When they’re bad, this Sixers team can be very bad.
A 13-point loss to the Raptors in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series that wasn’t as close as it sounds and a dreadful 36-point defeat in Game 5, the second worst in the playoffs in franchise history, illustrate that fact.
When they’re good …
Mike Scott described it well Thursday night after the Sixers’ 112-101 Game 6 win (see observations).
“It was all from the ball movement, everybody playing together,” Scott said. “When we move the ball and share the ball, can't nobody f--- with us, know what I'm saying."
For stretches of Thursday’s game, it was difficult to understand how the Sixers ever lose, let alone how they got blown out just two nights earlier in what had been the most important game of their season. That wasn’t the same as getting decimated by the Trail Blazers on Dec. 30, crushed by the Wizards on Jan. 11 or dismantled by the Mavs in a near-meaningless game on April 1. The stakes could have been higher for Game 5, sure, but not by much.
With the season at stake, though, something close to the best version of the Sixers showed up.
JJ Redick thought the performance was in character for the volatile Sixers.
“Like I said the other night, Game 5 didn’t necessarily surprise me,” Redick said. “We rarely have those sort of back-to-back horrible games. It was almost like you could’ve predicted tonight as well.”
As Scott noted, the Sixers’ ball movement was excellent Thursday — they had 27 assists on 41 made field goals. Scott was on the floor for much of the Sixers’ free-flowing, fast-paced success — he was a plus-29 in 20 minutes. James Ennis found Scott in the right corner with 10:30 left in the second quarter for three of his 11 points, capping a 25-8 run.
Given the level the Sixers were playing, it seemed like there was no chance Scott would miss the shot. He felt the same way.
“Yeah, I kinda knew,” he said. “Probably a little bit too cocky. Just in the heat of the moment, I know it's cash. I just know what it is."
For a team trying to survive, it’s probably not ideal to be reliant on its potential, however vast it is. Redick might have a good pulse for the Sixers, but calling them “predictable” seems like a mischaracterization. They have the talent of a typical team in the Eastern Conference Finals, not the consistency.
But the talent is there, and even if it’s only gelled sporadically, the pieces looked sensational together Thursday. Tobias Harris lifted the Sixers to an early lead with eight first-quarter points, Ben Simmons attacked in the open floor and didn’t turn the ball over once, Joel Embiid’s immense defensive impact was reflected in his absurd plus-40 mark and Jimmy Butler sparked a late second-quarter run that elbowed the Raptors out of the game.
Elton Brand’s in-season trades seemed less like a premature, ill-advised attempt to force square pegs into round holes and more like a bold, savvy plan to assemble a team that can beat anyone. It’s not the first time that’s happened, either. If the Sixers can replicate this performance on the road Sunday, they'll push the offseason questions to the side and ensure this won’t be the last.
“Before I came on the floor I kind of just looked at the starting five, our starting five,” Simmons said. “I was like, ‘We’ve got a lot of talent.’ And with that comes responsibility. Everybody has to do their job. It goes back to starting with defense, playing together, sharing the ball and moving it. It’s special.”
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