Oh, here we go.
The Philadelphia 76ers had a 3-0 series lead against the Toronto Raptors. They started talking about a sweep. No one really gave the Raptors a chance to get back in the series. And rightfully so. No one in NBA history has ever come back to win a series after going down 3-0.
I had come to accept the fact that the Raptors season was going end soon.
But something changed.
I think if history were ever to be made, we have the two perfect ingredients to make it happen. We have the 76ers, who have players and a coach who are known for having a hard time closing out series. Add to that their inherent “front-runner” mentality and knack for pointing the finger when things go wrong.
Pair that with the Toronto Raptors. A team that has faced more adversity over the last few years than fans outside of Canada probably realize. They are a team that never gives up; one that always finds a way to win.
I remember one of Nick Nurse’s mantras in his first year coaching the team was, “There are 1000 ways to win a basketball game, we just have to find 1 of them.”
And you can see in the way that he coaches, and the way this team plays, that they are constantly searching for what works. They don’t stop until they find it.
I think the Raptors have found their winning formula. Game 5, for the lack of a better term, was a cake walk. The 76ers could’ve closed out the series at home, in front of their fans, and basked in confetti and adoration.
Instead, it looked like they forgot to show up. They looked like they didn’t want to compete. Did they all stay up late playing video games? The Raptors controlled every single moment of the game.
With the Raptors up 12 with 4 minutes remaining, the fans started to leave. They were going home! Oh, they were also booing. They started doing that early on.
As if the pressure wasn’t already mounting, the home fans were starting to turn on their own team. I loved it.
The consensus after that game was there was no way the 76ers were going to go to Toronto and win Game 7. Absolutely no way.
I believe that, too.
Toronto has been the better team for the last three games. They should’ve won Game 3. The fact that the 76ers snuck out that win is the only reason why they aren’t facing elimination tonight.
This series has turned.
The Raptors are doing to the 76ers exactly what I thought they would do before Game 1. Minimize Joel Embiid and James Harden, and dare “the others” to beat you. That’s finally happening.
Embiid looked exhausted in Game 5. The Raptors blew by him, six possessions in a row. He averaged 33.8 minutes-per-game in the regular season and is now being asked to play close to 40 in the playoffs. On top of that, the Raptors are making sure that he can’t just camp out in the lane on defence and recover some stamina. They are making him move.
Going back a few games, I made a mental note to myself that the 76ers substitution pattern for Embiid is not that helpful to them. They have him playing the entire 1st and 3rd quarters, and then sitting for the first 3-4 minutes of the 2nd and 4th quarters.
When he’s out of the game, all the Raptors should do is attack the basket. Paul Reed isn’t stopping anybody. They’ve turned Georges Niang into a turnstile. No one is protecting the rim.
It’s only when the 76ers bench has taken on too much water, that they’re forced to bring Embiid back in the game.
It’s easy for me to say, but why not take him for the last 90 seconds of the 1st quarter. Let him get rest during the TV timeout at the end of the quarter which is about 3.5 minutes, and then give him another 90 seconds on the bench at the start of the 2nd quarter. At which point, he’d be 3.5 minutes away from the next mandatory TV timeout.
I just think that’s a better plan for him, but if the 76ers want to keep him on the bench for a 4-minute stretch to start quarters, I’m going to let them keep doing it.
Meanwhile, the Raptors starters have been playing heavy minutes all year. Earlier in the season, Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri addressed it with the media. They said that our young players need to learn how to play a lot of minutes because that’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs.
Well, weren’t they smart. The Raptors look like they were made for this.
James Harden has not looked like James Harden, at all. He had one more point (15) than Danny Green in Game 5. God love Danny Green, but the Raptors will take this every day of the week.
So, let’s recap. The 76ers bench has been rendered useless. Tyrese Maxey has come back down to earth. James Harden is not James Harden. Danny Green is okay, but nothing to be afraid of. Embiid is exhausted. And Tobias Harris has been good.
Oh, and Embiid has his thumb injury. I almost forgot.
I said in my last post that when you have torn ligaments in your finger, you’re very aware of the situations you place that finger in. Embiid admitted as much to the media. What I took away from his comments was that he’s not putting himself in situations where his thumb will get hit.
That is fine with me because for the first two games of the series, he was running through our entire defence. If he wants to avoid contact now, go for it.
I think tonight’s game could be a blowout in the Raptors favour. We still haven’t had a good shooting game from three-point range. Maybe that comes tonight.
However, I am wary that Raptors fans (myself included) are getting a bit too confident. I think that’s okay, as long as the team doesn’t feel overconfident, but we need to be mindful of not blowing up the balloon so much that it pops. We need to let the 76ers implode, without bailing them out because we got complacent.
This is a trap game. We’re looking ahead to Game 7, as if it’s a certainty, but we still have to beat a very good NBA team to get there.
Yesterday, Doc Rivers felt the need to defend his checkered past of blowing 3-1 leads. After Game 5, Embiid was saying that Harden needs to be more aggressive, which is just so rich and comical. I mean, it’s true, but the fact that he said it about Ben Simmons last year and is now saying it about one of the best scorers in NBA history, is just amazing.
I think they are spiralling.
The Raptors need to step on their throats tonight. Get a big lead and just let the fans pile it on the 76ers bench.
I’m expecting a “Raps in 7” chant, at some point tonight.
Forget the fact that this series was at 3-0, for just a second. If you told me the Raptors would be down 3-2 in the series (without saying how we got to this point) and they had a chance to force a Game 7 by winning Game 6 at home – I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.
Just win this game.
We got it to Game 6.
We need to get it to Game 7.