Scottie Barnes hobbled onto the Wells Fargo Center floor Monday morning wearing a walking boot two days after being carried to the locker room during Game 1 of the 76ers’ first-round series against Barnes’ Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors diagnosed his injury as a left ankle sprain.
Barnes’ team headed into Game 2 Monday night looking to even the series. But the Sixers rolled to a 112-97 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Now, the series heads to Toronto for Games 3 and 4 with Philly up, 2-0, defending home court in the best-of-seven series. The Raptors would’ve loved to have had Barnes, their most versatile player, on the floor.
We’ll find out in the coming days if he’ll be available for the matchups at Scotiabank Arena.
Asked at Monday morning’s shootaround about the timeline for his return, Barnes was unsure.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It might be soon. We will have to see. I don’t know. It’s feeling better, though, each and every day.”
This series still has all the makings of a thriller no matter when Barnes returns.
Cameroon’s two best players, Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam, will continue to square off. At their side, All-Stars James Harden and Fred VanVleet will battle. Tyrese Maxey will have more opportunities to show an international audience why he’s one of the best young guards in the league.
But Barnes’ availability — or lack of it — could change the complexion of the series. Just don’t tell that to Georges Niang.
“Scottie Barnes is a great player for them,” the Sixers reserve power forward said. “But those guys are still going to come in and play as hard as they can. They will still have length off the bench. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong, but we still have to have the small mentality and killer mentality going in there because they’re not going to let up and play any less hard.”
Niang is correct.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse actually challenged his team to bring more physicality in Game 2 after it was manhandled in Game 1. That tactic only worked for about four minutes of game action.
Whether they have other players to step up or not, the Raptors definitely lose a lot without Barnes.
His 74 games played — all starts — were the second most by a Raptor this regular season. He averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 35.4 minutes, which ranked first among all rookies. In the process, he became the first rookie to average at least 15.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists since Luka Dončić in the 2018-19 season.
The Rookie of the Year finalist was the only first-year player in the top five in his draft class in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks (0.74) , and minutes.
And he became the first rookie in franchise history — and the only one in the NBA this season — to record 1,000+ points, 500+ rebounds, and 250+ assists.
Those numbers will be hard to replicate.
Unfortunately, missing a key player is nothing new for the Raptors.
They’ve had several guys in and out of the lineup at different times this season. The Raptors think those absences prepared them for the playoffs.
“It happened all season long,” Siakam said. “A lot of ups and downs and not knowing who we were going to have some nights. Just going through adversity. I think we’ve been through adversity as a team. And we definitely showed that we could bounce back.
“I definitely, again, [know] we can figure it out. And I feel like if it’s a team that can figure it out, it’s us.”
The Raptors want Barnes back as soon as possible. For the time being, though, they’re settling for the next-man-up mentality. But it’ll take more than one player to replace him.
“It might take three guys,” Nurse said. “The first thing I always talk about is he probably plays the backup point for us when Freddie is not in there. So I’ll probably have to use one of the point guards in those minutes for sure. The rebounding, the inside scoring is going to have to shift to our other bigger guys because he scores around the paint, and [gets] in [close to] the basket and gets on the glass. So those minutes shift to Precious [Achiuwa], Khem [Birch], Chris [Boucher] and Thad [Young] … ”
At first, it appeared Matisse Thybulle’s unvaccinated status would give the Raptors the advantage once the series headed to Toronto. Thybulle, the Sixers’ best perimeter defender, is ineligible to play because unvaccinated players are no longer allowed to enter Canada. However, the Raptors would welcome Thybulle to play if they could have Barnes back.
His absence is a huge benefit for Sixers, one the Raptors will be hard pressed to overcome.