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Predictions for Game 7 of Sixers vs. Raptors playoff series

Predictions for Game 7 of Sixers vs. Raptors playoff series

It's Game 7, which means everything and then some is at stake. Not much more needs to be said.

Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their predictions. 

Hudrick 

This series has been anything but predictable, but we’ve made a futile attempt to predict each game of this series so there’s no point in stopping now.

It’ll be interesting to see how Brett Brown handles his rotation. He mentioned possibly playing seven guys. It’s not ideal, but it’s likely the best strategy. None of the Sixers’ backup centers have proven they can hang in this series. The best bet is to go small with Mike Scott and James Ennis being the only players to get off the bench.

We know Jimmy Butler will show up as he has all series. This game, and any potential run thereafter, will depend on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If Embiid is just healthy enough and Simmons takes a similar approach to the one from Game 6, the Sixers are going to be tough to beat.

Kawhi Leonard has been a one-man show for most of the series, but has cooled in the last two. In a do-or-die game, expect Leonard to rise to the occasion. The Raptors’ second-best offensive player has been Pascal Siakam, but he’s shot just 39 percent since a scalding hot Game 1. Toronto’s supporting cast has been underwhelming, but as Game 5 showed, there are capable players in there.

Winning a Game 7 on the road is no easy task. The Sixers haven’t done it since the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals in Boston.

Before the series began, I had Toronto in seven. It’s been a crapshoot from game to game. When both teams have played at their best, the Sixers have looked like the more talented team.

See you in Milwaukee.

Levick 

There are plenty of important strategic questions for Brown and the Sixers in this game. Does Brown go with a seven-man rotation? How does he avoid disaster when Embiid leaves the game? How much would he be willing to tolerate Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Co. making some of the open threes they missed in Game 6 before he changes his defensive game plan?

That said, the fundamental question of this series for the Sixers has simply been which version of the team will show up. Embiid and Simmons have mixed poor performances with sensational showings. Tobias Harris has been consistent but underwhelming offensively, scoring between nine and 16 points in every game. Butler has been the team's one reliable star. 

The central storyline for the Sixers remains Embiid's health. If he's fit enough to play 45 minutes, as he said he was willing to after Game 6, the Sixers have a good chance to win in Toronto. He did not look near his best Thursday night and the Sixers still outscored the Raptors by 40 points when he was on the floor.

I expect Embiid will play well in Game 7, but I can't envision Brown actually playing him 45 minutes. I think the Sixers will suffer when Embiid sits, Leonard will finish a special series with an excellent performance, and the Raptors will edge out the Sixers on their home floor. At this stage, though, little would surprise me.

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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

Tre Jones

Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 185 pounds 
School: Duke

Looking at the 2020 NBA draft prospects, there might not be a player that has been more closely scrutinized than Tre Jones. Such is life when you’re the point guard at Duke.

A look at Jones’ two years in Durham is a study in contrasts. In his first season, he played Ringo in a Fab Four freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. (Apologies to Joey Baker for not being included in that group.) Oftentimes, Jones would defer to his more prominent teammates to the point of disappearing offensively in games.

Jones was the lone member of that unit to return to school for a sophomore season. The Minnesota native emerged as the team’s leader and most complete player en route to earning ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Only Shane Battier and Malcolm Brogdon have accomplished that double this century.

But how does Jones’ game translate to the NBA? Let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths 

Excellent defender: Jones earned that Defensive Player of the Tear award on merit. The best example of his prowess on defense came in his last college game, a 13-point win over rival North Carolina. In that contest, Jones placed the clamps on likely lottery pick Cole Anthony. The UNC star scored just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting while adding only three assists in 39 minutes. 

You can count the number of on-ball defenders who were better than Jones in the NCAA last season on one hand. That said, the 6-foot-3 guard will have to continue to develop strength if he’s going to disrupt NBA-caliber point guards on a consistent basis.

Embraces the moment: As mentioned above, the affable Jones willingly played facilitator in his freshman season. But in his second season, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils counted on Jones to take the team’s big shots. Obviously, one could point to the game-tying buzzer beater in Duke’s other game with North Carolina last season as evidence of that. But there were countless times in 2020 when Jones read the moment and made a play when his team needed it.

Jones will not be a primary offensive option in the NBA, but his defense has the opportunity to keep him on the floor at the end of games. He won’t be afraid to take and make big shots in those instances.

Weaknesses 

Shooting: Tre is actually the second Jones to make his way through Duke in recent years. His brother Tyus, you may recall, starred for the 2015 national champions alongside Jahlil Okafor. Tyus displayed a great deal of offensive weapons in his lone season at Duke. The younger Jones is slightly more limited on the offensive side of the ball, specifically when comparing the two as shooters.

Tre shot over 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, a tick up from his freshman campaign. But where he really improved was as a three-point shooter, going from 26.2 point to 36.1 percent. Jones will need to continue to improve that part of his game, because NBA coaches are going to help off him initially and force him to hit open shots.

To his credit, Jones is a good free throw shooter (over 75 percent from the foul line in both seasons at Duke), and he gets better in that department late in games.

Ball handling:  A willing passer and good decision maker, Jones is the type of player you want to play alongside. But he’s not a point guard that can get anywhere he wants off the dribble. He’ll need screens in order to consistently get into the paint as an NBA player. 

His handle is also a little loose for a player of his size. That didn’t cost him much in college, but it will be a different story next season.

Fit 

Chances are that Jones will likely fall to the bottom part of the draft’s first round, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the 20-year old. He’ll never be the type of player that can change a franchise. But Jones has the potential to be a fit for a good team like the Sixers, initially as an eighth or ninth man. One could see Jones providing capable defense while taking some minutes as a lead ball handler when Ben Simmons needs a rest. He’d also provide the potential for giving the Sixers a ridiculous shutdown lineup of Jones, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid and any other player you’d like.

In a best-case scenario, the Duke star becomes Kyle Lowry, a tenacious defender that runs his team and does enough offensively to be a factor. But if he doesn’t become a better offensive player, he might be relegated to NBA journeyman. I’d bet Jones ends up as a solid contributor to playoff teams for the better part of the next decade.

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Sixers Home School: The 1966-67 Sixers were one of the best NBA teams ever

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NBCSP

Sixers Home School: The 1966-67 Sixers were one of the best NBA teams ever

From 1959-1969, the Boston Celtics won 10 of 11 NBA titles. The one year Boston didn't win was 1967, when the Sixers ran roughshod over the entire league, including the Celtics. That 1966-67 Sixers team went 68-13 in the regular season, which remains one of the top five regular-season records in NBA history.

You probably know some of the names from that team. Wilt Chamberlain, obviously. Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker — all Hall of Famers.  What's great about this video, which is essentially a video yearbook of that 1966-67 team, is that you really get to understand the skill sets of those players and what made the team so dominant. It's also a time capsule. The shots of fans in suits and dresses inside the old Convention Hall really drive home that you're in a completely different era. (The Spectrum would open the following season.)

At the 1:55 mark, head coach Alex Hannum breaks down what each player brought to the team while you see video of those players. By the time he's done, you understand that Greer was a great mid-range jump shooter and that Luke Jackson and Chamberlain gave that team a "Twin Towers" look in the paint. It's a fascinating breakdown of what each player brought to the table and how the pieces fit together.

The real fun begins at 6:04, with a look at the Eastern Division Finals series against the Celtics. You get to see Chamberlain tangle with Bill Russell, and his combination of size, athleticism and skill just jumps off the screen. He averaged 21 points, 32 rebounds and 10 assists for the series. The absurdity of those numbers begins to make sense when you watch him do it. It’s impossible to watch the video and not believe that Chamberlain would have been a star in any era.

You also have to put into perspective what you’re watching as the Sixers overwhelmed the Celtics 4-1 in that series, including a 140-116 beatdown in Game 5 in Philadelphia. The Celtics were the eight-time defending champions. Russell had thwarted Chamberlain’s championship aspirations at every turn. But in 1967, the Celtics were a mere speed bump on the Sixers' road to a title.

At 16:47, you see Sixers fans holding a banner that says “Boston Is Dead” and you can feel the magnitude of that moment. At 18:21, you hear Chamberlain, Walker, Cunningham and others describe their feelings on finally vanquishing the Celtics as you watch the pure joy of the champagne celebration in the locker room.

The Sixers still had to finish the job, and the Finals series against the San Francisco Warriors begins at the 20:25 mark. You see the Sixers clinch the championship on the road in San Francisco before returning home to cheering fans at the airport.

The video begins and ends with a song from that era celebrating the 1966-67 Sixers. Here’s the chorus:

There's Hal and Larry, Matt and Bill and Wali Jones to pass it.

Luke and Billy, Chet and Dave and Wilt to guard the basket.

Those are names Sixers fans should know from what remains one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

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