The Raptors are halfway to history, and the Sixers have given them reason to believe it’s possible.
No team in the NBA has ever won a series after being down 3-0, but Toronto won its second straight game over the Sixers on Monday night, taking a 103-88 Game 5 win at Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers’ third chance to clinch their first-round series will be Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.
All five Sixers starters scored in double figures, led by Joel Embiid (20 points, 11 rebounds). The Raptors had a 29-11 advantage in bench points.
Pascal Siakam posted 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Toronto’s Fred VanVleet was out with a left hip flexor strain. The athletic, relentless Raptors have been excellent without him the last game and a half.
Here are observations on the Sixers’ Game 5 defeat:
Digging another early hole
The Sixers’ start wasn’t much better than the last time they were at home.
In Game 2, the Raptors were up 11-2 before the Sixers knew what hit them. On Monday, the team’s deficit was 18-9 after a tough Gary Trent Jr. jumper.
Two James Harden turnovers led to transition Toronto hoops. Siakam and Khem Birch also nailed early three-pointers, shots the Sixers have understandably been fine with those players taking throughout the series.
An Embiid dunk off of a pick-and-roll with Harden palpably shifted the momentum. Both Harden and Tobias Harris then provided a few strong individual defensive possessions that contributed to better pace and easier, deeper catches for Embiid. Harris’ defensive activity had been fantastic all series, but Harden’s focus and effort both on and off the ball were key parts of the Sixers’ first-quarter response. Harris kept confidently shooting the catch-and-shoot three-pointers that came his way, including a corner triple assisted by Harden that cut the Raptors’ lead to 20-17.
The Sixers turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter. Matisse Thybulle shot like a player who’d been watching the past two games at home (the 25-year-old wing is ineligible to play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated), air-balling a three-pointer and missing two free throws. The Raptors’ 29-27 lead wasn’t daunting on the surface, though, despite the Sixers again opening a step or two behind their opponent.
A shaky, indecisive, cold quarter
With 34.9 seconds left in the first quarter, Precious Achiuwa accidentally tipped a Thybulle miss into his own basket. Those were the Sixers’ last points until a Danny Green three with 6:58 to go in the second period.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers gave Thybulle an extended first stint and got the worst version of his offensive game. There’s no way to replicate game reps and the self-belief that stems from makes. Thybulle had zero of both over Games 3 and 4, which undoubtedly decreased his odds of making a positive impact immediately. Still, Thybulle became an extreme offensive negative.
Declining to consider another jumper, he threw a pass back out to Tyrese Maxey on the perimeter. Scottie Barnes picked it off and went the other direction for a layup that put Toronto ahead 33-27. Rivers called timeout and the home fans booed loudly.
Against a team known for applying constant pressure and pouncing on mistakes, that vulnerability seemed especially unhelpful. Indeed, substituting Thybulle out failed to stop the bleeding. The Sixers simply couldn’t score without Embiid and the Raptors’ advantage grew to 14 points when Siakam scythed through the defense for a layup.
Green knocked down three long-range jumpers in the second quarter. Those shots ensured the score didn’t turn ugly fast, although the Sixers were still down 13 at halftime and playing with little of the poise they showed in decisive wins to start the series in Philadelphia.
Harden drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Maxey, who pump faked and tossed up a wayward floater, which eventually resulted in an Achiuwa three. The Sixers ended the half with Harden sizing up Barnes and misfiring on a step-back three.
At the midpoint of the third quarter, the team’s backcourt was 5 for 17 from the floor and 0 for 5 from long distance.
Not a steady showing
Playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, Embiid looked most dangerous when he won position early in the shot clock.
Late in the first quarter, he sealed deep in the paint for a layup and got another easy basket on an aggressive re-post.
The thumb injury is obviously significant in a physical sense. Embiid's figuring out what's still comfortable, where he's compromised, and the ways in which he must adjust. At the moment, he's inclined to employ his left hand more than normal.
The psychological element was also noticeable Monday in how any bad break or squandered opportunity seemed to deflate the Sixers. For instance, Embiid fired a sharp high-low pass to Harris in the third quarter, but Harris missed the point-blank shot and Toronto sprinted out in transition, scoring on an OG Anunoby layup.
Maxey attacked impressively on a few occasions in the second half, but the Sixers' offense was still a million miles from crisp. That made the team's open misses hurt even more. Harden dipped to 2 for 9 from the floor when he came up empty on a three-point try early in the fourth.
Blown leads were the story of last postseason for the Sixers, in large part because they couldn't regain their footing when things began to slip. That trend was sure apparent Monday night.