There’s a reason Raptors look so comfortable with their backs against a wall.

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Maybe the Raptors were just made for it.

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Dig yourself a hole at 3-0, lose your starting point guard, and then, well, then you start flexing your muscles?

It’s not that the team didn’t have the practice of overcoming obstacles in the regular season.

Pascal Siakam started the season hurt. OG Anunoby experienced a setback in November and then repeated it in February, March and part of April.

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It took Fred Vanvliet the best half of the year to admit that he was actually playing the offense and then hold on until he couldn’t.

In total, three mainstays of the Raptors rotation, the only Raptors with actual league experience, missed 63 games – 34 from OG, 15 from VanVleet and 14 from Siakam.

These were and remain the guys in this team. Leaders on and off the court are being asked not only to improve their level of play, but also to bring other young players with them.

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It’s hard to do when you’re healthy and playing. It’s infinitely more difficult when you’re injured and just focused on getting back on the court.

But somehow, through it all, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse and his team had enough healthy bodies to finish the year with 48 wins and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

And now that those lessons have been learned as they played through injuries and illnesses and overcame one absence after another by simply plugging the holes with the athlete’s favorite Next Player manta, the Raptors are using them again in a playoff that looked dead upon arrival. but now feels destined for another series.

Perhaps without all these injuries, Scotty Barnes isn’t ready to take on the No. 4 role in the rotation in terms of minutes and importance to the team.

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The NBA Rookie of the Year will always be looked at for a long, long time, but would he get the experience of leading this team in the absence of these key players if everyone stayed healthy?

Barnes is by no means new to the series. A rookie stepped on by Joel Embiid doesn’t feel his leg for a couple of days, doesn’t come back after three games, and just resumes his experience.

With the departure of Fred VanVleet, Barnes didn’t have time to heal his injury. He figured it out in a tough regular season.

Precious Achiuwa, a guy who had been looking out of control for much of the start of the season, suddenly had the discipline and confidence to look Embiid in the eye and essentially tell him that he would no longer be allowed to do what he wanted.

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Embiid got his way in the first three games of this series, but in the last two Achiuwa was a big reason – along with Khem Birch, Siakam and Thad Young – why Embiid looks and sounds so disappointed.

When Achiuva took his seat on the podium to discuss the Raptors’ incredible and potentially historic comeback from a 3-0 loss after their Game 5 win, he answered all questions about his state of mind before the first question was even asked.

While adjusting the microphone to make sure his words were clear, Achiuwa hinted to anyone and everyone that his “dropper” or evening wear was to be commended.

This is a far cry from Achiuwa, who previously came to these interviews from the podium looking nervous and unsure of himself.

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“Yes, he is very important to us,” Siakam said of his young teammate. “Obviously guarding Embiid is a team effort, but at the same time he is the first defender and you know he guards Harden and he can guard anyone. and I think it’s very important for us and then on offense just to take the shots that are there. In most cases, if you have an A, you will have shots, you will be ready to take them, and he did it.

And in this list of players who have benefited from time they don’t normally get, we couldn’t help but mention Chris Boucher.

The lanky Canadian essentially reinvented himself midway through the season when it became apparent that the role the team needed most was that of an energetic guy coming off the bench, willing to sacrifice his body and pretty much better stats at night for a more efficient second banana. role along with starting in this team.

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Boucher stepped into the role with ease, as if it was made for his particular skill set, and enjoyed the opportunity to lift the energy and spirits of everyone on set with him.

With Achiuwa and Boucher and the mid-season acquisition of Thad Young all playing their roles, even the loss of a key player in this operation like VanVleet didn’t baffle them.

The work isn’t done, of course, but for the first time in this series, it looks like the early hole the Raptors dug for themselves may not mean the end of their season.

Ironically, they’ve been preparing for this exact scenario all season.

mganter@postmedia.com

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