The Raptors were never going to win Game 6. In a hostile crowd with a 76ers team itching for a bounce back at their home court. When Embiid hit threes and Simmons actually made shots, you knew that this was going to be a rough game. The 76ers kept the lead in double digits most of the game. It was expected for them to win: to give them due credit. They are too good of a team to not come out strong in an elimination game at home. There is no good way to describe a loss like this. In Game 7 however, The Raptors have a chance to enact some poetic justice, so to speak. Maybe this was destiny for these two teams to face off years later, 18 tears later in a similar fashion.
If we had a time machine, we would go back to the 2001 post season. The Raptors back then were a team with no identity: they had an athletic star in Vince Carter and assortment of role players. The second best player on that team was a 32-year-old Antonio Davis who averaged 13.7 PPG and 10.1 RPG (1 time all-star). The only notable role players that one can think of on that team are Dell Curry and Charles Oakley. This rag-tag bunch won their series against the Knicks as the 5 seed but fell to the 76ers in the 2nd Round in 7.
In that post season run the most notable matchup in the 2nd Rounds was one between Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. Iverson is known for winning the MVP award in 2000-2001, and bringing his team to the finals, and stealing 1 game from the Kobe and Shaq Lakers. Iverson also set the precedent for smaller guards to be able to play the game: the current small ball era wouldn’t happen without the former MVP. Vince Carter was known for his electrifying dunks and respectable 3 ball, bringing the Raptors onto the map with highlight reel dunks, making himself a name as Air Canada. It was a battle between two amazing guards, with a sad end for the Raptors.
Vince Carter missed a game winner. Allen Iverson would go to the ECF, and then further to the finals.
In the current playoffs, history has a chance to repeat itself. The 76ers have 4 all-star caliber players, with a superstar in Embiid and a closer in Butler. Realistically, one can see a possibility where Embiid and Butler lead their team to victory. Their starting line up is extremely talented, perhaps even more so than the Raptors’. Game 6 was a rude awakening: the 76ers kept the lead all game, and did not relinquish it. The Raptors shrank under pressure and Game 7 the opposite needs to happen. It is a daunting task indeed: if the Raptors come out flat, the 76ers will not just roll over. Game 6 proved that they want it as well. They aren’t afraid.
We knew that the East would be a bloodbath this year. At least 3 teams all showed up to play (Sorry, Celtics!) and Philadelphia is one of those teams. However this time the Raptors have an advantage. The best player in the series. Embiid, Simmons and Butler are all very good, yes. Embiid was touted as a potential MVP candidate posting 27.5/13.6/3.7. But are they better than Kawhi Leonard? Absolutely not. Leonard has shown the ability to shoulder a team’s scoring in the playoffs: Game 4 of this very series. He does not balk under pressure: he himself said that he’s just having fun. Leonard has been almost MJ like, scoring well almost every game. People talk about the mentality that one needs as a dominant player, an Leonard has it.
Fun Guy Kawhi Leonard on Game 7s: "It's fun. It's basketball still. We've got another chance to move on to the next round. Just try to go out there and have fun."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 11, 2019
Lebron James went to the finals last year, carrying a squad where the second best player was a hobbled Kevin Love. He won against the Pacers in 7, scoring multiple late game shots. Swept the Raptors and their 2 all-stars. Dominated the Celtics in 7, despite the best efforts of their young players. This year’s East may be extremely competitive, but if I had to put money on a team, I would put it on the Raptors. Home court advantage is a big deal. An even bigger deal is that the Raptors have the best player in the series. While one man cannot take down
Kawhi Leonard will show up. And if his supporting cast shows up too, then this will be a game that is very winnable.