Philadelphia 76ers vs Toronto Raptors 1st Round Prediction: Will Defense Win?

The Toronto Raptors travel to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers in the First Round of the Playoffs for the Eastern Conference. Gray Gutfreund breaks down the game and shares his picks.
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Philadelphia 76ers vs Toronto Raptors 1st Round Prediction: Will Defense Win?

The NBA postseason is gearing up to offer us one of the most entertaining first rounds we've ever seen. Without many clear-cut favorites around the league this season, there is currently a ton of parity within the association, especially in the Eastern Conference.

The 4-5 matchup will be between the Philadelphia 76ers (51-31) and the Toronto Raptors (48-34). A matchup with Toronto was seemingly dreaded by each of the top four teams in the East, and Philadelphia finished the season as the unlucky group that has to face the Raps. Thanks to their coaching, defense, and playoff experience, Toronto is set up nicely to pull off an upset against the Sixers. Let's jump into the picks.

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Series Winner: Toronto Raptors (+160) (Bet $100 to win $160)

Series Correct Score: Toronto Raptors 4-2 (+500) (Bet $100 to win $500)

*Odds Available at Caesar's and FanDuel at Time of Publishing*

I absolutely love getting the Raptors at big-time plus-money in this series. The boys up North match up quite well with the Sixers, and it all starts with their defensive versatility and ability to force mismatches.

Toronto is entering the postseason fully healthy, which is huge for their chances to make a legitimate run. Their starting five - Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam - has been lethal when sharing the court this season. Since January 1st, this group is 15-3 together. Overall, the Raps went 33-17 in the 2022 calendar year, good for the league's 6th best record during this stretch.

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One thing you may notice about the team's rotation is the similarity in height among all of their rotation players. Of Toronto's top nine players, eight of them are between 6'5" and 6'9" with VanVleet coming as the only exception. This is perfect for playing the Sixers, specifically.

James Harden appears to have lost a step athletically and has recently struggled immensely against long, rangy defenders. Between Trent Jr., Barnes, and others, that's all he'll see in this series. Let's take a look at his two games vs. Toronto since arriving in Philly:

  • 3/12 FG, 13 Points, Raptors win 119-114
  • 5/12 FG, 17 Points, Raptors win 93-88

That's right. Toronto is 2-0 vs. Philly since the Harden trade and 3-1 in the season series. Now, you may be asking, "what about Joel Embiid?" Embiid is excellent. But, he's had some issues of his own against the Raptors in the past. Let's look at his numbers in six games against the Raptors since last season compared to the rest of the league ...

  • vs. NBA (119 games): 29.7 PPG (32.7 per 36 min), 50.5% FG, 37.3% 3PT
  • vs. Toronto (6 games): 26.5 PPG (26.2 per 36 min), 39.8% FG, 25.0% 3PT

Head Coach Nick Nurse is arguably the association's best defensive mastermind right now, and his genius will be on full display in this series. Harden closed the season averaging just 20.5 PPG on 38.0% FG shooting over his final 15 games. And, if he's going to struggle like that in this series (which seems quite likely), the Sixers will need colossal performances out of Embiid. However, with Nick Nurse laying the groundwork for a game plan to stop the All-NBA big man, it would come as a surprise to see Embiid dominate the Raptors.

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And, if all of that doesn't entice you on the prospects of a Toronto series win, add in Matisse Thybulle's partial absence. Thybulle played nearly 30 minutes per game as a regular starter for Philly this season, but he'll be unavailable for Games 3, 4, and 6 (if necessary) in this series. This will undoubtedly lead to a heavy reliance on 34-year-old Danny Green, who could be asked to play upwards of 36 minutes in these games. Philly's rotation is extraordinarily thin, while Toronto has dozens of lineup combinations they can throw onto the court over the next couple of weeks.

With more shot creators, more defensive versatility, and a significantly better coach, the Raptors are my pick to move on to Round 2. And, at +500, there is some great value on sprinkling some cash on Toronto to win the series in 6 games. The Raptors have three NBA champions in their starting lineup, so don't doubt the pedigree of this roster.

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Gray is a massive New York sports fan, and is an NBA & NFL oracle. He’s a passionate writer with a strong background in statistics, and loves putting out player props! You can follow him on Twitter @PropBetGuru.

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