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Matisse Thybulle’s absence — and unvaccinated status — came as no surprise to the Sixers | Keith Pompey

Danny Green, who replaced Thybulle on Thursday, said: "We were just like, ‘We know we might play this team in the playoffs. So what do you think? You know we respect your values.‘”

Matisse Thybulle is unvaccinated and will miss the Sixers' game against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday after being ruled ineligible to play.
Matisse Thybulle is unvaccinated and will miss the Sixers' game against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday after being ruled ineligible to play.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

TORONTO — Matisse Thybulle missed the biggest game of the 76ers’ season thus far. The team’s best perimeter defender is not seriously injured or recovering from surgery or dealing with an expired passport.

He was unable to accompany his teammates to Canada for Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

But while many were surprised by his absence, this possible scenario is far from surprising to Thybulle and the Sixers. As of Jan. 15, players need to be fully vaccinated to the enter Canada. The Sixers had discussions about that keeping from playing in some games in potential playoff series with the Raptors.

“We mentioned a lot of us benefit, me and [reserve swingman Fukan Korkmaz] probably benefit [from his absence], but it’s not about that,” Danny Green said. “We want to win. We know we’re better with you. We were just like, ‘We know we might play this team in the playoffs. So what do you think? You know we respect your values.‘”

But the Sixers wanted Thybulle to weigh his options and consider every angle.

“‘If you still made this decision [to remain unvaccinated], we respect it,’” Green said to Thybulle.

» READ MORE: Thybulle ruled ineligible to play road game against the Raptors

Thybulle, a member of the Australian national basketball team, thought about getting vaccinated for the Olympics last summer. It turns out that he didn’t have to be vaccinated to compete in the Olympics.

The Sixers consider this situation somewhat similar. Teammates have stressed to Thybulle, “‘Whatever your decision is, we are going to support you regardless,’” Green said.

Korkmaz added: “Of course, as a friend, I want to see him play. But this is his decision that we all respect. … This [vaccinated status] is a sensitive subject, too.”

Whatever Thybulle decides, that’s his right. Yet, it could put the Sixers in a predicament, especially if they lose to Toronto.

The Sixers would have been in a celebratory mood if they recorded a rare regular-season win in this building. But their 119-114 loss decreased their chances of avoiding the Raptors (47-33) in a No. 4 vs. No. 5 first-round playoff matchup.

“We’ll handle that when it comes,” coach Doc Rivers said of Thybulle’s first-round availability. “We don’t know who we are playing yet. We’ll just handle that when it comes.”

Rivers was asked if there’s any optimism that things will be different two weeks from now.

“I won’t even...” he said before stopping in mid-sentence. “We’ll find out in two weeks. We’re just going to handle it when it comes.”

With the loss, the Sixers (49-31) remain in fourth place with two games left. The fifth-place Raptors are two games ahead of the sixth-place Chicago Bulls with two games remaining.

A victory would have elevated the Sixers into third place and set up a potential No. 3 vs. No. 6 first-round matchup with the reeling Bulls (45-35).

If they won, a Sixers team in a fight to avoid the Raptors would have controlled their own destiny in home matchups against the Indiana Pacers (Saturday) and Detroit Pistons (Sunday) to close the season.

That’s why Thybulle’s unvaccinated status could have serious ramifications if the Sixers do face the Raptors in a first-round series. Games 3 and 4 of that series would be in Toronto, possibly beginning two weeks from Wednesday.

Unvaccinated players would have had to receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this week in order to meet Canada’s requirements and be fully vaccinated in time to play every game of a first-round series. For two-dose vaccines, a player must be two weeks past the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated.

» READ MORE: The Sixers’ Doc Rivers responds to coaches who complain about James Harden’s and Joel Embiid’s frequent free throws: ‘Stop fouling them’

Green slid into Thybulle’s place at forward on Thursday, finishing with 18 points while making 6-of-7 three-pointers. This won’t be a tough transition for the 13-year veteran. Green was the full-time starter last season and started in 26 of the 60 games he played this season. And Thursday will be a memorable night for the former Raptor, who was slated to finally receive his 2019 NBA championship before the game.

But there’s a reason Thybulle, 25, supplanted Green, 34, in the starting lineup. And it’s the same reason the Sixers could be doomed if he’s not available against the Raptors in road playoff games.

Thybulle is one of the league’s premier defenders. He’s had success guarding four positions. The third-year player is third in the league in deflections (3.9 per game) and fourth in steals (1.8) and total deflections (237). And despite being a reserve last season, Thybulle was a second-team All-Defensive selection.

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid, Sixers call for consistency after another blown lead: ‘We’ve got to learn how to finish’

Aside from Thybulle, the Sixers don’t have any other perimeter players capable of providing stiff resistance to elite scorers, such as Raptors All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet, who is averaging a career-best 20.3 points.

Toronto also has a laundry list of long, athletic players led by Pascal Siakam, who had a game-high 37 points, along with Scottie Barnes, Chris Boucher, and OG Anunoby, which could make matters worse. That’s why losing one of the league’s best defenders for road games would be a problem for the Sixers in the playoffs.

“That’s a huge thing,” Harden said of playing without Thybulle. “He’s our starter. He’s our best defender. So tonight [against the Raptors], I think we got off to really good start. But just to sustain it for an entire game, which is something we are going to have to do.”