Raptors

Game Seven X-Factors for Raptors and 76ers

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It was all but over for the Philadelphia 76ers after losing game five by 36 points to the Toronto Raptors. Then game six happened.

The 76ers took full advantage of home court advantage, winning 112-101 and forcing game seven.

The 11-point won doesn’t capture the whole story, though. Philadelphia was in full control of the entire game. A couple of miniscule runs by the Raptors were not enough to dismantle the 76ers.

Now the series shifts back to Toronto for game seven. This series is the second time in NBA history that the Raptors have played the 76ers in the playoffs. The last time was in 2001 when the 76ers won in seven games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Milwaukee Bucks.

A similar situation has arisen in the 2019 playoffs, with the Bucks awaiting the winner of game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Game seven is Sunday and the pressure, and the stakes and intensity surrounding the game mean players, coaches and fans must rise to the occasion. Expect the stars to shine, but keep an eye out for these x-factors in Sunday’s showdown.

Kyle Lowry Must Step Up in Game Seven

Of all the NBA players, Kyle Lowry gets the most hate in the playoffs, and it’s just. Lowry has consistently underperformed in postseason games. Since the 2014 playoffs (his first with the Raptors), he’s been averaging 17 points per game (PPG) and 6.4 assists per game (APG) on 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from deep.

The numbers aren’t impressive and are even less appealing knowing that he’s been the second option for most of his career.

This year, being the third option has allowed Lowry to focus more on his gritty defense. Lowry’s defense has played an enormous role in the Raptors limiting their opponent to under 100 points in eight of 11 playoff games thus far.

Lowry’s defense will be on display without a doubt. His offense, however, is another question. Throughout the regular season, Lowry averaged 14.2 PPG. In the regular season and playoff games that he scored more than his average, the Raptors went 26-6. In four of those losses, Kawhi Leonard did not play, making Lowry the No. 2 option.

Leonard and Pascal Siakam will play in game seven, so Lowry’s offensive output won’t need to be extreme. However, he will need to stay aggressive and drive, score and draw fouls at the rim.

Game Seven is Embiid’s Time to Shine

Never-ending injuries have defined Joel Embiid‘s short, potent career. The two-time all-star was drafted with the No. three pick in 2014, missed two full seasons and has been hindered by injuries ever since.

The 2019 playoffs have been no different. Embiid has been dealing with a stomach and upper respiratory illness throughout the second round, and his play has been affected.

Embiid scored more than 20 points once (33 points in game three). The other five games, he’s averaging 13.8 PPG and 8.0 rebounds per game (RPG) on 34 percent from the field.

In game three, Embiid’s 33 points came with a game-high five blocks en route to a 21-point 76ers victory. His play proved why he’s deemed a superstar in the league.

The superstar has been missing, though, and Jimmy Butler has been leading the 76ers thus far in the series. Game seven will allow Embiid a chance to fulfill his superstar reputation.

Sickness and injuries aside, Embiid’s aggression on both ends of the floor will be the driving force for Philadelphia in game seven. The 76ers ride or die with Embiid, and Sunday’s contest will give light to that statement.

Game Seven Pace Matters for Simmons

Possibly the most significant difference between the Raptors and 76ers is the speed at which they play. The 76ers ranked eighth in pace this season, while the Raptors finished a middling 15th.

Ben Simmons is in large part responsible for the fast-paced attack. The 6-foot-10 point guard can go coast to coast by himself or fire a pass downcourt to a teammate. Either way, he finds his offense in the open floor due to his infamous lack of a jump shot.

The 76ers have created an offense around Simmons to best suit his inability to shoot the ball. It’s worked thus far in his career, but the 2019 Raptors have been a road bump in Simmons’s path.

Given that the Raptors have maintained their slow, methodical style of play in the series, Simmons has been severely limited, averaging 11.3 PPG and 4.8 APG against Toronto.

In game six, the 76ers controlled the pace, allowing Simmons to impact the game more than usual this series. He scored 21 points and dished six assists in the win. Most importantly, the 76ers scored over 100 points, something the Raptors allowed in this year’s playoffs only twice before game six.

Despite playing away from the home crowd, expect the 76ers to push the pace early and often in game seven to get Simmons involved with the offense.

Brett Brown

Brett Brown has been quietly sitting on the hot seat. Brown has been the head coach of the 76ers since 2013-2014 when the team was beginning a hefty rebuild. Since then, Brown has coached the team to back-to-back 50-win seasons for the first time since 1983-1986.

That said, Brown’s six-year tenure in Philadelphia could be coming to an end. 76ers owner Josh Harris made it clear that the team needed to advance further in the playoffs than they did last year.

The 76ers are near a second-round elimination for the second straight year, so in Harris’ words, a game-seven loss would be “problematic.”

A loss on Sunday could spark a coaching change, similar to that of the Golden State Warriors firing head coach Mark Jackson in 2014. If Philadelphia dismisses Brown, they will be seeking the Steve Kerr of Philadelphia to lead the 76ers to its first NBA Finals appearance since 2001.

Game seven will be more than just a game for Brown; it will be about retaining his job. So expect bold decisions and masterful sideline work from Brown if he wants to stay coaching the 76ers.

Raptors Fans

Whether or not NBA fans care about the regular season, the standings at the end of the regular season give teams one of the best advantages: home court.

The Raptors have rightfully earned home court in game seven after finishing second in the Eastern Conference. Throughout the regular season, the Raptors finished with a home record of 32-9, third in the NBA.

The home crowd gets behind its team in every moment of the game, giving energy and motivation to players when their legs go weak late in games.

The 76ers won’t have that advantage, and in fact, will be at quite the disadvantage. In the regular season, the 76ers struggled away from their home court, posting a 20-21 record in away games.

Winning on the road will never be effortless, and with a hostile, playoff crowd, it’ll be even more difficult for the 76ers to come away from Toronto with a win.

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About Brendan O'Sullivan

Quinnipiac University '22. Associate Sports Editor for Quinnipiac Chronicle. Writer for TLSM, Hoops Prospects, and Fancred.

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