* Tonight on TNT: Sixers vs. Raptors (7 ET)
Both the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers went all-in on this season, with each team making multiple trades over the last year for star players who can leave via free agency. So it’s only right that this Eastern Conference semifinal comes down to a game in which both teams’ efforts — and dreams for an Eastern Conference championship — are on the line.
Maybe the result of Game 7 on Sunday (7 ET, TNT) affects what happens in free agency. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, it will be fascinating to see which of these teams was more right to prioritize the present over the future.
We may know the answer early on: Whoever led at the end of the first quarter has won all six games of the series, and both teams are undefeated (the Sixers are 6-0 and the Raptors are 7-0) in the postseason after leading by double-digits.
But Game 7 promises to be different from the other six, which were all different than one another. It’s unlikely that any major adjustment, in regard to scheme at least, will be made. Both teams know they can win playing the way they’ve been playing. They just have to play well.
There will likely be an adjustment in rotations. You won’t see Boban Marjanovic on the floor unless the game is out of hand in the fourth quarter. Both teams might play seven-man rotations, with the schedule — two full days off between Games 6 and 7, and then two full days off before Game 1 of the conference finals — allowing the starters to play extended minutes.
The most important minutes, of course, are those of Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid. In the series, the Raptors have been 23.2 points per 100 possessions better with Leonard on the floor (plus-7.0) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-16.2). The Sixers have been 67.0 points per 100 possessions better with Joel Embiid on the floor (plus-20.9) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-46.1).
In the series thus far, the Sixers have outscored the Raptors by 50 points in the 158 minutes that both have been on the floor together. But both teams have won the Leonard vs. Embiid minutes in three of the six games, and each team has lost a game in which they outscored the other with both stars on the floor.
|OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Even though Game 6 was a blowout, Leonard played almost 40 minutes, while Embiid played 35:33 (the most he’s played in this series). You can be sure that both will play as much as physically possible on Sunday. Leonard’s career high for minutes in a non-OT game was Game 7 of the 2013 Finals, when he played exactly 45 minutes. Embiid’s career high was 42:21 in a regular-season game … against the Raptors in February.
When they’re on the floor, Leonard and Embiid will be the focus of the opposing defenses, and that will put pressure on other guys to make shots.
The Sixers have shown Leonard a crowd when he’s put the ball on the floor and have tried to keep Embiid in the paint to protect the rim. The Raptors, especially their bigs (including Pascal Siakam, who has often been Embiid’s assignment), have found themselves open beyond the arc.
In their three wins, the Raptors have an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent on shots outside the paint, with Siakam and Marc Gasol combining to shoot 12-for-31 (39 percent) from 3-point range. In their three losses, their eFG% outside the paint drops to 39 percent, with Siakam and Gasol combining to shoot only 5-for-24 (21 percent) from beyond the arc.
You’ve got to pick what you’re trying to do. I think it’s way more of a ‘want-to’ than it is a scheme.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse
Defending the paint — against Ben Simmons in transition, Jimmy Butler on the pick-and-roll, and Embiid in the post or rolling to the rim — has also been priority No. 1 for the Raptors. The Sixers have actually shot slightly more effectively from the outside in their losses (46.0 percent) than they have in their wins (45.5 percent). But in those wins, they’ve shot 58 percent in the paint. In their losses, they’ve shot just 46 percent in the paint, and have been forced to shoot more from the outside.
It could simply come down to makes and misses on Sunday. And with more capable shooters and home-court advantage — home teams are 105-28 in Game 7 in NBA history — Toronto should be the favorite. But both defenses can play a role in whether those shots are open and in rhythm.
“You’ve got to pick what you’re trying to do [defensively],” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said earlier this week. “And if your priority is to keep it out of someone’s hands or keep them from shooting, then you’re probably expecting to have to make rotations.
“I think it’s way more of a want-to than it is a scheme.”
Both teams should have maximum want-to in a Game 7. But only one can win.
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