10 May 76ers bounce back to handle Raptors and force decisive Game 7
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the 76ers’ win over the Raptors and looks ahead to Game 7, where Philadelphia will need Joel Embiid to be at his best. USA TODAY
PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid had some help from his friends.
With the ailing 76ers All-Star center still not 100%, Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris ensured their season would not end at home.
Butler had 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds, Simmons had 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Harris had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists as the Sixers defeated the Toronto Raptors 112-101 Thursday in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
It’s on to Game 7 on Sunday in Toronto (7 p.m. ET, TNT), and the series finale brings major ramifications and potential offseason changes for the loser. Both teams believe they are capable of reaching the NBA Finals.
Sixers coach Brett Brown decided to give his team the day off on Wednesday following the Game 5 loss the day before in Toronto. It was the Raptors’ second consecutive victory, and while the Sixers had issues to address, Brown trusted his instincts.
"It gets to a point where you make the decision of, ‘When does somebody need to refill their cup? When do they just need time?’ " Brown said before Game 6. "To harangue them with tape, and we’re not going to practice anyways. At this stage, nobody’s practicing.
"To bring them in and go through videotape to me was not wise. It was my judgement that we can better achieve what I want to achieve — on my pulse of the team — if they can refill their cup. In the light of day, I’m glad we did that."
Here’s were the keys to Philadelphia’s victory
1. Jimmy Buckets: Butler — nicknamed Jimmy Buckets — came to play right from the start with his aggressive offense. He had eight points in the first quarter and 11 in the second quarter, including seven points in the final 78 seconds of the first half, helping the Sixers to a 58-43 halftime lead.
"The way he started, even the way he ended the first half, he just stamped his authority in his skill package and in his will – whatever words you want – he was all over that game," Brown said. "The mood in the locker room as we went through our version of a shootaround before, you could sense the serious side. They got the moment, and he got it as much as anybody. And led us. He was a tremendous leader, and his performance mirrored his attitude."
The Sixers acquired him from Minnesota early in the season for exactly this: to put the Sixers in position to reach the conference finals.
After a slow start to the series in Game 1 — 10 points — Butler has been Philadelphia’s rock. He had 30 points in the Sixers’ Game 3 victory and 22 points, nine rebounds, nine assists in a Game 4 triumph.
Butler’s versatility on defense (two steals) and calm in the face of stressful situations have also helped the Sixers reach Game 7.
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2. Embiid’s contributions: The Raptors’ Marc Gasol blocked Embiid’s first shot of the game, and Embiid never really got it going offensively. He finished with 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting, including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
But he made an impact in other ways. He added 12 rebounds and two blocks, including a block on Kawhi Leonard that led to a Simmons layup and an 81-63 Sixers advantage.
Embiid was also a stout pick-and-roll defender, making it difficult for Toronto to execute offensively.
What kind of impact did he make? The Sixers outscored the Raptors by 30 points in the first half when Embiid was on the floor and by 40 for the game.
"I thought he was just brilliant all over the place although it doesn’t look it on an offensive stat sheet. … His importance to our team is obvious," Brown said. "Tonight, you saw a healthier Joel Embiid. He comes out and has a plus-40. It’s a huge plus-minus number in a playoff game. His significance is felt all over the place."
3. Toronto’s sub-par production: The Raptors didn’t shoot well from the field (43.2%), were outrebounded 52-34 and had nearly non-existent bench production.
Leonard had an off night for him, especially compared to what he had done in this series, with 29 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
With 5:38 left in the fourth, backup center Serge Ibaka was the only reserve who had taken a shot or scored as Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s rotation is limited to about seven players. Only Ibaka, Fred Van Vleet and Norman Powell played more than five minutes off the bench.