With the NBA regular season wrapped up, all eyes are now on the postseason. The Philadelphia 76ers find themselves slotted in the fourth seed and facing off against the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
These two teams squared off last week, and an interesting wrinkle came about. Matisse Thybulle was listed as ineligible to play due to Canada’s COVID vaccine mandate. Following the Sixers’ win over the Detroit Pistons Sunday, the defensive specialist confirmed he is not fully vaccinated.
Due to these circumstances, the Sixers will now be without their top perimeter defender for games 3 and 4 against Toronto. In light of this news, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went on ‘First Take’ and was not shy about his feelings towards Thybulle’s decision.
“What the hell am I supposed to call somebody who takes the vaccine shot and takes the first shot and forgets to take the second? Dumb, that’s what you call them.”
Matisse Thybulle’s Absence Creates Problems For Sixers
Even with Thybulle being ineligible to play in some games, the Sixers should still be favored in this first-round matchup. That being said, there is no denying that his absence will cause an array of problems.
The Raptors’ roster is filled top-to-bottom with size and athleticism. Their abundance of athletic six-foot-six players and above have caused problems for many teams, including the Sixers. Now, the Sixers have to figure out a way to contain this group without the services of their top perimeter defender.
Missing Thybulle might not be a seismic shift, but it decreases the Sixers’ margin for error. If the Raptors were to steal a win on the road, this decision could be detrimental to their championship aspirations.
Sixers’ Supporting Cast Forced To Step Up
Thybulle is one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, and replacing what he brings on that end is not going to be easy. It will take a collective effort from the supporting cast if they want to fill the void.
The two main players the Sixers need to step up in these road games will be Danny Green and Tobias Harris. With Thybulle out of the picture, these are their top options when it comes to perimeter defense.
Green got the nod when the Sixers played in Toronto last week, making it fair to assume that is who Doc Rivers will start in road games. Playoff and championship experience is the main reason the Sixers retained Green in free agency, and they are going to need it now more than ever.
Throughout his tenure with the Sixers, Harris has always done whatever is needed to help put the team in the best position to win. We have seen this on full display since the All-Star break as he drastically changed his game to intergrade James Harden into the lineup.
On top of adjusting on offense, Harris has stepped it up defensively as well. The veteran forward has taken on multiple big assignments and does more than hold his own. Most notably defending Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan earlier in the season. Harris will have to bring the defensive intensity in round one as he matches with players like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
Not having Thybulle for road games is certainly an unwanted wrinkle, but given their personnel, the Sixers are capable of overcoming this hurdle and advancing in the playoffs.