Sixers’ Simmons, Butler, Embiid dominate, blow out Raptors to force Game 7

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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).

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.