Ben Simmons played in Game 5 on Tuesday, there is proof right in the box score. Yet if you watched the game he was hardly noticeable. Not coincidently Philadelphia got blown out on the road.
In the first minutes of Game 6, you could not miss Ben Simmons — he was aggressive, attacking downhill, imposing himself on the game. Philadelphia’s defensive energy had Toronto missing shots, and that gave Simmons a chance to get out in transition, where he is at his best. Simmons was 4-of-5 shooting with 5 assists in the first quarter alone.
That set the tone.
“[Simmons] was our bell-ringer tonight,” Sixers coach Brett Brown of his star, who finished with 21 points.
Jimmy Butler was the best player on the floor, scored 25 on the night, had eight assists, and played with the kind of grit and determination that endears him to Sixers faithful. “He was all over that game,” Brown said.
Joel Embiid was +40 in 36 minutes (and the Sixers were -29 in the 12 minutes he sat)— just his presence on the court changes things for the Sixers on both ends.
Philadelphia blew out Toronto in Game 6, 112-101 (a score that was not indicative of the 20+ point Sixers lead for much of the game) to even the series 3-3.
The winner-take-all Game 7 is Sunday in Toronto, 7 p.m. Eastern (up against the penultimate Game of Thrones episode, both may see some blood spilled).
It’s a game with more than just a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee on the line — free agent decisions by stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and more could be impacted by the outcome.
Which Philadelphia team will show up for that game?
Throughout this series — and even going back to Game 1 of the Brooklyn series — this team has been up-and-down. Part of that has risen and fell with Joel Embiid’s health, but Simmons effectiveness, and how well the role players have performed, has been a roller coaster as well.
Often that is tied to pace — when the Sixers get to run then Simmons gets going and other things open up. Make the Sixers take the ball out of the basket each time and the dynamic changes.
“We just missed so many shots early and they were just playing off the rebounds so often,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “They were getting the rebound and pushing out on us so often, and we were not doing a great job in transition.”
If the Sixers team that showed up Thursday night appears on Sunday Philadelphia has a good chance of advancing.
As it has every game, Toronto got a good night from Kawhi Leonard, 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting, however, this was not one of his elite nights. Pascal Siakam added 21 points and played well.
That’s about it. Every other Raptor shot a combined 40 percent and had little impact on the game Kyle Lowry was 5-of-11 for 13 points, Danny Green was 2-of-8 from three, Serge Ibaka was 3-of-10, Marc Gasol 3-of-8.
Toronto’s role players have been much better at home and they need to continue that trend Sunday.
One other thing to watch: Late in the game, Embiid picked up a flagrant foul when a push of Marc Gasol (in an attempt to establish rebounding position) resulted in a hand flying up and catching the Raptor big man in the face. Inadvertent or not the NBA has handed out Flagrants for those kinds of plays all season. That gives Embiid three flagrants these playoffs, one more and he gets a one-game suspension (if his next one is a Flagrant 2 he sits two games).