- The Blazers and Sixers are both on the brink of elimination in Game 6 of their respective series. The Crossover maps out the adjustments each team should make to keep their seasons alive.
A pair of teams could join Boston as conference semifinal losers on Friday night as the Sixers and Blazers look to defend home court in Game 6 despite 3–2 deficits. Each team suffered blowout losses in Game 5. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors pummeled Philadelphia as likely Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam zoomed his way to a game-high 25 points in a 125-89 victory.
The Nuggets did some bullying of their own at Mile High. Nikola Jokic punk'd Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard en route to 25 points, 19 boards and six assists in Denver’s 124-98, forcing Portland to summon another dose of Lillard magic at the Moda Center. A pair of eliminations is well within reach.
We shouldn’t bury Philadelphia or Portland just yet. Neither team is at a sizeable talent disadvantage—at least at the top of their rosters—and a slate of role players should shoot better in some friendly confines. But some serious adjustments will need to be made in order to save the Sixers and Blazers respective seasons. We at The Crossover outlined some remedies that could lead to a round-two comeback.
Release Transition Simmons
Tuesday night was perhaps the lowlight of Simmons’ career in Philadelphia. He was frankly disinterested for large stretches in the halfcourt, spending much of the second half with his hands on his hips. Simmons had as many turnovers (five) as shot attempts. He attempted one foul shot. Simmons remained in the passenger’s seat as Embiid battled sickness and exhaustion. Their long-term viability remains in question.
Those questions won’t be settled until at least July, so for now, let’s focus on Game 6. The best antidote for a sluggish Simmons is to unleash the horses, stressing transition at every opportunity. Embiid’s health will impact the speed Simmons can dial up, though Brett Brown’s minutes splits can mitigate the damage. Toronto ground Philadelphia to a halt in Game 5. Simmons in transition is the Sixers best chance to revive their dormant attack.
Make Kawhi a Playmaker
Kawhi Leonard is currently on a different plane as a passer compared to his Finals MVP days in San Antonio, but forcing the ball out of his hands may be Philly’s best chance at stopping Toronto’s relative cyborg. Leonard is too comfortable working to his spot in single coverage. Jimmy Butler isn’t big enough to defend him. Ben Simmons has even struggled. Embiid shouldn’t be afraid to stray an extra foot from Marc Gasol. Big Spain doesn’t want to shoot it anyway. Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and even Siakam should be dared to make triples on the road. The Sixers may have to live with a few frustrating makes, but it’s a far better alternative to letting Leonard bury them in an elimination game.
Portland Trail Blazers
Double Down on Size
Jokic feasted his way through Game 5 with little impediment from Portland’s front line. Enes Kanter shot just 2-9 and was subsequently ran off the flood, leaving the Blazers with a slight collection of bodies ill-equipped to stop the potential first-team All-NBA center. Collins and Leonard couldn’t seal the interior. Al-Farouq Aminu was minus-22 in 24 minutes. Jokic is a solid rebounder, though a ground-bound one to put it charitably. Allowing him to gobble up 19 boards in 34 minutes is inexcusable.
Portland head coach Terry Stotts may regret his decision to lighten Kanter’s load so early. Even with a shoddy defensive reputation, his sheer mass is a better option than Portland’s more mobile bigs. Perhaps Kanter can pair with Collins or Leonard and try his hand guarding Paul Millsap. The Blazers have been exposed without Jusuf Nurkic, but with limited options, a twin-towers approach may be prudent.
All due respect to Rodney Hood, but if the Blazers are going to go down, it might as well be on the back of Damian Lillard. Don’t expect him to lay a Kyrie-Irving-level egg, especially on his home floor. Lillard is made for magic at the Moda Center and isn’t afraid to let it fly in big games. He fired 33 shots in his 50-point Game 5 performance against Oklahoma City in round one. He’s well equipped to keep the Blazers alive on Thursday.