Last night, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 100-94, finishing off the Eastern Conference Finals in six games and advancing to the franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals. The Raptors will next take on the dynastic Golden State Warriors starting in Thursday night’s Game 1.
As a Sixers fan, how do you feel about it?
It’s a topic touched upon on the most recent episode of the Lowe Post podcast earlier this week, when Zach Lowe said the following (around the 44:55 mark):
“I think Philly comes out of these playoffs looking better than a lot of people thought they were. Toronto wanted no part of any more games against that team. No part. You talked like they’re big, they’re nasty, they’re physical, and for all the stuff I brought up about, ‘oh, do they fit and this guy...,’ there is just something unpleasant about being like every dude on the floor is awesome and has supernova-level talents.”
And that was after Game 4, when Toronto had only tied the series up at 2-2. I have to believe that line of thinking extends even further now that the Raptors prevailed in two more games and won the series.
It’s something the Run It Back proponents have been calling for ever since Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 shot finished bouncing off the rim for the thousandth time. The Sixers took the Raptors to the absolute brink, one game further than even the first-seed Bucks, and one of the most incredible, improbable shots in the history of the sport away from looking at overtime in a Game 7. You can’t examine that series and say the teams weren’t at least evenly matched, and by virtue of the Raptors advancing to the Finals, the Sixers have a group in place to be a true contender.
Plus, there were plenty of extenuating circumstances surrounding the Sixers’ defeat. What if Joel Embiid didn’t seemingly wander into a daycare center at some point prior to the series and contract about a dozen different illnesses? What if the Sixers organization didn’t spend practically half its roster spots on centers who couldn’t play deep in the playoffs, subsequently meaning any second Embiid left the court the team transformed into the Washington Generals? Heck, what if simple variance had swung a little more in Philadelphia’s direction and Tobias Harris hadn’t shot well below his average on open 3s (that 2-for-13 Game 4 still stings)?
You look at everything and say the Sixers have everything they need. Tweak the bench, get a little luckier with Embiid’s health, and the team will be right there again next spring, ready to do battle with anyone in the East. The situation strikes a hopeful tone. I get it. It makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, doesn’t Toronto reaching the NBA Finals make you absolutely sick to your stomach?
Despite everything, the Sixers were one fewer crazy bounce and five good minutes of overtime away from being in the same position as Toronto. After watching Coach Bud get out-coached by Nick Nurse and the Bucks wilt under the pressure the last few games of that series, I’m confident the Sixers would also have taken care of business. We were the friendliest rim in the history of iron away from having a week right now to discuss Philadelphia’s first trip to the NBA Finals since peak-Iverson. In the moment, that hurts.
Plus, there are now long-term ramifications. In advancing out of the East, Toronto has done everything possible to keep Kawhi after this season. Does this run tilt the scales in favor of his remaining in the Six, rather than heading to California? Having just watched him terrorize everyone throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, that’s a scary thought. We were a ripple in the time-space continuum away from living in a universe where Leonard left for LA, and the Sixers had assumed the mantle as the presumed favorite in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Instead, maybe the Sixers front office got fleeced in the Tobias Harris trade, and they don’t have the assets or the acumen to build around the edges of a capped-out roster. Maybe we saw the absolute best of Jimmy Butler already, and as he hits 30 years old entering next season, it’s less Jimmy Buckets and more of the disharmony we saw in Minnesota once he’s been paid. Maybe it’s always going to be something with regard to Joel Embiid’s health, and this was about the best the Sixers could have hoped to get from him. Maybe Ben Simmons never feels confident with an outside shot, and the stark reality of all that entails continues to fester until it results in a break with the team.
Maybe this year was the year everything was lined up perfectly for the Sixers, and they blew it.
I don’t necessarily think that’s the case, but the idea still gnaws away at me in the back of my mind.
Or maybe Golden State dispatches the Raptors in five games, and all of it didn’t matter. Like with any team that didn’t have LeBron over the last half-decade, the Sixers could just be waiting for the end of the Warriors dynasty anyway. Somehow, that’s also a hopeful thought.