year-old from West Palm Beach, Florida became the third Raptor to win rookie of the year and he did so in remarkable fashion, winning the closest vote in 20 years over the Cleveland Cavaliers forward. Evan Mobley by only 15 points. Barnes got 48 first place votes to 43 for Mobley out of 100 ballots cast. Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham was third. Barnes was fourth overall while Mobley and Cunningham were third and first, respectively, as part of one of the deepest rookie classes in years.

Barnes earned the award thanks to its combination of versatility and durability. He averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.08 steals and 0.74 blocks in 35.4 minutes in 74 games, leading all rookies in minutes, third in points and rebounds and fifth in assists, steals and blocks.

“We are incredibly proud of Scottie and are excited and grateful that his hard work has been recognized with this honor,” Toronto Raptors vice president and president Masai Ujiri said in a statement. “What you see on the court is exactly who Scottie is: enthusiastic. Cheerful. Athletic. Skillful, and a winner. We, and our fans, love seeing him develop throughout this season, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

We already know he has heart as he refused to face the prospect of ending his decorated rookie season on the bench, watching. He wasn’t at his best athletically and buoyantly on Saturday afternoon, but he found a way to contribute and that he wanted it so badly is perhaps the most important lesson of all.

Barnes’ availability has been a constant question since he had to leave Game 1 after 32 minutes when Embiid stepped on the inside of the rookie’s left ankle and badly inverted it. There were a few early games with the Raptors that kept listing Barnes as possibly available even when he was wearing a walking boot the morning of Game 2, for example. Even on Friday, Nurse said Barnes’ return for Game 4 a week after his injury was unlikely.

But Barnes looked good in his pregame warmup and was cleared to play without restrictions. He came off the bench for the first time this season when Nurse opted to start Khem Birch against Embiid, but Barnes spoke to a standing ovation midway through the first period and it seemed like he had never been hurt. He picked up Harden all the way up the floor, seamlessly traded for Embiid and, offensively, instantly became the extra set of hands the Raptors needed: someone to take some weight off VanVleet and Siakam. There was an early scare when Barnes hit his ankle with the foot of Sixers forward Paul Reed and he fell to the ground in pain, but after testing it during a timeout, Barnes continued.

Coincidence or not, Siakam had his best quarter of the series when he scored 10 points on five shots early as the Raptors played Philadelphia tied, 24-24, through the first 12 minutes. Siakam and Barnes weren’t the only ones making an early push. Veteran Thad Young has been playing through a sprained thumb on his shooting hand, but he felt well enough to score four quick points late in the first quarter, including knocking Embiid down with a rough dribble across his path. towards the eight points of the first half. It was a rough first half for Embiid, who was playing with a sprained right thumb and missed his first five shots and didn’t begin to show signs of life until he had a couple of runs late in the second quarter. The Raptors, meanwhile, had opened up a 12-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the first half after Trent Jr. hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter before the Sixers pulled it back a bit as the Raptors led 54- 49 to start. the third trimester.

But the Raptors’ biggest short-term concern was the health of VanVleet, who played only three minutes in the second quarter, when he tore his jersey across his chest in frustration after apparently twisting his left hip in a seemingly innocuous move. He was tested at halftime and did not return for the third quarter, with Barnes joining the starting lineup along with Achiuwa.

He made a difficult task that much more difficult, even if VanVleet had made just four 3-pointers in his previous 23 attempts and struggled extensively offensively, his presence creates much-needed floor space for the Raptors and is key to their ability to create turnovers. ball defensively with ability to generate. steals and deflections at the best rates in the league.

The Raptors moved on. 3-pointers from Young and Boucher helped the Raptors’ offense keep things moving even without VanVleet and with Barnes limited mainly to moving the ball and blocking. Embiid came alive, doubling his first-half point total with eight points in the third, but somehow Toronto was able to take an 80-77 lead in the fourth quarter.

Their prized rookie was on their bench and their point guard was in the practice room, but somehow the Raptors extended the series and at least gave themselves a chance to do something special.

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