3-3 – We can’t have anything nice
Five – Abysmal: Toronto’s veterans – especially Ibaka and Danny Green – were downright unplayable. Green was a saloon door on defense against the hard-charging Butler, while Ibaka clanked his first open jumper and was a disaster on offense the rest of the way while also fouling out in 22 minutes. The Raptors need their most senior players to be solid on the road, which is how Game 4 was won. It was the total opposite tonight.
Six – Bricks: It’s almost comical how badly the Raptors have performed from the three-point line outside of Game 5. By percentage, Toronto shot: 33 percent, 27 percent, 26 percent, 32 percent, and 25 percent tonight. What’s more perplexing is that a lot of these are wide-open looks for the Raptors’ best shooters, but they’re still not falling. To make matters worse, it seems to put a strain on the Raptors’ main playmakers, in that Leonard and Pascal Siakam zero in on attacking a congested paint instead of trusting the offense.
Maybe worrying about a player with one foul midway through the first quarter is just wrong. Maybe with more than seven minutes having passed, Nurse just felt like Gasol needed a breather and that the Raptors could get away with a few Ibaka minutes on Embiid. However, it was a controllable matter, and in the Raptors’ 112-101 loss that will send this series to Game 7 on Sunday evening in Toronto, the Raptors did not seem keen to really lock in on those matters the way they should have. The 76ers ended up winning Embiid’s six competitive minutes without Gasol on the floor 19-6, but you could hardly blame Nurse for the second attempt at doing so, as the Raptors had plainly hit a wall in the third quarter. Besides, Embiid was a plus-40 — the 76ers were feasting whenever Embiid was on the floor, regardless of the lineup composition. However, those minutes existing in the first place are just an example of the Raptors not treating the game with the absolute desperation that the 76ers exhibited.
To be clear, the biggest reason the Raptors lost was yet another night of horrendous shooting — 9-for-36 from deep. This loss was not on the coach. The misses led to transition opportunities, which led to Ben Simmons scoring in transition, which led to the 76ers getting clean looks as the Raptors reacted to Simmons. When the 76ers missed, the Raptors were often cross-matched, allowing Philadelphia to dominate on the boards with 16 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t play with enough force,” Nurse said. “We didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t stand in there. We didn’t play with enough physicality.”
“I just think they played harder for a longer period of time then we did,” Green added. “We knew it was going to be a big crash-the-glass type of game for them. That’s where their advantage is, and we didn’t do a good job of boxing out, I just felt, especially keeping them off the glass, getting stops and running.”
It was not really as close as an 11-point game. Brown inexplicably replacing Embiid with giant human Boban Marjanovic, not once but twice, allowed the Raptors to hang around, as the Sixers were minus-18 points in his seven minutes. Still, the Raptors are supposed to be more experienced and calmer than the emotionally unreliable 76ers, who ignore the “don’t get too high, don’t get too low” cliché with no regard. If the Raptors had made more 3-pointers — Gasol missed huge shots in the second and third quarters that would have brought the lead down to manageable margins both times — and if Brown had not gone to the very large well one too many times, the lack of intelligence might have scuttled that effort. And that’s kind of the point.
“You hope (shots fall in Game 7). Regardless you can’t rely on that,” Green said. “You have to rely on defence and get stops. If we’re not making shots — if we are, it would be great — but if we’re not we’ve got to sprint back, turn, box out, rebound. Try to play without fouling as much.”
Toronto failed to match Philadelphia’s energy, failed to quiet the crowd and were sent back home needing to regroup. This all happened despite them having more than five decades of NBA experience among their top six players, with championship rings and finals appearances to draw on and the knowledge a Game 7 would mean spotting the Milwaukee Bucks a full week’s rest should the Raptors even get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Instead of having the weekend off to reset, the Raptors have left their fate up to the whim of a bad whistle, a rolled ankle or a hot shooting night.
The Raptors were on their back foot all night. The Sixers jumped out to a 13-5 lead, and every time the Raptors advanced, the Sixers pushed them back further. Philadelphia started the fourth quarter with an 87-67 lead, built in part by a 13-4 late third-quarter run that featured Embiid emphatically. This was punctuated by a symbolic swat on Leonard, leading to a fast-break finish from Ben Simmons, who came out of nowhere in this series to put up 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists
“… It was a weird, kind of a strange game of runs where they came out and blasted us and we crawled back in and they went right back [on a run] again,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “There was just too many fast momentum swings, I think. We didn’t play with enough force, we didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t stand in there, we didn’t play with enough physicality.”
The Sixers starters dominated the Raptors starters – Embiid was plus-40 even though he scored just 17 points on 14 shots. Toronto’s bench was nearly non-existent for the second time in three games as Nurse trimmed his rotation to effectively six players plus the odd cameo.
The series isn’t over and certainly there’s no reason to expect the Raptors can’t prevail. Two days rest should help Leonard, who looked a little heavy-legged after three games in five days. His 29 points, 12 rebounds and four assists were – remarkably – a shade under the standards he’s set for himself in what has been an epic series.
But it’s hard to overstate what is at stake here. And that’s without getting too caught up in Kevin Durant’s strained calf and the increasing vulnerability of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Think about it: Put aside third-year forward Siakam, and five of the Raptors top-six rotation players have been in the NBA for a total of 52 seasons, yet they have two NBA championships and three NBA Finals appearances among them.
That’s it. That’s all they collectively have to show for more than five decades worth of NBA experience. All-star teams, all-NBA teams and even league-wide awards – there’s plenty of that kind of recognition.
Josh Lewenberg discusses how bizarre the Raptors’ series against 76ers has been, how challenging the 76ers are to stop when Ben Simmons plays like he did in Game 6, and how crucial it is for Toronto to limit Philadelphia’s points in the paint in Game 7.
Well, the Raptors didn’t give themselves enough of a chance, despite a 10-0 run in response to Philadelphia’s early push, and despite another in the second quarter, and despite some fight in the second half.
Nearly all the bugaboos were back. Centre Marc Gasol’s shooting touch and shooting readiness from Game 5 were gone; he had an open three to cut the lead to six in the third and missed, and fell to 0-for-5 from the field. Just 100 seconds later he had made a couple defensive mistakes and the Sixers lead was back to 17. He had already missed an open three that could have cut it to five in the second quarter; the Sixers ended the half on a 9-2 run.
The big Spaniard has transformed this team with his passing and defence. But this was his worst offensive game of the series, and he became seven feet of human weather vane. Nights like this, he looks old.
He wasn’t alone, though. The Raptors missed 27 of their 36 threes, and Kawhi Leonard is now 0-for-8 over his last two games from behind the arc. The defensive rebounding got decimated. The bench only worked when the Sixers put Boban Marjanovic on the floor, because the giant gawking galumphing Serb is an all-you-can-pick-and-roll buffet. And even then, it looked more like the six-man, threadbare rotation that has been the norm — not the Norm — in the series.
“I mean, tonight I feel like we messed up sometimes on transition and defence; we didn’t know down open shots early, you know, and they played well,” said Leonard, who scored 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting. “They came with pace and knocked down their open shots early on, and we tried to dig ourselves out of the hole.”
And while it’s hardly an indictment, Leonard has dropped a level from his first four incandescent games. But Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka combined to shoot just 8-for-26, on another night when only six players scored before the benches emptied.
The defence should be the thing you can fit in the gym bag for every game, but it let Philadelphia get rolling, and the 76ers are world-class front-runners. Ben Simmons was finally impactful, and Jimmy Butler was ferocious, and Embiid dominated the game without scoring much.
Jimmy Butler was once again the steady hand at the control of the team’s offense in the half court, finding the seams in the Raptors defense and creating points for himself and others. Butler joked post-game: “The game is simple. I shoot the ball when I’m open. Sometimes I shoot it when I’m not open.”
The sequence to end the first half really encompassed the totality of the Jimmy Butler experience, as he scored seven straight points to send the Sixers into halftime with a 15-point lead. First, Butler grabbed his own miss and made a circus shot while getting fouled by Kyle Lowry (which fans loved because of Lowry’s continued histrionics this series). Then, Butler roasted Pat McCaw (who was brought in as a defensive substitution specifically to guard Jimmy). Finally, Mr. Buckets got a steal just across mid-court and charged down to lay the ball in right before the buzzer. The crowd chanted Jimmy Butler’s name as the players filed off to the locker room, and you could almost see the soon-to-be free agent’s bank account growing by the second.
After the game, Brett Brown said Butler “stamped his authority” on the game. Jimmy certainly signed, sealed, and delivered an upcoming Game 7 for Philadelphia.
Ben Simmons: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers
For the second time this postseason, in the face of an upswell of criticism, Ben Simmons responded with a tremendous performance. From the beginning of the game, Simmons let us know Thursday night would be different from his passive play the rest of the series, tallying eight points and five assists in the first quarter.
Toronto’s poor shooting definitely helped Ben get out in the open floor more often, but Simmons also displayed a more aggressive mindset, going right at Kawhi Leonard or whoever else was in front of him to barge into the lane and either finish himself or find an open teammate. Add in a handful of tip-backs and lob finishes from the dunker’s spot, and the usual excellent defense, and Simmons did it all for the Sixers. Well, there was one thing he didn’t do: turn the ball over!
Toronto had no answers for Sixers forward Jimmy Butler in the first half. The Sixers took a 58-43 lead into halftime and Butler had 19 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and one turnover.
On a switch, Butler found 6-9 Pascal Siakam on him and it didn’t matter, the Toronto forward was called for a foul.
Late in the first half Toronto got so desperate that the Raptors had two-time NBA defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard on Butler. One one play near the end of the quarter, Butler eluded Leonard and fed Mike Scott for a close-range shot.
Green was back on Butler to begin the second half and continued to struggle and Leonard quickly switched to guarding him. For the rest of the quarter Butler cooled off, but he was the one who set the tone for the Sixers with his exceptional first half.
Marc Gasol had played Embiid well in the opening quarter but he wasn’t on the court when the Sixers center returned.
Immediately the Sixers went on a 10-0 run. While Embiid didn’t score during that run, his presence opened space for his teammates. During that run, Tobias Harris and Mike Scott each hit three pointers, getting great looks as Toronto has to have extra defensive attention on Embiid.
It appears Nurse learned his lesson. In the second quarter, Embid returned to the game with 5:59 left until halftime and Gasol was also inserted at that time.
Which version of Ben Simmons will the Sixers get?
To say Simmons was a different player in Game 6 would be the understatement of the series. It was clear from the opening minute of the game that he was not going to let the series end without putting up a fight.
“His no turnovers, his attack mode, pick em, his four offensive rebounds, his push and pace on missed shots especially, all those things were what made him an NBA all-star at 22 years old,” Brett Brown said after the game. “I thought he was excellent tonight and we needed it all.”
“He attacked in transition, in the half, made some free throws, that’s how we need him to be,” Jimmy Butler added. “You can’t key in on one or two guys on this team because we have so many guys that can put the ball in the basket, so many guys who can get a stop and take off dribbling with the basketball. Like I said before, that’s how we’re going to win.”
When you have the gifts Simmons does athletically, the game is not especially complicated if you take the right approach. The problem is that against elite competition, we haven’t often seen him apply that mentality on the offensive side of the ball.
But take one look at this play, deep into a game the Sixers had locked up, and you tell me if Simmons was a different guy on Thursday night.
We have seen Simmons shy away from contact, refuse to go up strong, and do anything he could to avoid shooting the ball at times during this series. He had absolutely no thought of the repercussions of this play with Serge Ibaka challenging him at the rim. That is a good thing.
Whether that continues in Game 7 is certainly up for debate. On the one hand, Simmons just delivered one of the best and most important performances of his life to keep the season alive in Game 6. They do not have the opportunity to go back to Toronto if it is not for his effort on the home floor Thursday night.
On the other hand, Simmons has been a non-factor on offense for much more of this series, and the Raptors are probably going to throw their full weight behind stopping Embiid and Butler on Sunday. How will he respond with his back to the wall in a road game, when he might have to play various positions and handle an insane minutes load when all is said and done?
Simmons would do well to keep the same mentality he had heading into Game 6.
“I think it’s moreso for me just going out there and doing everything I can to win,” Simmons said. “The end result is gonna be the end result. Everyone had that same mentality I think, we were just going out there and playing hard and not regretting anything.”
The Raptors struggled with many of the same issues that ailed them through the first three games. Outside Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, the production ran dry. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Danny Green were all quiet.
The Sixers, however, received production across the board. Ben Simmons had his best performance since the Brooklyn series, while Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid were sublime in different moments. Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick both contributed as well.
With Toronto missing some key open shots, the Sixers were to survive first-half runs before taking a more emphatic stand in the third, with the lead ballooning from 15 at halftime to 20 after three. Embiid was a big reason for that, bucking his early funk and notching 10 points in the third frame. He also blocked Kawhi twice in those 12 minutes.
Despite his unspectacular stat line, Embiid was arguably the Sixers’ most important piece all night. The offense fell apart in his absence, while Brett Brown’s willingness to lean on Boban Marjanovic left the pick-and-roll defense in shambles.
Embiid finished the game at +40 in 35 minutes. That’s an insane number, especially since 17 points on 5-14 shooting doesn’t scream ‘greatness’. He did the little things and played with the freedom and spirit that was lacking in Games 4 and 5.
Butler was once again excellent, scoring 25 points and ending the first half on an absolute tear, featuring a steal and transition bucket with a couple seconds left to extend the lead to 15. His late flurry was big-time after a brief Toronto run.
The concept of momentum continues to be foreign in this second round series between the Raptors and Sixers, as very little of what happened in Game 5 carried over into Thursday’s Game 6 on Toronto’s side. Once again, the open shooting went cold, the rotations reverted back to problematic, and a hungry Philadelphia team capitalized. The Raptors had their runs, but ultimately fell well short — losing Game 6, 112-101. Game 7 is Sunday night in Toronto.
Statistically, the number bolded and highlighted on the scoresheet from tonight’s game is a bit off the wall: Joel Embiid posting a +40, the highest ever for a Raptors playoff opponent.
Despite a relatively quiet 17 points and 12 rebounds, the Raptors’ only success in Game 6 was done with Embiid on the bench. Nick Nurse decided to risk a few spot minutes with Serge Ibaka guarding the big Sixer, and while there wasn’t much direct scoring by Embiid done in that time, it was once again where their team broke the game open. If not for the 12 minutes where Embiid were on the bench, the score would be even more lop-sided.
The Sixers also got a welcome contribution from Ben Simmons, previously a no show in the series. Simmons had 21 points and eight boards, four of them on the offensive glass, as the Raptors struggled with transition defence and keeping both Simmons and Jimmy Butler out of the paint. Butler was superlative again, by the way, with a team-high 25 points on 18 shots.
For the Raptors, it was a disappointing regression back to early in the series. Kawhi Leonard got his 29 points, though relatively inefficiently on 20 shots (missing all four three-pointers). Pascal Siakam had 21 points and six rebounds — probably the best Raptor, as he shot 50% and played active on the glass. Kyle Lowry was… fine, scoring 13 points but failing to recapture his energetic Game 5 form.
The rest of the team? Out to lunch. Marc Gasol and Danny Green combined to go 5-for-16, as the Sixers dared both of them to make looks that fell in the regular season. Philadelphia has especially grown unconcerned with Gasol’s outside shooting, as the big man was 0-for-3 tonight, passing up at least two other wide open looks. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka was the only player to score off the bench until garbage time — shooting 3-for-10. As a team, the Raptors missed open threes regularly, finishing 9-for-36 from distance.
It’s not win-and-go-home for the Raptors. They are home. It’s win at home – the winner heading to Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference final. The most important game, truly, in Raptors history at a time where just about every game seemed to take that moniker.
“They’re critical games,” said Nurse. “They’re all critical.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a couple of Game 7s,” said Brett Brown, the Sixers coach. Then he went on to talk about the excitement, the energy, the tension, the pain that can accompany a game with so much on the line.
One game to define a season for two teams in search of definition.
As the first half was about to come to an end, Kawhi Leonard was called for travelling, a rare call, and almost immediately he was stripped of the basketball. And as the half came to and end, the Raptors almost collectively slumped, as if this was the sign of defeat.
Leonard went on to lead the Raptors with 29 points playing a surprising 39:56, a long night considering the second half was basically a foregone conclusion. He led both teams in scoring, tied with Joel Embiid with 12 rebounds and wound up minus-10 in the individual plus-minus statistics.
The quizzical Embiid ended the night at plus-40, scoring 17 points, which was third in Philadelphia scoring. He was dominant in ways he hasn’t been dominant in the series and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka had no answer for him.
That has been the back and forth of so much of the series, Embiid great, or Embiid tired, or Embiid sick, or Embiid ineffective – a lot of Embiid. Too much Embiid for the Raptors on this night.
Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins discuss what went wrong for the Raptors in Game 6, how Jimmy Butler has been a difference-maker for the Sixers since Game 2, how concerning Ben Simmons’ revival is for Toronto, and how crucial it is that the Raptors have home court advantage in Game 7.
The Raptors received solid performances from their stars. Kawhi Leonard had 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, though he shot a less-than-stellar 9-of-20 from the field, compensating by working his way through the free throw line. (Leonard missed all four of his three-point attempts.) Pascal Siakam also stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Toronto’s bellwethers—its role players—struggled, however. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green combined to shoot only 10-of-27 from the field, including a 5-of-18 mark from three. The Raptors have received a superstar turn from Leonard and a breakout act from Siakam in this series. Their success often hinges on the performances of the role players. And in Game 6, the supporting cast couldn’t offer enough lift.
What happens in Game 7? Who knows? This series has largely defied convention. Both teams have been all over the place, and different games have been played at different paces. Some nights both teams are hot from three, in other games one team can’t seem to buy a basket. The Sixers and Raptors have perhaps best embodied the randomness of playoff basketball, or how much each individual night can swing on the margins. That doesn’t mean each coach won’t try to put forward a specific formula in the do-or-die moment.
Philly needs contributions from all its stars to win. Running the offense helps Simmons find a rhythm, and then Embiid and Butler can find their own shots in the half court. Tobias Harris is getting the looks the Sixers want, he just happens to be shooting an underwhelming 30.6% from beyond the arc in the second round. Embiid may not have his full wind, but he’ll be instrumental for the Sixers. (JoJo was a staggering plus-40 Thursday.) If Simmons and Butler can get going as they did in Game 6, then Embiid can still dominate on the defensive end, where he’s probably more valuable in his current state.
The Raptors should feel good about their chances at home. Toronto is shooting 33.7% from three up north in the second round, compared to only 27.7% while in Philadelphia. At this point, the Raps should expect solid performances from Leonard and Siakam. If the role players receive a boost from playing in their own gym, Toronto becomes much more difficult to beat.
Lowry had done a nice job on Butler through the first five games, especially considering the latter had been the best Sixers player overall.
Butler had hit only two of seven three-point attempts while guarded by Lowry and was 5-for-14 overall from the field with four turnovers. He found more success against Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and even Leonard.
“It’s been fun,” Lowry said. “Me and Jimmy are tight, we’re really close, so understanding that, watching his game and being a friend, I know what he wants to do.”
“The challenges are he’s a big body (Lowry gives up seven inches and 35 pounds to Butler), he’s strong, he’s athletic, he can get his shot off against anybody. But I relish the challenge. I love it.”
Butler was aggressive early on Thursday and found more success against Lowry.
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