Season Ends in Hard-Fought Game 7 Loss
There was pain, there was pride. Disappointment in the heartbreak of a last-second, season-ending defeat, but beneath the surface, a sense of optimism for a franchise that continues to move itself forward.
It’s hard to imagine the type of hurt left behind by the 76ers’ loss to the Toronto Raptors, 92-90, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Kawhi Leonard (41 pts / 9 reb / 3 ast / 3 stl) capped a remarkable series in stunning fashion, hitting a 15-foot fadeaway jump shot from the baseline corner with precisely 00.0 left on the clock.
The game-winner was not only contested by Joel Embiid, and half his 7.5 foot wingspan, but bounced on the front rim once, twice, then a third and fourth time on the back rim before finally, improbably dropping through the net.
Never before had the seventh game of an NBA playoff series - in any round - been decided at the buzzer.
“It took that shot to end our season,” Brett Brown said.
"I'm proud of my guys," said Ben Simmons (13 pts / 8 reb / 5 ast / 3 stl).
In the moments that immediately followed the dramatic conclusion at Scotiabank Arena, Embiid wore raw emotion on his face, wholly understandable given the circumstances. The Sixers, which underwent dramatic personnel change throughout another encouraging season, had fallen just short of their first bid to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2001.
“We fought hard, everybody gave everything we had,” Embiid said. “I feel like everybody left everything on the court, from the coaches, to the players, to the guys in the locker room. I feel like everybody had us prepared, and we gave everything.”
Embiid, who was more and more effective as Sunday’s battle went along, finished with team highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds. He played 45 of the game’s 48 minutes, a career high in a regulation contest.
Jimmy Butler, the first marquee acquisition the Sixers made during a regular season that also yielded the pickup of Tobias Harris (15 pts / 10 reb), went for 16 points, 10 of which came in Sunday’s closing period. His driving length of the court lay-up with 4.2 seconds to go tied the score at 90-90, and set the stage for Leonard’s final play. ‘
After the Sixers fell behind by five, 85-80, with under five minutes to go, Butler helped lead the charge back, scoring five of his club’s next 10 points. He also stole a sideline inbounds pass from Leonard that led to a JJ Redick (17 pts / 4-8 3fgm) and-1 that locked the tilt at 85-85.
Butler’s message to teammates afterwards was to keep heads held high.
“We had a hell of a season,” he said. “It’s tough, nobody likes to lose that way. I think all year long we did a good job at sticking together, through the good and through the bad. It was definitely a fun run.”
But a ride that, nonetheless, ended sooner than the Sixers would have hoped.
Despite four of the first six games in the Sixers’ and Raptors’ marathon second-round series yielding one-sided results, Sunday’s Game 7 played out fittingly, a taut, tense affair that featured seven ties and 10 lead changes. The margin never drifted into double-digits for either side.
Toronto held an 18-13 edge following a scrappy first quarter, but the Sixers strung together a 12-2 spurt to pull ahead, 37-33, on a Harris 3-pointer midway through the second frame.
The Raptors took a 44-40 advantage into the break, and widened the gap to a game-high nine points, 50-41, early in the third period. Following a timeout, the Sixers regrouped, and erupted for 16 straight points, in turn building their biggest lead of the evening, 57-50.
Once again, Toronto had an answer, ripping off 11 of the next 14 points to go back in front, 67-64, entering the fourth.
The Sixers won every quarter except the first, but it wasn’t enough.
All said and done, rebounding proved to be a pivotal subplot, as it was throughout the series. The Raptors controlled the backboards, 49-41, and finished with a 16-5 differential on the offensive glass. The disparity resulted in Toronto taking 24 extra shots than the Sixers.
Turnovers also loomed critical. The Sixers committed 17 to the Raptors’ 10, and were outscored 21-13 on giveaways.
While disappointment was fresh in the aftermath of Sunday’s setback, Brett Brown was still able to keep perspective on the bigger picture. Does more work need to be done? When a team falls short of its goal, the short answer is yes.
Still, from start to finish in 2018-19, there was progress.
“I’m proud of what we built,” Brown said. “To take that next step is the mission.”
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Butler Spreads Praise
Following Sunday’s game, Jimmy Butler had nothing but praise for his pair of All-Star teammates, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The veteran sees a bright future for both.
“They have so much potential to be great,” Butler said of the duo. “They want their teammates to be just as great as they are. Those are the type of cornerstones you want. They’re going to go down in history. They’re going do some special things in this league.”
Valuable Teaching Moment
There’s no doubt Joel Embiid fought through adversity during the second round. Ultimately, Brett Brown believes the big man will be the better for the experience.
“It’s going to be a life memory that, as painful as it feels now, it will help him,” Brown said. “It’s hard to be the last man standing, and to see him have the emotion that he has, it is painful for all of us."
And while Sunday’s ending may have stung, Brown knows Embiid’s best days lie ahead.
“He will come out better and smarter and stronger,” Brown said.
Ben Simmons shouldered much of the series’ toughest assignment in having to guard Kawhi Leonard. The reigning Rookie of the Year didn’t back down.
“I love taking that challenge on. Once coach gave me that challenge, I was looking forward to it,” Simmons said. “For me, I just try to continue to get better, try to work hard in every game, every situation that I’m in. And just try to make plays, and try to make the right play.”
Following the loss, Simmons gave credited his team’s fight for making it this far.
“We can compete with the best. Obviously we didn’t have enough tonight, but now I’m proud of my guys. We showed fight, the whole game, never let up. And I’m really proud of my guys for doing that, and staying with it.”
The 76ers will conduct exit interviews with players Monday, May 13th at the team's training complex in Camden, NJ.