Two days after enduring the second-worst playoff loss in franchise history, the Sixers ensured that the two sweetest words in sports apply to their second-round playoff series against the Raptors: Game 7.
The Sixers beat the Raptors on Thursday night in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center, 112-101, in a game they led by as many as 24 points. Game 7 will be Sunday in Toronto.
Here are observations on Game 6:
• Carving out space for rebounds, shrugging off defenders to navigate over screens, bodying up when an opponent tries to post him up — just about everything Jimmy Butler does is physically imposing.
Butler made a series of excellent plays late in the second quarter. He followed his own miss, leaping high for a contested rebound, then tossed it in from about eight feet away as he was falling to the ground with Kyle Lowry draped all over him; he scored inside on Patrick McCaw; and he snatched a steal and laid it in with 0.4 seconds left, giving him 19 first-half points and the Sixers a 15-point lead.
It was the performance of a man who seemed to be either disgusted by the possibility of the Sixers’ season ending by blowing a 19-point first-half lead or who simply wouldn’t consider it.
• Brett Brown promised on a conference call Wednesday that we’d see a more aggressive Ben Simmons in Game 6. Passive, ineffective and generally inconsequential to the Sixers’ offense for most of this series, Simmons delivered on his coach’s expectations (see story).
Playing without his usual arm sleeve, Simmons still did not attempt any jump shots. He did, however, have a stellar performance, resembling the Simmons we saw in the regular season and first round of the playoffs. He was much more eager to push the ball in transition than he’d been throughout this series.
Simmons’ decision-making was also sensible when Toronto stopped him in his tracks. He had 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and no turnovers.
The assignment against Kawhi Leonard remains a daunting challenge, but Simmons again did well to limit the Raptors’ star. By the very high standards he’s set in this series, Leonard had his second straight off game, with 29 points on 9 for 20 shooting, 12 rebounds, five assists and four turnovers.
Like this Sixers team, Simmons has obvious flaws, is unpredictable and is sensational when he’s at his best (see story).
• Boban Marjanovic came into the Sixers’ rotation in the first half. While you can understand Brown wanting to try something different, Marjanovic simply didn’t have the foot speed to be anything besides a defensive liability, and the Sixers were unable to find him offensively — he was called for traveling on the one non-garbage time occasion when he had the ball in good position near the rim.
Toronto cut the Sixers’ lead down to seven points with Marjanovic in the game in the second quarter, forcing Brown to call a timeout and reinsert Embiid.
It was a hopeful move by Brown that backfired, motivated by the Sixers’ lack of dependable backup centers and his search for solutions with the season on the line. He turned to Mike Scott as a small-ball center to spell Embiid for less than a minute in the second half before realizing he needed a rim protector and putting Embiid back into the game in place of Tobias Harris.
• As you might guess by their struggles to stay afloat when Embiid went to the bench, and by the fact that they won by 11 points, the Sixers crushed the Raptors when Embiid was on the court. In fact, Embiid was an unfathomable plus-40.
Embiid wasn’t dominant offensively — he had 17 points, 14 after halftime — but his defensive impact is massive. The Raptors were happy to drive to the rim when Embiid was off the floor and very reluctant to do so when he was looming in the paint.
With 4:47 left in the game, Embiid was called for a Flagrant 1 foul for a “hostile act” — he hit Marc Gasol in the face as the two were boxing out on a free throw, and Gasol sold the contact. The play is significant because Embiid now has three flagrant-foul points in the playoffs and would receive a one-game suspension if he picks up four.
• The Sixers’ defense as a whole was very good, and they helped themselves by cutting down on the live-ball turnovers that created transition opportunities for the Raptors in Game 5. They held Toronto to nine fast-break points.
• A player with a plus-minus almost as mind-boggling as Embiid’s was Scott. He was a plus-29 in 20 minutes and had 11 points on 4 for 5 shooting.
Scott doesn’t look hampered by the plantar fasciitis and heel contusion that caused him to miss the first two games of the series. In James Ennis and Scott, Brown knows he has two bench players he can trust.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.