Game 7, Necessary
The 76ers started the night embracing the role of the underdog. By the time the evening was done, they were flexing the muscle of a heavyweight.
Staring the possibility of elimination in the face, the Sixers answered the bell, big time, by knocking off the Toronto Raptors, 112-101, in a win-or-go-home Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Sixers led by as many as 24 points in the victory, which leveled the best-of-seven series between Atlantic Division rivals at three games apiece. A subsequent winner-takes-all Game 7 will now be held Sunday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The showdown will mark the Sixers’ first Game 7 since their 2012 second-round pairing with the Boston Celtics. On the line will be the Sixers’ first bid to the East Finals since the franchise’s memorable 2001 Finals run.
After dropping Games 4 and 5, the Sixers hit the court Thursday with a renewed sense of purpose. The attitude was apropos, given the circumstances.
“Before I came on the floor, I kind of just looked at our starting five, [and] was like, ‘We got a lot of talent,” said Ben Simmons, who racked up 21 points in the win. “With that comes responsibility. Everybody has to do their job. It goes back to starting with defense, playing together, sharing the ball and moving it. It’s special.”
The Sixers certainly checked those boxes. Through three quarters, after which the margin was 20 points, they had held the Raptors to 38.7% shooting, and 6 for 25 from 3-point territory. For the game, the Sixers assisted on nearly 66% of their made field goals while generating 27 assists, their second-highest total of the series.
"I think tonight, we let our defense start us out and dictate our offense,” said Jimmy Butler. “Whenever we play like that, we are hard to beat. Home, on the road, neutral site, that’s how we have to play basketball.”
As has been the case throughout the second round in particular, Butler provided another impact performance. This time, he tallied 25 points on 9 for 18 shooting, while going 7 for 7 from the line.
Playing aggressive on both ends of the court, Butler capped the opening half in compelling fashion, ripping off the final seven points. The flurry was punctuated with Butler stealing the ball from Kawhi Leonard and racing back the other way for a runout layup with 0.4 seconds remaining.
The heady two-way sequence gave the Sixers a resounding 58-43 advantage at the break. The gap would grow as wide as 24 before the fourth quarter horn.
“He just stamped his authority and his skill package and his will...all over that game,” said Brett Brown.
Brown said as much as anyone in the Sixers’ locker room, Butler grasped the gravity of Thursday’s steaks.
“He was a tremendous leader and his performance mirrored his attitude.”
Butler wasn’t a lone in capturing the essence of this spirit. Simmons was right there with him.
Throughout the contest, there was a determined force about the Australian’s game, as reflected by him accounting for 18 of the Sixers’ 56 points in the paint.
Simmons also dished out six dimes, his second-best total of the series.
“I think it was just making a point of actually doing it and not just talking about it,” Simmons said of the pace he brought to the SIxers’ offense. “Obviously I’m pretty quick, so I’m able to push the ball. I think it was just being aggressive, downhille, and playing my game.”
Comments that struck at the heart of one of Thursday’s central themes. Whether it was Butler, Simmons, or anyone else, the Sixers understood the moment, and rose to the occasion.
After Philadelphia Eagles’ underdog posterboys Lane Johnson and Chris Long (dog masks and all) got the festivities started with an inspired ceremonial bell ringing, the Sixers stormed out of the gate with impassioned energy.
The sellout crowd of 20,525 was equally as fired up, and roared when the Sixers ripped off a 13-5 surge to open the game. They were most definitely in attack mode, with their first eight points coming in the paint.
The Sixers were up eight after the first quarter, then withstood a 12-0 Raptors surge in the second to head into intermission with a 15-point edge.
Toronto closed the gap to eight points midway through the third period, but the Sixers answered by scoring 22 of the next 28 points to seize control, and never look back.
Not feeling 100% the past two games, Joel Embiid made his presence felt Thursday. The 7-footer was a massive defensive deterrent, en route to posting an insane plus-40 rating in 35 minutes of action.
"To be a plus-40 is hard to do," Brown said.
Embiid finished with 17 points, 12 boards, and two blocks, earning his sixth double-double of the playoffs. He helped the Sixers outrebound Toronto 52-34 overall, and 16-9 on the offensive glass.
Mike Scott provided pivotal contributions off the bench. He notched 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting, and buried 3 of his 4 perimeter attempts. His plus / minus rating was 29 in 20 minutes.
For the entire night, the Sixers only trailed for 62 seconds. It was that convincing of a showing in that critical of a season-saving win.
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Big blocks. Big buckets.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 10, 2019
Successfully forcing a Game 7, the Sixers will head North one last time to face the Raptors in a win-and-advance battle, Sunday at 7:00 p.m. ET.