Sixers even semifinal series against Raptors with 112-101 in Philadelphia

Sixers even semifinal series against Raptors with 112-101 in Philadelphia

76ers 112 Raptors 101

PHILADELPHIA — The Toronto Raptors’ big dreams of a long playoff run have come down to just one game.

Jimmy Butler scored 25 points while Ben Simmons had 21 and the Philadelphia 76ers rolled over the Raptors 112-101 on Thursday.

Now the series heads back to Toronto for a do-or-die Game 7 on Sunday.

Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and 12 rebounds to top the Raptors, but went 0-for-4 from the three-point line. Pascal Siakam added 21 points, while Kyle Lowry had 13. But reminiscent of Games 2 and 3, no other Raptor scored in double figures. Serge Ibaka had nine points before fouling out with just under four minutes to play.

Seemingly over the illness that plagued him in Game 5, Joel Embiid — announced last in the pre-game introductions while a video of his airplane celebration was shown on the Jumbotron — had 17 points to go with 12 rebounds.

The Raptors had arrived in Philly on the heels of a 125-89 thrashing of the Sixers in Toronto — the largest post-season margin of victory in franchise history, and a win so dominant they’d led by 40 points.

But the Raptors expected to face a hungry Sixers squad that was buoyed by the team’s noisy fans back home at an ear-splitting Wells Fargo Arena.

“They’ll come out hard,” Leonard had said of Philly at the morning shootaround. ”Nobody wants to go home, obviously both of us is one game away from winning or losing.”

Added Lowry: “They’re going to come out swinging and playing hard but we have to play more desperate than them.”

The Sixers dominated most of the night, leading for all but about a minute of the first quarter, and stretching their advantage to 19 points in a first half that featured wild momentum shifts.

Philly took an 87-67 lead into the fourth quarter and never let up. Trailing by 24 points, a Lowry three-pointer capped a mini Raptors run that pulled Toronto to within 19 points with 6:55 to play, but Toronto couldn’t sustain the momentum and a three-pointer by JJ Redick with 4:23 to play had Philly back up by 22. Raptors coach Nick Nurse subbed off his starters with 3:33 to play.

The Raptors couldn’t buy a basket for most of the night, shooting a horrible 9-for-36 from three-point range, many of them wide open looks.

While Wells Fargo was an inhospitable environment, the Raptors had clinched playoff series on the road the past two seasons, in the opening round in Milwaukee in 2017 and in Washington last year.

The Raptors, who rebuilt last summer and at the trade deadline specifically with the goal of an NBA finals appearance, have only once played in the conference finals — in 2016 versus Cleveland. The Sixers kept them from the 2001 conference finals when a Vince Carter jumper at the buzzer in Game 7 bounced off the rim.

In every game of this series, the leader after the first quarter has gone on to win the game. The Sixers raced out to an early eight-point lead, the Raptors responded with an 8-0 run, and Philly replied with a 10-0 to take a 29-21 lead into the second quarter.

The 76ers kept the momentum through the start of the second, using a 19-8 run that straddled both quarters to go up by 19 points. The Raptors responded again, pulling to within seven points on a running dunk by Leonard. But the Sixers outscored Toronto 16-8 to end the half. And when Butler stole the ball from Leonard for an easy layup with 0.4 seconds left, it sent Philly into the halftime break with a 58-43 lead — and prompted chants of “Ji-mmy But-ler!”

The Milwaukee Bucks, who dispatched Boston 4-1 in their semifinal series, await the winner.

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