TORONTO — Toronto Raptors All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet will not play Thursday in Game 6 of his team’s first-round playoff series against the 76ers because of a hip strain, coach Nick Nurse said during his pregame news conference.
In some ways, though, playing without VanVleet has benefitted the Raptors in matchups with the Sixers. Toronto has beaten the Sixers in four of the five regular season and playoff games that VanVleet was out or left early. VanVleet’s absence can shift Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes to point guard, and gives the Raptors more length to switch defensively with essentially every rotation player except Gary Trent Jr.
Following the Sixers’ shootaround, coach Doc Rivers and second-year point Tyree Maxey emphasized the importance of dribble penetration against those defenders who are rangy but not as tall while protecting the rim.
“You’ve just got to go [downhill],” Maxey said. “ ... If you can get in there and create for others and create for yourself, then it causes havoc. That’s kind of what I saw. In Games 1 and 2, I kind of just went and my mind was determined I was going to get in there and create for myself and create for my teammates.
“Even Game 3, I kind of got away from it a little bit and, like I said, we just got to go in there and attack them in every single aspect of the game.”
VanVleet has averaged 13.8 points on 35.2% shooting, 6.3 assists, and 3.0 rebounds in his four games played in the series. He was named an All-Star for the first time in his career after averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 40.3% from the field and 37.7% from three-point range during the regular season.
Korkmaz minutes possible?
Furkan Korkmaz has not been part of the Sixers’ rotation during the series’ first five games, even in road matchups played without the unvaccinated Matisse Thybulle. Yet Rivers has alluded multiple times in recent days that it’s possible Korkmaz could receive minutes, either against the Raptors or in the next round should the Sixers advance to face the Miami Heat.
“We practiced with Furk on the floor [Wednesday], just like we did [before the] last game,” Rivers said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that when we get to the game that it’s going to happen. We just don’t know yet. … If you came here before practice and watched Furk work, you would think he was starting in the way he’s approaching the job. From a coach, man, that’s all you need.
“You need guys to keep staying engaged, and I think Furk is doing an amazing job of doing that. So I’m very happy with that. Now, whether he plays or not, you’ll find that out [Thursday night].”
Korkmaz is in the midst of the worst shooting season of his career, connecting on just 38.7% of his field goals and 29.8% of his three-pointers. He made his only shot in six total minutes of this series’ first five games, a late three-pointer in Game 5 after the Sixers had emptied the bench.
Embiid continues to play through thumb injury
Sixers MVP finalist Joel Embiid acknowledged he tried to “protect” the torn ligament in his right thumb during Monday’s Game 5 loss, saying, “Before I even attack or if I get the ball, it’s almost like I’m not playing freely. I’m like, ‘Well, if I do this, I might get hit or I might get hurt.’
“Mentally, I’ve just got to get out at that,” Embiid added, “and I guess hope for the best and just be myself and not think about which move can put me in a bad position.”
In the two days since, Rivers said he has not “paid much attention” to how Embiid has continued to work through learning how to play with the injury. The coach expects Embiid’s pain will “come and go at times,” but hopes the big man can remain a multi-faceted offensive player who scores down low, hits mid-range shots off the dribble, and launches the occasional three-pointer.
“I want him all over the floor,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to change the way Joel Embiid plays. That would be a little [bit of an overreaction]. I think the other team would love that. …
“It’s just different with everybody. You just have to let him play. He’ll tell us more [about how he’s feeling] than we’ll tell him.”
Entering Thursday’s Game 6, Embiid had averaged 20.5 points on 45.2% shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the two full outings since the injury occurred.