The Toronto Raptors won’t be making NBA history this year.
It took the Philadelphia 76ers three elimination games to close out the Raptors, but they finally got it done on Thursday night. Philly trounced the Raps 132-97 in front of Toronto fans, finishing off the series 4-2.
The young Raptors squad had become just the 14th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 after dropping into a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven series. It aimed to become the fourth team ever to push such a series to Game 7. In the NBA’s 75-year history, no club has ever overcome a 3-0 start to win a series.
For a few days, the Raptors made it look like maybe they were capable of making history. They survived two win-or-go-home games in impressive bounce-back fashion. But they fell well short of doing it a third time.
Joel Embiid, who has been playing with a torn ligament in his thumb since late in Game 3, led the 76ers with 33 points and 10 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey added 25 points, while James Harden had 22 points and 15 assists.
Chris Boucher was a bright spot for Toronto with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Pascal Siakam had 24 points, Gary Trent Jr. 19 and Scottie Barnes 18.
The 76ers will advance to face the Miami Heat in Round 2.
“They’re disappointed for sure,” said Raptors Coach Nick Nurse of his team. “I thought we went through a tremendous amount this year, with a number a number of things, and we just kept fighting, kept playing and kept getting better, kept figuring things out and it was never really smooth. There was always a big ol’ bump in the road. …I give them a lot of credit for that.”
The Raps were playing without all-star guard Fred VanVleet once again, after he left midway through Game 4 on Saturday with a strain in his left hip flexor. He sat on the bench in street clothes, often shifting toward coaches to be a part of things.
The Raptors got out to a hot start in the opening few minutes, making seven of their first eight shots behind a big start for Trent Jr. They got cold, going without a field goal for the next five minutes while Philly capitalized with a 10-0 run. Harden rolled for 10 first-quarter points. He and Embiid were fighting their way to the free-throw line. The 76ers had a 34-29 lead after the quarter, and the ambience inside Scotiabank Arena was a little muted.
The Raps brought it back to life in a tight second quarter. Siakam went off for 16 points in that frame, breezing in with floating jumpers and finger rolls. Boucher erupted for an 11-point spurt, the Montrealer exciting the crowd with his work around the basket.
Several celebrities were on hand to see if Raptors could force a Game 7 – from Toronto Maple Leafs to Blue Jays, and Drake in his courtside seat.
Embiid was raising his arms often in frustration, whining at officials when he felt they’d missed a call. That fired up the Toronto faithful more than anything, and they let Philly’s seven-foot superstar hear it.
Ex-Raptor Danny Green got hot for the Sixers though, draining four straight from beyond the arc, helping keep Philly ahead by one point after the first half.
OG Anunoby got into foul trouble and had to sit much of the second quarter. That time on the bench seemed to cool him off, and he never got his rhythm back the rest of the night.
The 76ers came out determined in the third quarter to finish this thing off. They sprinted out to a gargantuan 23-point lead in a game that had otherwise been very close to that point. The mighty Maxey of earlier in the series re-emerged, perplexing the Raptors as he exploded for 15 third-quarter points, most of them raining from beyond the three-point arc.
The only fun the Toronto fans were having at point was showering Embiid with the odd profanity-filled chant. By this point, he cupped his hands behind his ears as if to spur them on for more. He lapped it up. He even did his airplane celebration at one point.
If the thumb was bothering Embiid, it didn’t show. He was physical as always.
“We’re not going to change the way Joel Embiid plays,” said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers before the game. “I bet the other team would love that.”
Philly outshot Toronto 37-17 in the quarter. It became almost farcical as the Raps’ shots bounced off the rim in every which direction. The Raps made just five field goals in the quarter and got absolutely pounded on the boards. The Raptors couldn’t get any defensive stops, couldn’t get into transition and get any offence going.
The Sixers had little trouble holding onto their convincing lead down the stretch. The upbeat music kept playing inside Scotiabank Arena, and the Raps had some scrappy plays down the stretch, but never got close to the lead again.
“I thought we, on occasion, were the more physical team in this series,” said Nurse. “We weren’t tonight … we had some ups and downs with that.”
“We did a good job fighting, obviously being down 3-0, that’s tough,” said Siakam of the series.
He embraced Embiid after the game, and said he apologized for elbowing his fellow Cameroon native in the face in the fourth quarter while driving to the hoop. The two stars shared a lengthy moment together, arms around one another, talking privately amidst the crowd.
“I felt bad,” said Siakam of the elbow. “I hope he’s okay.”
Two days earlier in Philadelphia, the Sixers fans had headed to the exits early. This time, Raptors fans did the same in Toronto. Those who stuck around applauded a young Raps team and gave it a standing ovation – especially as its starters left the court – saying farewell to the team until next year.