The good, the bad, and the uncertain from Thursday’s slate of Game 6s.
Game 6: 76ers 112, Raptors 101
Loser: The Shortest Memory In The NBA, And Yes I Mean You, Philly Fans
How the mood has changed, Sixers nation, in the last 24 hours. How it fluctuated through Game 6, even. Three minutes into the second quarter, Philly was up 19 points; three minutes later, still up seven, Wells Fargo Center was booing; at the end of the fourth, the crowd gave the team a standing ovation. Entering the game, some of the fan base thought the franchise would be better off if it traded sooner rather than later. Cut their losses now before it’s too late; I mean he’s already 22-years-old, and it’s been nearly an entire year since he was the Rookie of the Year. By the end of the game, Ben Simmons was again the Prince Who Was Promised, the first of his name, the one whom Philly should really build around.
Because Joel Embiid, really, will he ever be healthy? He hadn’t been through five games against Toronto. He’ll probably never be injury free, never mind that the health issue restricting him in Game 5 was a respiratory infection, probably the same respiratory infection your kid caught last month at school. You know what they say about respiratory infections and big men; it could be a career ender. Well, except, in Game 6 he looked quite good. Great, even. Could he be the best big man in history? Who’s to rule it out? Embiid finished with 17 points, 12 boards, and a plus-minus of plus-40. Plus-40! Did Wilt ever do that? Well, did he? (We don’t know; the stat doesn’t go back that far. But still: plus-40!)
I love you, Philadelphia. And I fear you, Philadelphia. But most of all, I admire you, Philadelphia, and your utter disregard for anything that happened more than six and a half minutes ago. Are you rash? You tell me. Would an impulsive fan base ink itself with Mike Scott tattoos three months into his Sixers tenure, knowing full well that he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer?
The past is the past, and the past is not part of The Process. Take it from Jimmy Butler, who also joined the organization this season, who also could leave this summer, who also is now Philly’s god, and who once took the rearview mirrors off his minivan as “as a symbolic reminder to never look back.”
Winner: Contract-Year Jimmy Buckets
Brett Brown has to be thrilled that Simmons and Embiid returned to form in Game 6. The duo is the Sixers’ future and will also determine Brown’s future; he’s reportedly coaching for his job this postseason. But more than Simmons and Embiid, Philadelphia’s coach has Jimmy Butler to thank for keeping the team in this Raptors series. Butler scored 25 points on Thursday, his third straight game leading all Sixers, and added six rebounds, eight assists (another team-high), and two steals. He’s been the hero, even next to Embiid and Simmons in Game 6.
There’s no telling how long Butler will be a Sixer. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’s realistic that he’ll leave. It’s a cute coincidence that Butler, who was the locker-room-wrecker ambushing practices last fall, repaired his reputation in a place nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love. Battling Toronto, Butler has displayed all his strengths: veteran experience, competitiveness, elite two-way skills, and a desperate need to win. Brown’s hoping that carries over to Game 7. So far, there’s no evidence it won’t.
Loser: Raptors Bench
For a team often applauded for its depth, Toronto’s bench has been especially unproductive in the second round. Three games in, the Raptors reserves had played 163 total minutes and had combined for just 21 points, shooting 21 percent from the field. In Game 4, only Serge Ibaka scored from the second unit, adding 12 points. The bench nearly topped its point total from the first four contests in Game 5 alone, scoring 32 points in Philadelphia’s worst playoffs loss since Dr. J was wearing the uniform (a 1982 40-point loss to Boston).
They regressed again in Game 6. At the end of the third quarter, only Ibaka was on the board (nine points). Ibaka led all relievers; Fred VanVleet, once hailed as the backup no one’s talking about, was a nonfactor again, yet Nick Nurse didn’t play Jeremy Lin at all while still briefly subbing in Pat McCaw. The bench managed to finish with 23 points, but most of that was acquired in garbage time.