The Philadelphia 76ers spent most of the season incomplete. With Ben Simmons sitting out due to a trade request, it took a mid-season blockbuster to make them whole. Now, with the playoffs at hand, they are once again dealing with the absence of a key player.
Defensive star Matisse Thybulle will be ineligible to play in at least Games 3 and 4 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Toronto Raptors, 76ers coach Doc Rivers confirmed on Sunday. Road players must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning two weeks removed from either the second dose of a two-shot vaccine or the first shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to be eligible to enter Canada. Depending on the schedule of the series, it could theoretically be possible for Thybulle to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in time for Game 6, but it does not seem as though he was planning to do so.
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“This was a decision I made a long time ago,” Thybulle told reporters Sunday. I was raised in a holistic household, anti vax is not a term that was ever used … we grew up with Chinese medicine and naturopathic doctors.” Thybulle revealed that he received the first vaccine shot with the idea that it would prevent him from getting or spreading the disease, but when that wasn’t true, he felt comfortable handling COVID holistically. “I didn’t see any benefits outweighing what I could seek from alternative medicine,” he added.
Earlier in the regular season, ESPN asked the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference if their rosters were fully vaccinated anticipating this very issue. The Bucks and Heat confirmed that they were. The Celtics and 76ers did not comment. Both teams played road games in Toronto toward the end of the regular season. Boston was missing several key players, including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, though it is unclear if that was due to their vaccination status or a possible injury. When Philadelphia traveled to Toronto, Thybulle was listed as ineligible.
Ironically, that game was Philadelphia’s best chance at avoiding the Raptors in the first round. Toronto sat OG Anunoby and Fred Vanvleet for that matchup, but still managed to beat the otherwise healthy 76ers. That win was the difference between the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed for Philadelphia.
Since James Harden made his 76ers debut, Philadelphia has allowed only 105.6 points per 100 possessions with Thybulle on the floor … and 116 without him. His absence is hugely significant for a team that gave up its best defender when it traded for Harden. Philadelphia will have home-court advantage in the series, so Thybulle will be able to play in up to four games of the series, but any time without him is going to make the 76ers vulnerable.