By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN
With a 3-1 series lead and an opportunity to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs on their home court, the last thing that the Philadelphia 76ers wanted to do was play poorly at home and give the Toronto Raptors an opportunity to go back on their home court and force a Game 7.
But that’s what happened.
In their 103-88 loss in Game 5 of their best of seven NBA First-Round Series, the Sixers did not resemble the team that jumped out to a 3-0 lead and needed just one game to advance into the next round. Instead, they looked like a team that forgot how to score and play defense. They were woefully inconsistent on both ends of the court.
“They beat us off the dribble, they got into the paint and they were aggressive,” said Sixers forward Tobias Harris. “We didn’t bring the fight to them. We weren’t defensively physical enough to maintain some of the hits that they made. They just beat us off the dribble right down the middle of the lane and they had a bunch of kick outs for shots and they made them. We gotta be better on defense.”
The Sixers will head back to Toronto with a 3-2 lead but they will be facing a hostile crowd hoping their team will force a Game 7. If the Sixers play the way they did Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, they might be on the verge of being the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead in an NBA playoff series.
The way things transpired in the Sixers’ Game 5 loss, there was nothing to suggest that they were going to make a run to win the game at any point. The Raptors, from start to finish, beat the Sixers on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the Raptors, playing out injured Fred VanVleet, dominated the Sixers in the paint and scored too many easy baskets, and shot 51 percent from the field. Toronto’s Pascal Siakham led all scorers with 23 points. In fact, the Raptors had all five starters in double figures.
The Raptors didn’t take what the Sixers’ defense gave them, they took what they wanted in both the half court and in transition.
“They got everything they wanted and not only did they get it, they used 23 seconds damn near every possession,” said Sixers head coach Doc Rivers. “They turned the game into a slow-paced slugfest. But whenever they could run, they did run. They got both. They beat us in transition and when they didn’t have transition, they backed it out, used the clock, got the (isolation) they wanted and scored. (The Raptors) scored on every single guy looking at our guys in the face.”
Meanwhile, the Sixers couldn’t find any rhythm on offense. They missed open shots. Joel Embiid, who was playing with a sore right thumb, wasn’t his usual aggressive self. He struggled to score 20 points and kept getting beat on defense.
“In the second half I wasn’t getting those deep catches in the paint,” Embiid said. “In the second half, they just kept scoring and scoring. We kept playing against a set defense and obviously they just doubled me everywhere whether it was in the low post or the three-point line. They were really trying to get the ball out of my hand. We didn’t make shots today.”
Embiid didn’t get much help from Sixers teammates, who also struggled to find any kind of rhythm on offense. James Harden was 4-of-11 from the field for 15 points. Tyrese Maxey was 5-of-14 for 12 points and Harris was 6-of-16 for 16 points.
“As a group, we’ve got to get to the paint,” Rivers said. “On the whole shell of the game, Toronto was in the paint making plays. It didn’t matter who got it. They drove and made plays. We didn’t do that. We stayed out on the perimeter and tried to take shots. … Games 1 and 2 we got to the paint. Game 3, we got there late. All of it is on us.”
The Sixers face the daunting task of going on the road to Toronto to close out the Raptors in Game 6 on Thursday at Scotia Bank Arena. You can see the game on Thursday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.