TORONTO – In the moments following the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 5 defeat to the Toronto Raptors, Jimmy Butler spoke to the assembled media. He perfectly described the Sixers’ performance in 14 short words.
“We got our arse kicked,” Butler said. “Simple as that. No other way to put it.”
It truly is that simple. Philadelphia was throttled 125-89 by the Raptors on Tuesday night, and they now sit one game away from elimination. The 36-point margin of victory was the largest in Toronto franchise postseason history, and Philadelphia’s worst postseason loss since 1982. Such a historic defeat was rooted in many schematic errors, but there was general malaise that characterised the Sixers in Game 5. Their energy was lacking. It was totally absent, actually, and the result was a performance that undoes much of the goodwill earned over the playoffs to date.
“Our energy wasn’t there at all,” Ben Simmons said postgame.
It’s virtually impossible to fully articulate everything that went wrong for the Sixers. After a promising opening to the game, every aspect of their game capitulated. Philadelphia’s offence became strangled by a robust Raptors defence. Toronto morphed into the side that finished the regular season as a top five defensive unit and they induced the familiar issues that have plagued the Sixers all season. Philadelphia turned the basketball over. They started forcing, and then missing, shots from the perimeter. The Raptors lived off their mistakes.
Every offensive miscue was seemingly punished by Toronto running the basketball down the Sixers’ collective throats. Through the competitive portions of Game 5 – we are ignoring the fourth quarter, as the final 12 minutes were rendered useless thanks to a 22-point margin – Philadelphia committed 15 turnovers and shot, 6 of 18 from three. A familiar sight soon developed and that was Toronto sprinting up the court as they accumulated defensive stops.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” said Tobias Harris. “When a team goes in transition, they’re hurting us in two ways, turnovers and missed shots. Tonight, we had both of these and they were able to get out and find shooters in transition, and really make us pay.”
The Raptors had 27 fast break points through three quarters. While there are louder takeaways from Game 5, more macro ones, too, the Sixers platooning their defence with inept offence was at the root of their demise. Simmons and Joel Embiid combined for 13 Philadelphia turnovers and the negative play of their two All-Stars again played heavily into a poor offensive output.
Simmons has looked overmatched over the past two games. He was more assertive tonight than in Game 4, but with a shrewd Raptors backline doing an excellent job of taking away his driving lanes, the Australian’s lack of offensive nuance was glaring. Simmons has scored just 30 points and recorded just 19 assists over the past four games, urging memories of last year’s Boston series to the surface. Embiid was again diminished thanks to an upper respiratory infection and looked a shell of himself. Apportioning blame for Embiid’s lacklustre showing is difficult, as he has been coy about his health over the past few days but one thing is undeniable – the Sixers need an improved Embiid if they are to force a Game 7 back in Toronto on Sunday.
“We are going to ride or die with the big fella,” Jimmy Butler said of Embiid after the game. “Everybody around this locker room knows that. Everybody in the world should know it. The fans should know it. We’ll be just fine. Keep doing what we are doing. Encouraging him to keep battling. We are here with him.”
Embiid may be in better health for Game 6 on Thursday. He may not. But the Sixers know they need to bring the effort to extend their season by at least another game. Even then, it might not be enough to overcome a Raptors team that has found a supporting cast for Leonard’s dominance. Non-Leonard Raptors had averaged 62 points over the first four games of the series and they scored 104 in Game 5. The Raptors answered their critics in Game 4 and reinforced that performance tonight. It is now the Sixers turn to do the same. If they don’t, their season will be over.
“Just got to bring it,” Simmons said. “We need to lock in tomorrow. Do whatever coach sets up with the plans. We got to fight.”