An Epic End

 

The Raptors and Sixers played 7 games, and game 7 was a microcosm of the entire series. In the end the Raptor’s Kawhi Leonard hit a pull up, baseline jumper that bounced twice off the rim before dropping in to end the Sixers season 92-90. 

 Through 3 Quarters Leonard was held to an inefficient night, just 10-30 from the field, but in the 4th he was the hero going 6-9 including the game winner. It was the first game winning buzzer beater in a game 7 in NBA playoff history. It bounced multiple times off the rim before sinking the Sixers hopes. 

Brett Brown’s Farewell?

Brett Brown said before the game that he intended to coach the same way he had all season. The looming rumors of game 7 being determinative of Brett Brown’s future with the organization did not affect his approach. “We had a nice dinner and I got a good nights sleep.” Brown said before the game. “Did I wake up a few times thinking about it? yes.” 

After the game ended, Brown was asked about rumors of his job being in jeopardy. 

 

In a series of punches, counterpunches and precious few tight games, the Raptors and Sixers played a first half of frustration and smothering defense. The teams essentially were mirror images of struggle and missed shots. 

Both teams finished the first half with 7 turnovers, shooting 34% from the field and 23% from deep. There was no real sense of someone taking control of the game from either team. 

The second half was much of the same, with small runs and back and forth lead changes but neither team taking control. The Sixers held the Raptors to 38% field goal shooting but gave up 16 offensive rebounds and lost the rebounding battle 49-41. Ultimately the game came down to a tied score with 4.2 seconds left. 

Joel Embiid’s Emotion 

In what has been a series of sickness, soreness and frustration for Embiid, he continued to struggle going 6-18 from the field with 4 turnovers. And yet, the team was a +10 with him on the floor. But the emotional toll of the game winning shot that Leonard made over his outstretched hand was too much for Embiid who needed extra time after the game to collect himself and prepare for his post game interview at the podium. 

“it sucks, I don’t know how to explain it, it just sucks” Said Embiid when asked how he felt when the game winner went in. Embiid did praise Marc Gasol, who said that Embiid would be back in this situation “and beyond” many times in the future. 

Ben Simmons Defensive Emergence

As the series wore on, Simmons seemed to figure out Kawhi Leonard’s primary moves, and counters. Leonard who began the series with historic levels of efficiency was held to just 10-30 shooting through three quarters, mainly due to the efforts of Ben Simmons. 

Jimmy Butler Reverts

Butler played a mostly perplexing game. Similar to game 1, his 14 points came from just 4-13 shooting from the field. More troubling however was his bouts of tunnel vision. Butler played mostly hero ball, was not looking for teammates in rhythm and mostly passed only when trapped into bad situations. A late missed free through in the game’s final minute was temporarily softened by a made bucket on a drive to tie the score with 4.2 seconds left. 

Butler, who becomes a free agent on July first, refused to answer questions about his time in Philadelphia or his upcoming decision. “I’m only going to talk about basketball” Butler said. He was effusive in his praise of Embiid and Simmons and said both guys are great young cornerstones to build a team around. 

Looking Ahead

The Future may bring continuity, like the Portland Trailblazers showed when they kept their team together after last year’s disappointment to return and advance to the Western Conference finals. But ultimately the Sixers ownership and management may decide to move on from Brett Brown, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris or any combination of them similar to how Toronto let Dwayne Casey go last year. 

For a team who, for 6 years seemed to be building towards this moment, it feels like a fork in the road. Continue on the path and trust that the upward trajectory will continue or pivot and try something new. 

Tonight was truly an epic end, but an end to a season or an end to an era?