Sixers vs. Raptors Game 5: Storylines to watch with Fred VanVleet out

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VanVleet out, 'dirty plays' discussion, more on Sixers-Raptors Game 5 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With the exception of the NBA’s 2020 "bubble" playoffs at Disney World, the Sixers have sealed their last three first-round series by winning Game 5s at Wells Fargo Center.

They beat the Heat in 2018, the Nets in 2019 and the Wizards last year. On Monday night, the team has its second chance to finish the Raptors after missing out on a sweep Saturday in Toronto. 

Here are the essentials for the game:

  • When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.

  • Where: Wells Fargo Center

  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia

  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app

And here are storylines to watch:

VanVleet sidelined 

Fred VanVleet told reporters Monday morning that he won’t play in Game 5.

VanVleet earned his first All-Star selection this year, but he was hampered by a right knee injury over the second half of the season. In 15 post-All-Star games, the 28-year-old shot just 34.3 percent from the floor and 29.1 percent from three-point range.

He’ll miss Game 5 with a left hip flexor strain that forced him to make a frustrated early exit Saturday.

“Fred’s a great player,” Georges Niang said after the Sixers’ Monday shootaround. “He offers a lot of different things to them — off the bounce, in the pick-and-roll, making threes. But those guys have been playing different lineups the whole season with guys missing time, and they’ve done a really good job of finding depth in their bench.

“No disrespect to Fred, but I don’t think it changes our approach. Obviously he’s a great player, he’s an All-Star and they’re going to miss him, but those guys are going to still do the things they always do — getting in passing lanes, playing hard as s---, and trying to beat you on the offensive glass. Obviously they’re going to miss a scorer that can go get a bucket, but I feel like they’ve done a great job all year making up for that in different areas.”

Thaddeus Young was the Raptors bench player to emerge in Game 4. The former Sixer played nearly 30 minutes, over 10 more than the prior three games combined, and posted 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.

The Raptors did not add a ball handler to their rotation following VanVleet’s Game 4 injury. Pascal Siakam’s ability to initiate offense helped, as did his effectiveness in a 34-point outing. Toronto’s also glad to have Scottie Barnes back after the Rookie of the Year was sidelined by a left ankle sprain for Games 2 and 3.

Not on same page with ‘dirty plays’

Siakam opined to reporters in Toronto that Joel Embiid made “dirty plays” in Game 4’s fourth quarter.

As one might expect, the Sixers’ stance differs.

“I don’t get caught up in that crap,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Sunday of Siakam’s comments. “I think there’s blows being delivered by both sides, and the guy talking probably is the leader in the locker room in that, with the little elbow blows.

“It’s part of the game, but I don’t know if any of them are dirty or anything like that. I thought it was hilarious Tobias (Harris) got called for one in a game where the guy that’s guarding him has been doing it all playoffs — and he got called for that. But who cares? Let’s just play basketball.”

Niang, who fouled out Saturday in 22 minutes, also didn’t see Siakam’s view as valid.

“I think those two are friends,” Niang said. “But this is playoff basketball. Nothing that I’ve seen has been dirty. This is a fight; this is going to be a war. If you expected it to be touch fouls and stuff like that, then this isn’t the game for you. To hear that come out of him, that’s actually surprising for me. I think at the end of the day, this is playoff basketball. It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be intense. Everyone wants a championship.

“So there’s not going to be any touch fouls, there’s not going to be any helping people up off the ground. This is what guys have worked the whole 82 games for, so nothing is going to be light or easy. For him to say that, I think that it’s a little ridiculous. Things get chippy at times, but nothing where anyone’s maliciously trying to hurt someone, so I think that was just a little overplayed.”

Though he emphasized Game 5 would be decided by factors besides officiating, Niang did not conceal his feelings.

“I’m sure (Siakam is) trying to play head games, because I’m sure he really doesn’t think that, especially the way they’re swinging their arms and fouling us,” Niang said. “But nobody’s complaining about that. Nobody’s complaining about the refs.

“We expected it to be physical in Toronto. It wasn’t going to be easy. So we’re here, Game 5, and it’s an elimination game for them. I’m sure they’re going to come out with the same physicality they came out with in Games 3 and 4.”

Can Embiid help slam door on Raptors? 

The outsized spotlight on Embiid hasn’t dimmed at all this series.

The Sixers’ MVP finalist was fined $15,000 Monday for his post-Game 4 criticism of the officiating. He plans to continue playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb. 

“That’s Jo,” Niang said. “That guy wants a championship more than anybody. I think he’s going to put all that aside and figure out ways that he can get around that and win. He’s a natural winner. He’s a competitor.

“And I think it speaks to his character that he’s willing to put his personal injuries away and think about the team. … I think that speaks volumes of who he is, and it’s important that he’s out there and helping us win these games. Credit to him, I know it’s not easy playing with injuries, but we’re super thankful that he is.”

While it’s impossible to take an injured thumb out of the picture, factors besides grit and pain tolerance will also matter for Embiid. Rivers noted Sunday the Sixers had a “very random offensive game,” lacking the structure that raises Embiid’s odds of beating double teams.

On that important subject of spacing around Embiid, Matisse Thybulle’s availability is an interesting subplot. Thybulle was ineligible for Games 3 and 4 in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated. Embiid has worked with the third-year wing throughout the season on how to best play out of the dunker spot and sense when cutting opportunities are available.