Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse is unruffled by the fact no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
“I think it’s a heckuva challenge, and somebody’s got to do it,” Nurse said. “And if it gets to 3-1, it’s not 3-0 anymore. And 3-1’s been done.”
The Raptors could be four wins away from history, but they’re also one loss away from elimination, could be missing injured rookie Scottie Barnes again Saturday, and have yet to see a really good game from all-stars Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam.
The series was close to turning in Wednesday’s overtime loss, but Joel Embiid’s buzzer-beating three-pointer sent the Sixers into Saturday’s Game 4 with a 3-0 lead.
“We feel like we were super close last game, that was an opportunity to get one, but at the same time, it’s one game at a time. That’s the only approach we can have,” Siakam said.
“History is cool but this one [Saturday] is the most important game of our lives, basically, and I think that’s all that matters. We’ve got to get that one and then we’ve got to think about the rest after.”
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NBA teams have come back from 3-1 deficits 13 times. The Denver Nuggets did it twice in the 2020 playoffs, beating Utah in the first round and the L.A. Clippers in the conference semis, the third 3-1 blown lead for head coach Doc Rivers, who of course, now coaches the Sixers.
Philly has also lost two series after leading 3-1.
The Raptors have been swept in three playoff series, twice by Cleveland (2017 and ’18 conference semifinals), and by the Washington Wizards in the opening round in 2015.
The return of Barnes on Saturday would go a long way in the Raptors avoiding a sweep. He’s still listed as doubtful with a sprained left ankle, but Nurse said he participated in parts of practice on Friday, and he’s not ruling out the possibility he may play.
Barnes, a finalist for NBA rookie of the year, was excellent in his playoff debut in Game 1, racking up 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists before he was injured with about nine minutes to play when Embiid, a seven-foot mountain of a man, stepped on his foot.
Gary Trent Jr., who had 24 points in Game 3, will be healthier on Saturday. He was under the weather for a week, dropping eight pounds due to a non-COVID-19 illness.
Siakam welcomes latest challenge
Siakam received plenty of heat on social media after he went scoreless in the second half and overtime of Wednesday’s 104-101 loss, and took just five shots in the stretch.
“I watched the game, I didn’t realize I took five shots the whole second half . . . so for me, that was the first thing, maybe be more aggressive,” he said. “We came out in the second half a little slow, they got a little rhythm and Embiid got going there. But yeah, just be more aggressive and just taking what the defence [gives] basically.”
With all the Raptors have faced the past couple of years, Siakam said he welcomes the challenge Saturday poses. The Raptors played all of last season out of Tampa, Fla., due to border restrictions caused by the pandemic, then a COVID-19 outbreak last March saw them go 1-14 during that month and tumble down the standings to finish 12th and miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
This season saw them play numerous games in an empty Scotiabank Arena due to pandemic restrictions in Ontario.
“The journey, the season that we had, all the ups and downs we had as a team and individually, it’s a great opportunity for us to look ourselves in the mirror and just go out there, give everything that we’ve got and worry about that one game,” Siakam said.
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Nurse finds reason for optimism
The Raptors coughed up a 17-point lead on Wednesday, the loss sealed on Embiid’s clutch three-point shot. But the Raptors had several chances to win the game before it got to that point, and that’s a reason for optimism, Nurse said.
“You’ve got to make a free throw or you’ve got to make an open shot. That’s it,” he said. “I’d be way more worried if we were down there dribbling in circles and the shot clock was expiring, or we were hoisting up turn-around, running three-pointers, [if] things like that were going on on the other end.”
Nurse said he hasn’t addressed the team about the potential for elimination.
“I think that they’re probably fully aware that this is win or be done, put the balls away for the year,” he said. “Listen, I thought we did a really good job of making some adjustments against them the other night. I thought we executed on a lot. . . we got ’em to 90 points with a minute fifty to go in the game, and a super high-powered offensive team with scorers all over the place. So we certainly are doing some things right.
“We had a chance to win. We had several chances to win.”
In 2015’s sweep by Washington, the dispirited Raptors were clobbered 125-94 in Game 4. Does Nurse fear any mental stepback on Saturday?
“No, none at all,” he said. “They’re going to come and play.”
Game 5, if needed, would be Monday in Philadelphia.