In a Back-and-Forth Series, Sixers and Raptors Fittingly Go to Game 7

With Joel Embiid yet to reach full strength, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler responded with their backs against the wall to lead the Sixers to a critical victory and force a winner-take-all Game 7 in Toronto.
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Philly and Toronto are headed toward a winner-take-all Game 7 after the Sixers’ 112–101 win at home on Thursday. The two teams have performed across their respective spectrums during this series, peaking and valleying over the course of the first six games. It’s only fair that the series goes the limit, and whoever loses could be facing major consequences in the offseason.

Game 6 was the kind of postseason contest that most often favors the Sixers, in that Philly capitalized on the poor shooting of its opponent to find easy looks on offense. The 76ers didn’t push the pace or rack up possessions, but Ben Simmons was able to get into his offense quickly en route to a 21-point performance. Simmons and Jimmy Butler carried the load, while Joel Embiid—still struggling with his health and efficiency—more than made up for his shortcomings with stout defense. Embiid needs to be at full strength for any realistic Finals hopes, but he can provide an impactful presence even when he’s a shell of himself. 

The Raptors received solid performances from their stars. Kawhi Leonard had 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, though he shot a less-than-stellar 9-of-20 from the field, compensating by working his way through the free throw line. (Leonard missed all four of his three-point attempts.) Pascal Siakam also stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Toronto’s bellwethers—its role players—struggled, however. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green combined to shoot only 10-of-27 from the field, including a 5-of-18 mark from three. The Raptors have received a superstar turn from Leonard and a breakout act from Siakam in this series. Their success often hinges on the performances of the role players. And in Game 6, the supporting cast couldn’t offer enough lift.

What happens in Game 7? Who knows? This series has largely defied convention. Both teams have been all over the place, and different games have been played at different paces. Some nights both teams are hot from three, in other games one team can't seem to buy a basket. The Sixers and Raptors have perhaps best embodied the randomness of playoff basketball, or how much each individual night can swing on the margins. That doesn’t mean each coach won’t try to put forward a specific formula in the do-or-die moment.

Philly needs contributions from all its stars to win. Running the offense helps Simmons find a rhythm, and then Embiid and Butler can find their own shots in the half court. Tobias Harris is getting the looks the Sixers want, he just happens to be shooting an underwhelming 30.6% from beyond the arc in the second round. Embiid may not have his full wind, but he’ll be instrumental for the Sixers. (JoJo was a staggering plus-40 Thursday.) If Simmons and Butler can get going as they did in Game 6, then Embiid can still dominate on the defensive end, where he’s probably more valuable in his current state.

The Raptors should feel good about their chances at home. Toronto is shooting 33.7% from three up north in the second round, compared to only 27.7% while in Philadelphia. At this point, the Raps should expect solid performances from Leonard and Siakam. If the role players receive a boost from playing in their own gym, Toronto becomes much more difficult to beat.

At this point, there’s no need to overanalyze what’s happened before Game 7. The Sixers and Raptors have been swinging wildly back and forth throughout this series, with four of the six games being decided by double digits. Both teams' best-laid plans have gone awry on multiple occasions. There are no more tricks hidden up the sleeves. Whoever executes better Sunday will be moving on to the conference finals.