The Philadelphia 76ers made a statement, suffocating the Brooklyn Nets on defense in Game 5 and closing the series with a huge win.
The 76ers scored 14 unanswered points to open the game, setting the stage for the beatdown that was to come. Brooklyn finished with 100 points but just 31 in the first half, when the game was (relatively) in doubt. Philadelphia led from start-to-finish with a margin that ballooned as high as 39 points. They had a 24-point edge in the paint and a 13-rebound edge on the glass, just bullying their way to a series-clinching victory.
This series was as emotional as any in the first round but, in the end, it was the 76ers who made the final statement.
Joel Embiid can be unstoppable. Embiid scored 10 points in that 14-0 run the 76ers used to open the game and finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, shooting 9-of-18 from the field. Given how well he’s played to help close this series, his health may be one of the biggest factors in determining who comes out of the Eastern Conference. After being goaded into five 3-point attempts in Game 1, he attempted just eight in the ensuing five games and, as Jeff Siegel pointed out, he repeatedly made good things happen by putting the ball on the floor and driving past closeouts. With his enormous impact at both ends of the floor, Embiid sets the 76ers ceiling. Right now, it appears to be set for towering heights.
Getting to the free throw line is the next frontier for D’Angelo Russell. He had a spectacular year, breaking out and establishing himself as more than just a potential star. But watching him struggle under Ben Simmons’ defense in this series it was striking how hard he has to work to get his points. Russell attempted just 13 free throws in 138 minutes during this series, a woeful number that can’t just be attributed to bad calls. For comparison, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson attempted 25 free throws in the series. During the regular season, Russell was fouled on just 4.2 percent of his shot attempts which ranked in the eighth percentile among combo guard, per Cleaning The Glass. When he can survive a tough game by getting himself to the line for easy points, all sorts of possibilities will open for him and the Nets.
What can they throw at the Raptors? The 76ers iced their series just an hour or so after the Raptors finished their gentleman’s sweep of the Magic. This second-round matchup offers all sorts of intriguing matchups and, with both teams playing exceptionally well to close out the first round, it has epic potential. Philadelphia won three of their four regular-season matchups against Toronto but their current lineup, with Tobias Harris, wasn’t available for any of them. As Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the 76ers starting lineup might be the best thing they have going for them and using that lineup even more against Toronto could tilt things. When can we get this started?