With the series tied at 2-2, the Raptors had an opportunity at home to build momentum. They didn’t disappoint, steamrolling the 76ers in a blowout.
Less than a week ago, the Philadelphia 76ers had a 2-1 edge in the series, an idea that seems unfathomable after Tuesday’s lopsided loss. But what had worked well for the 76ers — namely having their four best players contribute at a high level — simply hasn’t happened in the last two games. Joel Embiid, visibly struggling as he staves off a reported respiratory infection, toiled for 31 quiet minutes in Game 5, posting just 13 points and 6 rebounds. Ben Simmons had just 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Jimmy Butler (22 points) and Tobias Harris (15 points) were slightly more productive but largely inefficient, combining to shoot just 12-of-28 for the floor. And J.J. Redick, the team’s fifth starter, had only 3 points but played 31 minutes because, frankly, the Sixers have no other options available.
Conversely, the Raptors, who have relied heavily on Kawhi Leonard throughout the postseason, likely enjoyed their most collective showing thus far. Leonard got his (21 points, 13 rebounds) but it was Pascal Siakam who led the team in scoring with 25 points, even as a sore hamstring limits the explosiveness that has been his best asset all season. Marc Gasol (11 points), Kyle Lowry (19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Danny Green (17 points, including 5-of-7 on 3-point attempts) all had their moments, too. Serge Ibaka (10 points) chipped in, too, even as a bandage staunched the flow of blood on his forehead after an inadvertent elbow from Leonard.
The Sixers still have a chance, mathematically speaking. Embiid’s health might return. Simmons might find the space to be effective. Redick’s shot might actually fall. And yet none of that seems possible after Tuesday. Both teams are battered and bruised, but the Sixers will limp back home probably broken.
Sharing is caring. Leonard has been one of best players during the playoffs, looking largely unstoppable. That was mostly by necessity, as his teammates have struggled with consistency. But the cumulative effect of that dominance was on display in Game 5, as the Sixers defense routinely fell apart trying to limit Leonard’s impact. At least for one night, Toronto’s “supporting cast” took full advantage of the opportunity and the end result was the largest margin of victory in franchise history.
The Sixers are still good. Philadelphia probably won’t win this series, leading the team’s fans to decry this season as an abysmal failure. That’s overstating things considerably. Still, they did fall short of expectations, even if those goals were somewhat lofty considering how quickly this group was assembled and its relative inexperience. Both things can be true. This team has a great young core with Embiid and Simmons but they’ll still need to shore up its depth, especially given the uncertainly of Harris and Butler (both can enter free agency this summer). Would this team have been better if they hadn’t acquired both of them earlier this season? Probably not. On the surface, having four All-Star-level talents seems like a good strategy, especially in the playoffs when rotations are shortened. But Embiid’s health concerns have exposed the team’s considerable limitations. If Philadelphia’s long-term rebuilding plan was ultimately supposed to lead to a title, then it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Marc Gasol’s quiet impact. Gasol’s solid defense on Embiid will likely get overshadowed by whatever health concerns dog the Sixers center. But he’s also made phenomenal adjustments in helping limit Philadelphia’s pick-and-roll sets, particularly with Butler as the ball-handler. In the Sixers’ two victories, Butler’s strength and playmaking ability along with the threat of Embiid’s dives to the hoop kept Gasol guessing (often incorrectly). But he’s since nailed the timing of it and has done a good job of snuffing out these plays in Games 4 and 5.