The Philadelphia 76ers are back in Toronto to take on Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in a winner-take-all Game 7 for a chance to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams have seen each other for six straight games, so most of the tricks should be out of the bag by now.
The coaching battle will be one to watch out for, but this should come down to players making plays. There are not any really notable injuries on the injury report, which should be interesting with the series that Joel Embiid has had with these illness problems.
The 76ers’ game plan should be to try and repeat what they did in Game 6, because they were clearly the better team in that game. The biggest takeaway I had from that game was that there was no real outlier on either side of the ball, which is something you rarely see. Often, you analyze past games, only to find that one guy shot 9-10 and another on the opposing team shot 2-15. Yes, it was a blowout, but that isn’t a sustainable outcome.
Leonard A Key
For most of this series, Kawhi Leonard had been an outlier. Shooting 70% from the field, but last game, Kawhi was 9-20 including 0-4 from the 3-point line. I think that a performance similar to this is a most likely outcome in this matchup, but that isn’t what the first four games would have suggested.
Can Simmons Keep Scoring?
The biggest outlier in the game was Ben Simmons 9-13 for 21 points, something that has been lacking all series long. The question is whether or not that is an outlier or someone finally regressing to his norm. Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game this year, so why am I saying his 21/8/6 is an outlier? I haven’t seen Simmons be a consistent scorer when the opposing team is both good and big enough.
Simmons is a matchup problem on the offensive side of the court, but when you can make him not a matchup problem, his offensive game is lacking a lot of polish. By that I mean that I would take Steph Curry from 37 feet over Ben Simmons taking an elbow jumper. He CANNOT shoot, and it is really hard to score against big and athletic defenders if you have zero willingness to pull the trigger from beyond the paint.
Simmons’ point totals from this series are 14, 6, 10, 10, 7, and 21. Now, 21 looks like the outlier. I think that Simmons has been less aggressive than normal, but I think there is probably more meat on the bone than he was taking before last game. Maybe something like 13 or 14 points per game is more realistic in this series, but I think he is very capable of having this performance, although I wouldn’t count on it.
Embiid Must Be Healthy
The other big story in this series is Joel Embiid’s health. Embiid was supposedly struggling with a sickness during the first two games, and he really struggled. The next game, he looked like he hadn’t lost a step. After this third game, Embiid has looked rather dreadful, and he is supposedly really sick again.
I would assume this illness is getting better at this point, so if he returns to 100%, I expect to see a different game than we have seen most of the series. Now, this is a bad spot for Embiid, facing a frontcourt featuring Marc Gasol and littered with competent defenders if they can force the switch. I would expect Embiid to produce better than his averages in this series but below his season averages.
Bet On Philly
I think that the 76ers are the better team in this series and that the Raptors have played the better basketball. I think that the last game was great for Simmons’ confidence in getting to the rim, and I assume the two off days improved Embiid’s health. I think that the -6.5 line in favor of Toronto is way too much, even at home.
Both teams are in desperate need to win this game because of their impending free agency. Kawhi, Harris, and Butler are all heavily talked about upcoming free agents, who will likely have a harder time walking away from the team that got to the Finals in year 1 than if they were to lose now. I think that this game is incredibly important for both sides for the now and the future, so I will take +6.5 on Philly all day.