Gauging the Mood Heading Into Game 7
Game 7 - with all its buildup (in this case there’s even an extra day’s worth), stakes, and presumed intensity - is coming.
So what was the mood like around the 76ers about 32 hours before the big tip of their Eastern Conference Semifinal finale against the Toronto Raptors?
Saturday morning, we got a little taste. The practice court attached to Scotiabank Arena was open to the media for 30 minutes before the Sixers started getting down to work in advance of Sunday’s win-or-go home clash.
A handful of players met with reporters, as did Brett Brown, and across the board, the vibes for the most part were business-like, focused, and confident. For valid reasons, too.
Having already staved off elimination once in the second round, the Sixers have every right to be feeling good about themselves. They powered past Toronto, 112-101, Thursday in South Philadelphia to win Game 6, and level the series at three games apiece.
Young All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were both terrific that night, while another All-Star, veteran Jimmy Butler, authored his latest primetime performance this postseason. The Sixers’ defense was stout, and the club controlled the perimeter and interior alike.
It was a complete victory - and, as we begin to give you a sample of the mood inside the gym at Saturday’s practice - the Sixers are well aware they’ll need a similar effort, if not better, on Sunday to oust Toronto in the Raptors’ own arena.
“I LIKE OUR CHANCES”
If you’re looking for a member of the 76ers to back down in a fight, don’t look in Mike Scott’s direction.
The veteran stepped up Thursday in Game 6 with 11 points (3-4 3fg), four rebounds, and two assists off the bench. Expecting a hostile environment at Scotiabank Arena, he feels that limiting turnovers and sound decision-making will be key to success.
“It’s going to be tough, but [Toronto is] worried too. I know they’re worried,” said Scott.
Scott believes that when the Sixers move and share they ball, as they did Thursday, they’re a tough team to beat.
“I feel confident,” he said. “I think we can beat them, I know we can beat them. We beat them here on this floor already. I feel good.”
“I NEED TO DO BETTER”
— brianseltzer (@brianseltzer) May 11, 2019
Joel Embiid’s importance to the 76ers is as obvious as his plus-80 total plus-minus rating in the East Semis. That the team outscored Toronto by a staggering 40-point margin Thursday in the big man’s 35 minutes is just...you pick the adjective. Almost not human?
In spite of his 17-point, 12-rebound showing, Embiid said Saturday he needs to do more in order for the Sixers to advance.
“Defensively, I felt I had a pretty good game. I [re-watched] the game, there’s a couple mistakes I made. Then offensively, I felt like I took a lot of jumpshots.”
Heading into Game 7, Embiid’s mindset is to live in the paint, if the real estate is there. He spoke with a serious tone Saturday, and said he’s not getting caught up in how Sunday’s game could shape his legacy three seasons into his career.
“I don’t care, I just want to win. This is a big game. Whatever I’m needed to do, I got to show up and produce offensively and defensively. I just want to win.”
A “SIGNIFICANT” IMPACT
Jimmy Butler’s statistical output in the second round speaks for itself. He’s averaging a team-best 23.0 points per game on 45.0% shooting, while ranking first and third on the club, respectively in assists (6.3 apg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg).
Evident as much as any measurable, though, is Butler’s emerging leadership, especially in respect to Joel Embiid. Brett Brown on Saturday called the impact “significant.”
Embiid described Butler as a player who will do everything within his power to win, and the type of guy every team should want on its roster.
Here’s what Embiid said he’s learned from Butler this season:
“I know to become a better leader you also got to watch and learn from a better example. Him being here has taught me that just because he’s always on top of everything basketball wise he’s helped me a lot, becoming a better man. Just being on time, just showing up every game, or just having a better relationship as a leader with my teammates. He doesn’t have to say anything.”
Butler, who leisurely propped himself up against the padded wall of the Scotiabank Arena practice gym and smiled routinely during his Saturday Q-and-A with reporters, summed up his leadership approach in simple terms.
“I just hoop, man, that’s it. I just do my job. I just hoop. I got a little bit to say, not a lot. I just go out there and hoop, lead by example, and see where we end up.”
A NEW “NORMAL”
Having coached in the postseason in 14 of his 18 years in the NBA, Brett Brown realizes this much - the deeper the playoffs go, the louder the outside noise (TV, sports talk radio, social media, etc.) becomes.
He gets it. He just doesn’t want his players tuned in.
That’s why on the eve of a potentially defining moment for his players and team, he wants the group to go about its business as it normally would. Hang with friends or teammates, have dinner with family.
"It’s just a matter of finding a normal pace, a normal routine to their life,” Brown said.
In walking down the series to its final hours, Brown deliberately calculated the number of chances he’ll have to address the Sixers before Sunday’s decisive matchup gets underway. The messaging will be framed accordingly.
“I’ve got what I think that is, what that looks like in my own sort of checklist. I’ve got three film sessions, two walkthroughs - five opportunities. How are you going to spend your money? I go through it that way, and it always pivots back to how can I not disrupt their routine?”
And that’s the tone that was being set Saturday in Toronto, with the Game 7 looming that much nearer.