PHILADELPHIA – The Toronto Raptors will be without All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet for Game 5 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers – and likely longer – with a left hip flexor strain.
“You can stop holding your breath,” VanVleet said with a wry smile after plopping himself down into a courtside seat here at Wells Fargo Center prior to Toronto’s shootaround Monday morning. “I’m out tonight. I was able to get an MRI … nothing too major, but definitely showing just a hip flexor strain.
“So I’ll be out tonight, kind of take it day by day and go from there.”
When asked if he would be able to return in Game 6, VanVleet, who said the injury occurred when he made a defensive slide in the first quarter of Game 4, sounded pessimistic, instead of saying he’d feel “great” about being back for the start of a potential Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The only problem with that? Toronto enters Game 5 down 3-1 in the series, and having been down 3-0 before winning Game 4 – a deficit no team has overcome in NBA history.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” VanVleet said of his potential status for Game 6. “I’m always going to leave that window open. You know, it’s not one of those things where I’m out for four weeks. Probably take some time. Hopefully we can extend this thing and I would be feeling great about maybe playing in the next round.
“I know nobody believes we can [win this series], but I think we can. So I will feel good about that. But I’m going to stay positive and get as much rehab as I can and recovery and take a day at a time. “
VanVleet was clearly hobbling throughout the first half of Saturday afternoon’s Game 4 before he committed a take foul with 4:57 to go in the second quarter, ripped his jersey in half and hobbled off the court inside Scotiabank Arena, never to return to the bench .
He went and got an MRI later Saturday that revealed the hip flexor strain, but nothing worse. VanVleet admitted the ripping of the jersey in frustration was a combination of not being able to continue playing, and being worried imaging would show some real damage to his hip.
“Probably both. I mean, I think I wasn’t worried that I would need surgery or anything, but I knew I wasn’t coming back. And to be in a situation with this team and having been hobbled a little bit already kind of like … you know is coming in at some point and you just trying to go until you can’t go anymore. But more so just being in the moment wanting to be out there with the guys fighting, trying to get a win . “
VanVleet, who made his first All-Star appearance this season, has been dealing with nagging knee issues for the past couple of months, and he said the hip flexor issue is something he’s managed at times throughout the season as well. This time, however, was far worse than previous bouts with it.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse sympathized with his star guard, saying it’s been clear VanVleet, who is shooting 35% t from the field and 33% from 3 through the first four games of this series, hasn’t been himself.
“I think it’s been a tough year on him,” Nurse said. “I think it’s been a tough year on him.
“I mean, listen, he was, even before this, I think everybody could see he was laboring a bit, right? So, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think this one’s going to last forever, and I hope that it can help, maybe other things, too, you know, while he’s out he can get maybe those touched up a little bit, too and get rid of some of those other bumps and bruises and things. “
Meanwhile, the Raptors still have a game to play. Nurse said that Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who returned from his own injury, a sprained left ankle, in Game 4, will handle the ball a lot, like he did in starting the second half of Game 4 at the point in VanVleet’s absence , with Pascal Siakam also picking up some of the slack left by VanVleet being forced to the bench.
For his part, VanVleet said he’ll be locked into trying to help his teammates throughout the day Monday, joking he may even wear one of the polo shirts Nurse’s coaching staff wears during the game. But, overall, he said he’s trying to be positive about the situation as he can be.
“It’s still something gratifying about, you know, just laying it on the line for your teammates, you know, for your brothers in the locker room, knowing that you’re not 100 [percent]”VanVleet said.” My body finally just tapped out, so here we are. “