Kawhi Leonard’s back has to be killing him with the way he’s carrying the Raptors.
Through four games in the second-round series with the Sixers, Leonard has averaged 38 points while shooting 62 percent from the field. The only player to average at least 35 points and shoot over 60 percent in a playoff series is some guy named Michael Jordan.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, a similar theme is arising on their end. After a rough Game 1, Jimmy Butler has been an absolute monster. But he needs help if the Sixers are going to take the series over Leonard and Toronto.
Butler’s brilliant 29-point performance in Sunday’s Game 4 loss was almost enough. He was his typical fourth quarter Jimmy Buckets, netting 10 of his points in the final stanza.
There’s a physicality that he plays with, he’s just a runaway train at times,” Brett Brown said. “Him coming up with some rebounds and loose balls, you see his just jaw-dropping athleticism. Then you just see his toughness emerge. We talk a lot about trying to play to mirror the spirit of the city — this is Philadelphia — and there is a toughness that he has that I think reflects the spirit of the city. I think tonight, once again, you saw him do everything that he could to will us a win.
The shame of it is that the Sixers wasted Butler’s brilliance.
Joel Embiid, who is dealing with yet another illness, went just 2 of 7. Outside of Game 3, Embiid is shooting just 9 of 32 in the series. Embiid averaged 27.5 points in the regular season. His taking only seven shots, sick or not, is simply not enough.
Then there’s Ben Simmons. The 22-year-old is exerting an awful lot of energy chasing around Leonard for 40 minutes a night, but he’s barely averaging double digits for the series. He’s still a young player in just his second postseason, but there are no excuses. It looked like Simmons was passing up opportunities Sunday, especially when Nick Nurse switched things up and put Leonard on Butler. At that point, Simmons needs to win his matchup.
Not only has Butler led the Sixers offensively, but he’s definitely taken on a role as a leader on the team. After the game, he wanted to make sure his two young All-Star teammates realize how important they are.
I want Ben to be as aggressive just like I tell Jo to be aggressive. We’re not going to win without you guys. You have to be ready to attack at any point in time. Damn sure in transition — if he has the ball in transition. Ben, don’t pass the ball in transition. Attack every single time. That’s how we’re going to win this [series].
Butler has developed a strong relationship with Embiid and Simmons. This wasn't him calling out younger players or "aggressively challenging" anyone. This is a leader emerging.
"I have seen him grow from a leadership standpoint in noticeable ways," Brown said. "It's reflective with his performance on a court, it's reflective of what goes on in the locker room, it's reflective of you see him on a bench, not playing. You can point to multiple examples to say that is a leader. He's been able to back that up with some strong court performances."
After the Sixers steamrolled the Raptors in Game 3, it seemed like they had a stranglehold on the series. That lasted about two days. Now they got back to Toronto at 2-2.
Embiid mentioned that the team felt overconfident last season heading into its series against Boston. Perhaps those same thoughts crept in this year.
Butler was glad they got knocked down a peg Sunday.
“We’re confident. But I don’t think we can get too confident, settle, get comfortable,” Butler said. “We know how good a team we are and we know how we’re supposed to perform. … I like it. We got humbled tonight. I’m proud of it. Hopefully we go and do what we’re supposed to do.”
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