Jimmy Butler sat in the visiting locker room amid a small gathering of media members following Game 5. A reporter asked how he felt the team should approach the time leading up to their must-win Game 6. Before he could finish his question, Butler had an answer.
“Forget about it . . . we got our ass kicked. Simple as that, no other way to put it,” he asserted.
There are a multitude of words that can be used to describe a blowout loss — discouraging, humbling, shocking, frustrating, etc. — and countless ways in which it can be dissected. Or, as Butler chose to do, it can be summed up in one simple phrase: “we got our ass kicked.” For the Sixers, who are coming off what was undoubtedly their worst showing of the postseason, a forward-thinking mindset is not only suitable, but necessary.
This isn’t to say the coaching staff should burn the game tape. There are plenty of valuable lessons to be learned from parsing its contents, most notably how not to play when facing the Toronto Raptors. But at this point in the series, the Sixers know how to beat their second-round opponent, having already accomplished the feat twice.
That said, minor adjustments will likely be made ahead of Game 6. The Sixers need Ben Simmons to produce in some capacity on the offensive end. Expect his teammates to look for him cutting off-ball, screening and rolling to the rim and ducking into the paint to post up smaller defenders such as Kyle Lowry and Danny Green. Toronto feasted on uncontested three-point looks Tuesday night, so if they continue to knock them down early in Game 6, the Sixers (and Joel Embiid specifically) may need to press out more frequently instead of playing back. The Raptors played fast Tuesday night, pushing after misses and makes. The Sixers cannot allow them to dictate the pace again, so they’ll likely make a concerted effort to get back and set up their half court defense after made baskets before the Raptors have a chance to attack cross matches.
Regardless of any potential adjustments, the Sixers simply need to execute at a much higher level. In Game 5, they were slow to loose balls, sluggish getting back in transition, failed to communicate on a number of defensive rotations, and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from distance. A high variance in shooting accuracy will happen — sometimes you’re scorching hot, other times the shot refuses to fall. But a high variance in effort is unacceptable at this juncture in the season. They will struggle to win shooting 6-of-24 from deep, like they did Tuesday night. They’ll have zero chance if their defensive intensity and overall communication wanes in Game 6. The Sixers need to regain their confidence following the shellacking they took in Game 5. It will start with effort.
If this Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup has taught us anything, it is that momentum is fleeting. During the fourth quarter of Game 3, the Sixers looked invincible as they windmill dunked Toronto into a 2-1 series deficit. Five days later, the Raptors had seized back momentum after laying a comprehensive beat down in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. Lowry, Green, Siakam and Gasol combined to shoot 12-of-24 from distance. In the first four games of the series, they shot 20-of-73 on three-pointers. In less than a week, both teams have reached their peaks and flirted with their rock bottoms. Sure, Toronto’s hot shooting could carry into Game 6, but based on the unpredictability of the series, it’s difficult to say which version of both teams will show up at the Wells Fargo Center tonight.
The Sixers are 3-2 at home this postseason, which bodes well for them entering tonight’s potential elimination game. They’ll be playing in front of a lively home crowd desperate to see at least one more win. Embiid in particular feeds off of the Wells Fargo Center’s energy, which will help him battle through his health issues.
Following Game 5, Brett Brown sat at the podium fielding questions from the media. When asked what the approach would be in the days leading up to Game 6, his answer echoed the same sentiments as Butler’s.
“We’re excited to go back to Philadelphia and find a way to win,” he said.
There was no reason to dwell on the loss. Neither team has held a definitive upper hand from game-to-game. If the Sixers execute well and play with a greater intensity, they’ll put themselves in position to force a Game 7. Embiid will likely not repeat his Game 5 dud. Ben Simmons has played well following criticism this postseason. Jimmy Butler’s new, max contract-worthy normal will continue to guide this team through adversity.
Like Brown, Butler understands the task in front of him.
“We know what we have to do, so we gotta go do it at home,” he said with a determined look in his eyes.
The Sixers’ season hangs in the balance. They’ll have an opportunity to extend it tonight.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
When: 8:00 pm EST
What: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic