Since Joel Embiid hit that incredible dagger 3 to beat Toronto in Game 3 and give the 76ers a 3-0 series advantage, his team has lost back-to-back games and held five minutes and 17 seconds from a possible 96 minutes. Philadelphia has won exactly two of the past eight quarters against the Raptors. Now they face a game 6 north of the border not to become the fourth team in NBA history to go into Game 7 after a 3-0 lead.
These three previous NBA teams were able to remove the obstruction from their shared airways to prevent elimination. It goes without writing, but I’ll type it anyway because the thought makes me happy: If Doc Rivers and James Harden join forces to orchestrate a 3-0 collapse, Philly will be the first franchise in league history deserves this dishonorable distinction.
The main reason this series is headed for a Game 6 is the torn ligament in Embiid’s right thumb. He’ll have to have it surgically fixed after the playoffs, so it’s more than a pinched ankle or a thigh bruise. Whether it’s the hand, a swarming Raptors defense, or a combination of both, this year’s scoring champion has only 21 points and 20 points in the two games since the injury.
Harden, the All-NBA guard that GM Daryl Morey acquired for situations like this, had 22 points and 15 points on 17 and 11 tries, respectively, in Games 4 and 5. After Monday’s loss, Embiid didn’t shy away from taking his Publicly encouraging teammates to let the regression fly. via ESPN.
“I’ve been saying all season since he’s been here, he has to be aggressive and he has to be himself. It’s not really my job. Coach probably needs to talk to him and tell him to take more shots, especially if they’re guarding me like they’ve been guarding me. But that’s really not my job.”
Obviously that quote is the one that’s being aggregated, which it should be because he called Harden and his trainer, but here’s the rest for full context:
“But we all have to get better offensively. We missed a few wide open shots. Sometimes I felt like we just invited when I was doubled up, we weren’t attacking the ball aggressively. We’ve only ever moved the ball around the touchline and that gave them time to recover and so we can’t do anything about it.
“So if they want to keep doing that, we have to take advantage of that.”
Playing Patty Cake around the perimeter is exactly what wobbly roleplayers do when a team Toronto’s length spins on a string. It’s up to Doc to figure out how to stop the bleeding. It’s just… that’s not exactly a forte of the coach who’s screwed up the most 3-1 series leads (three) in NBA history. When I wrote this dynamic of Harden and Rivers’ immovable object versus unstoppable farce should scare Philly fansI could see a formula for a playoff flameout, but little did I know they could conspire to drown in NBA disgrace.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the cosmos also aligns against the organization by chance (or karma, depending on where you are in the process). Rap rookie Scottie Barnes returned to the starting lineup after missing Games 2 and 3 with a twisted ankle and coming off the bench in Game 4. He did a masterful job handling the ball on Monday night in the absence of Fred VanFleet and with VanFleet off the ground , Toronto have no weakness in their defense for someone whose name isn’t Joel Embiid to exploit.
Nick Nurse makes up for not guarding the inbounds pass in Game 3 because he doesn’t even allow Embiid to get a good attack on Khem Birch before bringing in an abundance of long, athletic wings and forwards to take down the big man of to double from everywhere. Precious Achiuwa, Thad Young and Chris Boucher all get more minutes than Token Center and that makes life miserable not only for Harden and Embiid but also for Tyrese Maxey.
The second-grader from Kentucky put on a 38-point show in Game 1. Since then his performances have been 23, 19, 11 and 12 at 45 percent of the field. (If you take away his 8-11 Game 2, he’s 17-44 in his last three contests.) A VanFleet-less Toronto also means Maxey is at least 3 inches shorter than any Raptor. Expecting him to become the third player in a big three might come in time — and if All-Star Harden ever shows up — but that path was premature, at least for this season.
All Philly needs is another earlier-than-expected game from Maxey, a throwback triple-double from Harden, or an MVP-caliber takeover from Embiid in the next two contests to wake up from this nightmare and become the mother of everything avoid existential crises in the offseason.
Locals were more than uneasy on Monday night when, as expected, the home side heard multiple boos from their crowd. If the Sixers don’t finish off the Raptors Thursday and then start slow at home in a Game 7, those fans’ anger will manifest a physical form capable of destroying humanity — or at least what’s left of process minds .