The Sixers find themselves in a tricky spot. They possessed a 3-0 series lead on the Toronto Raptors, but after it was revealed that Joel Embiid is dealing with a torn ligament that will need offseason surgery in his right thumb, the team simply hasn’t been the same and they’ve dropped two consecutive games.
The James Harden-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll, which has been unstoppable at times this year, simply wasn’t much of a weapon in Game 5 at The Center. For whatever reason, they didn’t go to it much in the last one.
By laying an egg in a monster ballgame, where they could have KO’d Pascal Siakam and co. playing without All-Star Fred VanVleet (we’ll continue to monitor his status but FVV has noted he’s taking his strained hip flexor day-by-day) Philadelphia breathed life into a dangerous Raptors team, and allowed their own fans collective imaginations to run wild. And some of our dreams are, well, absolute nightmares.
Should the Sixers fail to take care of business up North in Game 6 (and it certainly would not be surprising if they cannot, after witnessing the prior two contests) then they will have emboldened a solid, talented, well-coached team with the chance to immortalize themselves. No team has ever won a series when trailing 3-0. Only a couple teams have ever even had the chance. Heading into a possible Game 7, all of the collective history would not be able to help the Sixers. If anything, it might make everything even harder. The biggest reason teams never lose when up 3-0 is because they’re usually vastly superior clubs, and have multiple chances to get it done. Right now the playing field feels closer to level, and the Sixers are down two key chances.
If I told you it was going to happen, if I told you one team would be the first to come back from a 3-0 deficit, your first question might be “well did an MVP candidate get hurt?” Check. And gulp.
Then there’s Doc Rivers’ lengthy record of playoff disappointments which even if a bit unfair (only a few coaches are good enough to warrant coaching this long so it makes sense some of those HOFers would have some agony strewn about on the ole resi) won’t do much to inspire faith:
Doc Rivers recent playoff history… And people wonder why Sixers fans lack confidence closing teams out. pic.twitter.com/WzsRM11QUb— kev (@kevtaddei) April 26, 2022
Suddenly, it’s eminently plausible that the Sixers could find themselves on the wrong side of history. And that would be a permanent stain on the legacies of folks like Embiid, Harden, and Rivers.
Over time, if the Sixers don’t advance here, few outside Philly would take the time to remind anyone that the Sixers might have mopped the floor with these Raptors (and possibly their next opponent) had Joel’s thumb never taken a flukey hit.
Rewatched 1st half g3 on thumb watch. Had thought Embiids passive 1st half was from the elbow jam g2. But now thinking K. Berch accidentally gets a piece of that thumb on this play, opening minute. Joel had a wrap for dominant 2nd half. pic.twitter.com/6UNiUqeZTL— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 23, 2022
So, how much panic is appropriate? When in doubt, I check with the casinos.
According to our friends at Draft Kings, the Sixers are 1.5 point favorites for Game 6. Their -120 game odds offers bettors an implied 54.5 percent chance the Sixers emerge victorious with their second win in hostile territory of the series. In short, Vegas is thinking Sixers in Six, by the skin of their teeth. Let’s go.
As for the series odds, Draft Kings says the Sixers (-800) have an implied 89 percent chance to advance to the second round, and the Raptors (+550) have a 15 percent chance to move on. Let’s split the difference where the markets are taking their cut, and call it 87-13 percent in favor of Philly. Well, that’s awesome.
That’s a pretty resounding “do not panic” from the teeming hoards of number crunching, anonymous nerds who make lines.
Hopefully it’s merely my self-protective fan instinct speaking now, but I find those odds a bit overconfident.
My concern is that the Raptors should actually be favored in Game 6, and will win that one. And then there would be an enormity of pressure on the Sixers for Game 7 at the crib. This whole season basically feels like a house money, free-roll for Toronto, who only just left the NBA Draft lottery with Scottie Barnes a handful of months ago. They didn’t head into this postseason with the title-or-bust vibes Philly has played with since executing the James Harden trade.
If you’re panic prone, I’m not going to try and stop you. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been operating with a certain level of panic ever since I spotted Ramona Shelburne’s tweet about Embiid’s thumb following Game 3. The truth is that the Sixers probably need Embiid to be near 100 percent in order to win another 13 games, the number they’d need to earn a parade.
The rightful MVP has been nowhere close to that since his apparent adrenaline surge during the second half of Game 3. Harden hasn’t found a way to turn back the clock and inspire confidence that Embiid at 65 percent is going to be good enough to eliminate four teams. So if you want to panic, fine. Knock yourself out. I’ll be doing some also. It’s always something.
I do think the Sixers wrap this up in Game 7, but I will no longer be surprised if they do not. I’d ballpark the Raptors odds closer to 24 percent than 13 to do the unthinkable.
But Dave how can you possibly panic if you’re saying the Sixers have an implied 76 percent chance to make the second round?
Well, I’m having my cake and getting nauseous from eating it too. Should Philly get it done, they’d likely have to turn right around and steal Game 1 or 2 down in perhaps Miami. It’s pretty tough. Or is it?
Heat say Jimmy Butler is out for tonight's Game 5 due to right knee inflammation.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 26, 2022
As a fan, I’m going to do my very best to remind myself: the casinos absolutely love the Sixers’ chances of beating the Raptors one more time this season. I’ll meditate on that until tip off Thursday and commence my hours-long anxiety session until we have a result. Being a sports fan is easy and fun and so can you! I can see a path to the Eastern Conference Finals. And I can see a path towards painful infamy.
We’re at a crossroads and what we need most is some Tyrese Maxey cross-overs.