Raptors Outlast The Sixers
Source: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
The Toronto Raptors outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers in a series that had more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Canada's Wonderland. The Raptors came into game 7 after a let down in game 6. Sixers centre Joel Embiid was healthy coming into game 6 after playing with an illness in games 4 and 5. Ben Simmons who has been mostly nonexistent in this series scored his series-high 21 points and notched 8 boards along the way. It felt Toronto might have had their backs against the wall coming into game 7 if it wasn't for the fact they had home court advantage for the deciding game.
The Vince Carter missed shot some years ago still resonated for Toronto coming into game 7. A memory that reminds us of the success of a young franchise, but also the biggest heartbreak in Raptors history. Toronto would love to erase that memory.
Toronto and Philly have been back and forth all series long, yet when either Toronto or Philadelphia had a bad performance the other team just couldn't ride that momentum into the next game. Toronto looked good in game 1 and had some shooting struggles in game 2. Game 3 they got blown out on the road losing by 21 points. Joel Embiid had a good performance all while doing his airplane celebration with that ruckus Philly backing him. The Raptors, other than Leonard and Siakam, didn't show up. Toronto's defence showed some cracks as the Sixers shot for over 50 percent. It was the first time in these playoffs you could say Toronto faced some adversity.
Game 5 the Raptors gave the Sixers a taste of their own medicine with a clobbering of their own. Toronto dominated the Sixers and had 6 players in double figures. Raptors forward Serge Ibaka snapped out of his funk and posted double-digit points, giving the Raptors bench some needed life. The Raptors defence mustered 19 turnovers and scored 31 points off the Sixers turnovers. As Toronto took game 5, the Raptors were in control of the series.
Game 6 Toronto had to be feeling good, yet Philadelphia came out shooting and scoring early. Philly was up by 8 after the first quarter. The Raptors as a whole couldn't shoot from downtown or rebound, mustering up a lackluster 25 percent and outrebounded by almost 20. Philly was also dominating Toronto in the paint and gave up 18 second-chance points. Needless to say, Philly tied the series and now game 7 shifted back to Toronto.
Game 7 in Toronto, winner faces the first seed Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto took the lead early but Philly seemed to be nipping at their heels. Early on, both teams struggled offensively, but a major credit has to go to each sides defence. The pace wasn't fast either, old school full court basketball. The Raptors were mostly leading in this game but Philly started to turn it on in the third quarter going on a 16-0 run, which saw a 9 point deficit to into a 5 point lead for Philly. However, the Raptors finished the quarter strong setting us up for an epic finish.
Late in the 4th quarter, Toronto was up by 5 thanks to a Kawhi Leonard bucket and foul shot. Philly came back thanks to Jimmy Butler knocking down both his free throws and JJ Reddick hitting a tough 21-foot jumper to tie the game at 85. Toronto's defence continued to stifle the Sixers offence as Marc Gasol blocked a Jimmy Butler shot on their next possession. Raptors didn't score for over 3 minutes but Kawhi Leonard ended that mini-slump with a basket with 1:41 left. Despite having their backs against the wall, the Sixers still were fighting back. Butler hit 2 free throws and then Kawhi missed the next two shots but the second one was a missed noncall by the referee as Reddick made contact with Leonard's hands. Joel Embiid got to the line after getting fouled, but not before Kyle Lowry knocked the ball out of Embiid's hands almost iced the game with a steal. The Raptors are now up by one with Kawhi getting intentionally fouled. Leonard hit the first shot but surprisingly missed the second shot. The Sixers got the rebound and Jimmy Butler drove the ball to the basket and tied the game at 90.
With 4.2 seconds left on the clock Raptors head coach Nick Nurse called a timeout. Everybody knew who would get the ball, the Sixers included. The ball was inbounded to Kawhi, who was guarded by Ben Simmons, he dribbled the ball to the right corner of the floor, putting up a Vince Carter esque shot over Joel Embiid. The ball hits the rim, bounces seemingly in slow motion a few times and then the ball goes in.
Silence turns into an eruption of cheers, as Toronto downed the Sixers in one of the biggest moments in the team's history.
10 months ago, Raptor fans didn't want anything to do with Kawhi after the team traded away the face of the franchise. Now he was the city’s hero and loved by the Raptors faithful. Kawhi all series long put Toronto on his back and had a great performances game after game.
According to STATS, Leonard scored 243 points in the series which is the most since Michael Jordan’s 246 points against the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA finals. Kawhi Leonard isn't a guy that folds under pressure and when it's time to deliver Kawhi steps up to the plate.
The ghost of Vince Carter from 19 years ago can be put to rest, and for the second time in 4 years, the Raptors are going to the Eastern Conference finals. Now bring on the Bucks.