Sixers Fan Reaction (SFR) Rd 2, Gm 6: TOR 101, PHI 112 - The Distance
Trust. The. Process.
The Philadelphia 76ers WIN Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, beating the Toronto Raptors 111-102, a final score that looks way closer than this game was. Philadelphia successfully fends off elimination with the victory, forcing a Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday.
I'll start by saying I'm not a big NBA fan by any stretch. There are a few reasons why - the league has next to no parity, the games become a slog down the stretch, and in most games the first three quarters feel like they hardly matter.
However, I'll admit that part of the reason I never got into it as a little kid was because of the futility of the local team, the Philadelphia 76ers. In case you are unaware, from 2013-2017 the 76ers underwent something called "the Process." This was a plan by former GM Sam Hinkie that saw the team sell off every single asset for draft picks in an effort to perform a full-scale rebuild.
A predictable effect of this was a terrible on-court product - the 76ers won just 10 games in the 2015-16 season, tying an NBA record with a 26-game losing streak. For about half a decade, the Wells Fargo Center court was crowded by scrubs as fans hoped the young talent in the organization might blossom into the next comings of Julius Erving and Charles Barkley someday.
That day came last year, when the 76ers exploded for a 52-win campaign, advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals before losing to the Boston Celtics in 5 games. This year, they upped the stakes by trading some of their younger players and picks in exchange for two established stars in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
After losing their first game of the playoffs, the Sixers rallied to take the next four in convincing fashion over the Brooklyn Nets. Their second round series against a similarily constructed Raptors squad has been a battle. The 76ers were blown out in Game 1, but recovered to take a 2-1 series lead. They narrowly lost Game 4 at home, but were blown out in Game 5 up north, setting up Game 6 with elimination knocking at the door.
Fortunately, the 76ers weren't about to let it in. They got off to a strong start, playing good, clean defense and converting in transition, both of which would continue as the night went on. A series of three straight 3s gave them a 17-point lead early in the second quarter, but Toronto was able to cut back into it.
However, the Sixers kept pushing back. Ben Simmons looked like his usual aggressive self, converting a few highlight reel plays. Joel Embiid looked as healthy as he's been all series, Game 3 excluded. Jimmy Butler was the true x-factor, playing well on both sides of the ball. Butler scored in the final 15 seconds of the first half, then stripped superstar Kawhii Leonard and scored again with 0.4 seconds to go. The 76ers took a commanding 58-43 lead to the locker room.
Every time in seemed like the Raptors were about to make a big push to get back in the game, the Sixers responded. Whether it was a Simmons dunk, an Embiid block, or a Mike Scott three, Philadelphia always seemed to have an answer for whatever Toronto could throw at them. Although the Raptors got the lead down to 8 on a few occasions, the 76ers kept pushing back. It never felt like they lost control of the game.
Part of the reason the Sixers controlled the game so well was the crowd. They were outstanding as always, providing motivation through positive (and negative) reinforcement, just like always. The Wells Fargo Center was as energetic as its been all season. The final seconds ticked down with the 76ers comfortably on top by 11 points, setting up a Game 7 on Sunday evening back in Toronto to determine the series.
This will be a huge game for the 76ers future. Both Butler and Harris are set to be free agents, and signing both would almost certainly put the 76ers well over the luxury tax. While the team has stated their desire to retain both, a Game 7 defeat may raise questions about how far this core can go. Those questions may not be fair, but hey, sports talk radio needs to meet their quotas somehow. And we all know they won't try to get there by talking hockey, so...
But if the Sixers could win, they would be just eight wins away from their first title since 1983, four away from their first NBA Finals since 2001. For a while, the reign of Billy King and The Process kept the 76ers either in mediocrity or the cellar. But now, after all that waiting, they are finally ready to rise.
Game 7 is their chance to do just that.