Tonight could very well be the most important game for the 76ers since The Process began. Now sure, we could make an interesting case that some games might have been more important in the past; (like maybe they could have lost even more in 2015 since they got stuck with Jahlil Okafor). I wonder if Sam Hinkie ever had a cinematic moment where he dropped to his knees in the rain and shouted at the heavens “we could have lost just 3 more games and taken Karl Anthony-Towns then traded him for Devin Booker and 3 pick swaps!”
We could point to game 2 in the playoffs last year at Boston when they blew a huge second quarter lead, lost the game and gave the Celts a 2-0 series lead. Or the premature confetti game 3. But that was still the Process Sixers’ first playoff run. And they still had more assets to utilize. They were young, inexperienced. Nobody key was a free agent. These were simpler times back then. Everything was ahead of us and nobody was on the hot seat.
We could also dilute the statement entirely by saying something like “the next game during the playoffs is always the most important game” so who cares?
But tonight’s game is different.
Now there are major causes for concern. Joel Embiid has knee tendinitis he says he will need to manage throughout the rest of the playoffs. He is also dealing with a stomach bug and missing shootaround. They got carved up by Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam in game 1. Jimmy Butler was really really bad on both ends of the floor. They still are without Mike Scott (heel). Lots of Sixer fans have already relinquished hope and few media personalities are picking them to win this series, especially after game 1.
But they’re only 6.5 point underdogs. That’s not a huge margin.
If...if they somehow adjusted and won tonight they would go from sizable underdogs in the series to possible favorites, having wrestled away home court from the Raps. Think about that.
If they lose, they’ll need to win 4 out of the next 5 and be very long shots to do so. What would you estimate their chances would be to win the series if they lost tonight? 10? 15 percent? 20 percent? Probably not great.
But if...just if they won tonight...you could allow yourself to dream (at least for a day) about a series win in game 6 and possibly hosting the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics who won yesterday in Milwaukee....
Players and coaches never allow themselves to think that far ahead. But we could as fans if the Sixers win tonight.
To say that this is a pivotal game would be an understatement.
If the Sixers lose, we can all at least accept that they’re probably going to lose the series. And it’s possible they could do so in gut-wrenching fashion. If that were to happen, it could have ripple-effects throughout the organization.
Might the team move on from head coach Brett Brown? Might Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris walk out the door for a new home, and with them the precious Process capital Elton Brand used to bring them here? Would JJ Redick leave? How much of the original process would it even resemble if only Embiid and Ben Simmons were left?
Is it possible the team would revisit the ultimate compatibility of Simmons and Embiid over the summer’s trade frenzy, or think to themselves “let’s see what happens next year, if we get knocked out in round 2 come 2020, maybe it’s because Jo and Ben aren’t the ideal pairing?”
I’m getting way ahead of myself but a win tonight would flip the narrative from “what is Philly going to look like next year” to “who can’t this team beat?”
Losing both Butler and Harris would drastically alter the team’s trajectory and the scenario feels at least a bit more likely if they were to get steam-rolled this evening. A loss tonight could make ownership begin to hedge on their stated commitment to pay big for this team if they don’t feel it’s a true title contender. But a win keeps everything on course.
Here is what we know about the lineups as of now:
Here is some game info:
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Canada
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
And here below are some excellent articles by some of our writers helping you get up to speed on every angle of what might very well be the biggest game in Process history.
Stopping: Kawhi Leonard by Brian Murphy.
How the Sixers can maximize Ben Simmons against Kawhi Leonard by Jackson Frank
Emailing with the Enemy: 3 Questions for the RaptorsHQ Team ahead of Game 2, compiled by Sean Kennedy