Pre-Game

Gameday: 76ers @ Raptors – Game 7, May 12

Tonight the Toronto Raptors will play the most important game in the franchise’s 24 year history, facing off against the Philadelphia 76ers in game 7 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Six games between the Raptors and 76ers decided nothing. The series has been so back in forth and unpredictable that either team could have a blowout win tonight. More likely than not, though, this is going to be a slow, defensive battle, in which the team that plays harder and wants it more prevails. 

Let’s take a look at some storylines heading into the big game.

Home Court

This is what you play 82 games for: An opportunity to play a do-or-die game 7 in front of your home crowd. Despite each team winning an away game already in this series, home court has been a big factor thus far. The Raptors crowd has energized them, and helped give them a shot to win every game at Scotiabank Arena. The Sixers crowd has been even more loud and hostile, and apart from game 4 the Sixers have blown out the Raptors in their other two home games. Both Brett Brown and Nick Nurse have had to use several quick timeouts to quiet the opposing crowd.

The Raptors haven’t been the better team this series; It has been as close to even as it gets. But they were better in the regular season, winning 58 games compared to Philadelphia’s 51. That grind got them to where they are today: In Toronto, at Scotiabank Arena, playing a win or go home game 7 in front of their passionate fans. The arena should be the loudest it has ever been, and if you’re the Raptors, that’s all you can really ask for.

A Chance at a Fresh Start

If you have absolutely no faith that the Raptors will be their best selves and pull out the win tonight, you’re not alone. We are Raptors fans, after all, and torture is all we know. This franchise has been to the Easter Conference Finals once in their 24 year history. The last time they came this close was in 2001 when Vince Carter flew to Philadelphia from his college graduation just in time to miss a buzzer beater against the 76ers, who went on to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the ECF. The franchise has failed to impress their fans time and again.

But this is a different Raptors team. You’ve heard it all before: This version of the Raptors employs Kawhi Leonard, a top-five NBA player; Pascal Siakam, the Most Improved Player frontrunner; and Marc Gasol, a former Defensive Player of the Year. It also employs Nick Nurse in place of Dwane Casey. This version of the Raptors is different, and they shouldn’t be compared to past iterations.

However, the reality is that they are and will be until something changes and the Raptors shed their “loser” label. Despite how much more experienced and smart this team is compared to past iterations, us Raptors fans are still so pessimistic we expect the Raps to miss wide open shots. We expect Embiid to block players at the rim. We expect Lowry and Gasol to hesitate on threes. We expect Ibaka’s long-twos to rattle around the rim before falling out. We also expect every shot Kawhi Leonard takes to be nothing but net (by the way, no matter what happens tonight or in Leonard’s free agency, let’s take a moment to appreciate how special it has been to watch him play in a Raptors jersey).

Raptors fans are waiting for a moment grand enough that they can finally forget about the dark past and be optimistic about a bright future. “I’m tired of being right; I just want to be happy, and that’s why I’m for the moments,” Ian Karmel recently wrote for The Ringer. “They may never hang a banner for the things that make you really love a team.” The Raptors don’t necessarily need to win a championship or even get to the NBA Finals to satisfy their long-suffering fans. But their fans are in dire need of a moment — a moment so big and important that it will be remembered for a long time. Defeating these Sixers, no matter how it gets done, could be that moment.

Hustle, Hustle, Hustle

This has been a very even series, with no team winning back-to-back games, each team winning two absolute blow-outs and there still being a total point differential of just 619-602 in favour of the Raptors. These teams are very evenly matched and, as much as i’d love to go through the numbers and adjustments and mismatches and say that the reserves need to be better and Gasol needs to post-up Harris and everyone needs to attack Redick more, the reality is that this is probably going to come down to who wants it more. The team that played harder has arguably won every game so far this series. I don’t see why it will be any different tonight. The Raptors need to play hard from the get-go to be the best version of themselves: a team that is scrappy, aggressive, jumps on loose balls and is smart enough to punish opponents for the slightest mental lapse. Part of being aggressive is taking shots without hesitation. Part of being smarter than your opponent has to do with boxing out, not committing dumb fouls, and not turning the ball over. Don’t beat yourself. Hustle harder than the 76ers do and simply want it more. Need it more. If the Raptors do that, it will be very hard to take them down.

Repercussions

I said at the top that this is the most important game in franchise history. That isn’t hyperbole: Whether or not the Raptors win game 7 and advance to the ECF could potentially have serious repercussions throughout the franchise for years to come (on the other hand, if the Sixers fail to advance they will also deal with serious repercussions)

If the Raptors win tonight they will enter the ECF as underdogs the Bucks. However, they will have become a better team through two series’ against good teams, having defeated a hot Orlando Magic team and the 76ers, the third best team in the East all season. They will be competitive against the Bucks and, if the reserves can step out of these uncharacteristic and untimely slumps, maybe even go on to beat the Bucks and compete for a championship. Even if they lose to the Bucks, though, they will have proved to Leonard that they are capable and mature enough to win a tough series against a talented team. They could potentially keep both Leonard and Gasol and have another shot at a title run next year with the same core. Masai Ujiri and the fan base will likely consider the season a successful one.

If they lose they will continue to be seen as a cursed franchise. Leonard might look around and see a team that couldn’t help him get through the young and immature 76ers despite himself putting up historically good numbers. Maybe losing to the Sixers is such a disappointment to Leonard that he walks, Gasol doesn’t pick up his player option, and the Raptors enter rebuilding mode as soon as July 1st. That would spell several years of being bad. I hate to be so dramatic, but the stakes are historically big.

On an optimistic note, although we all know Raptors fans aren’t known for optimism, maybe Leonard has already made his decision to re-sign in Toronto regardless of what happens tonight. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s a nice thought to have leading up to a stressful night in Toronto. Enjoy the game!

GAME INFO

TV: Sportsnet, TNT | Tipoff: 7:00 EST –

THE LINE

Raptors are 6 point favourites. O/U – 209

RAPTORS UPDATES

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. Chris Boucher (back) is not expected to play.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

76ERS UPDATES

PG: Ben Simmons, TJ McConnell

SG: JJ Redick, James Ennis III, Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith

SF: Jimmy Butler, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonathan Simmons

PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott

C: Joel Embiid, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic

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