The Raptors took care of business at home in Game 5 with a stirring 125-89 triumph over the Sixers to take a 3-2 series lead. The Sixers will come home on the brink of elimination for Game 6 tonight in what is obviously a must-win situation.
The Raptors have been to the Eastern Conference Finals in the past, but that’s as far as they’ve ever gone. Toronto has been among the odds-on favorites to get this far all season long and, now, they’ll have their first chance to punch their ticket for the chance to face Milwaukee in the next round.
Kawhi Leonard has been simply unstoppable. The Raptors’ quiet assassin is averaging 31.2 points per game in the playoffs thus far, and the Sixers have had zero answer for him. Philly traded for Jimmy Butler just so he could defend guys like Kawhi, but even he hasn’t been able to slow him down.
Kawhi gives the Raptors something they’ve been sorely lacking in years past. DeMar DeRozan is a quality, All-Star caliber player, but Leonard is a legitimate superstar and one of the five best players in the league. The Raptors’ previous playoff failures have been marred by offensive meltdowns in crunch time, but Leonard has given Toronto a clutch gene they haven’t enjoyed in the past.
With Leonard happy to shoulder the scoring load, Kyle Lowry has been able to settle into a tertiary role. Rather than being leaned on to get buckets, Lowry can focus more on distributing and defending at the other end of the floor. Lowry has come up small in these situations in the past, but he now has a guy that can take the bulk of the responsibility.
The impact of Pascal Siakam also can’t be ignored. He struggled his way through a calf injury in Game 4, but he bounced back in a big way in Game 5 by contributing 25 points and 8 rebounds in the blowout win. Siakam is a matchup nightmare given his size and ability to break defenders down off the dribble, and he’s another guy the 76ers haven’t had an answer for to this point.
76ers on the Brink
The only thing standing between the Raptors and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals is the 76ers, who have the chance to extend the series to seven games. Frankly, the Sixers should be feeling pretty lucky to be where they are right now.
Philly has won two games in this series despite the fact that their two best players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, have not really shown up. Embiid averaged 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game during the regular season. During this series, he’s averaging just 17 points and 7.6 boards. Embiid has dealt with some illness in this series, but he’s also just been shut down by Marc Gasol.
Gasol has defended Embiid admirably, but there should be no way for the Raptors’ center to reasonably slow Embiid down when he’s at his best. Embiid hasn’t been as aggressive offensively as he normally is, but if the Sixers are to have any real chance of fighting back in this series, they’re going to need him to get back on track.
Embiid’s struggles have overshadowed Simmons’. Simmons averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists during the regular season. Through five games in this series, he’s going for just 9.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. He has had almost no impact on the game from a scoring perspective.
Jimmy Butler has clearly been the Sixers’ best player in this series, and he may have to put on another Superman-like showing tonight if they plan on evening things up.
I’m a bit surprised to see the Sixers as home underdogs in a do-or-die game. The 76ers are 36-12 on their home floor this season. While the Raptors do own one of the best road records in the game, I have a hard time ignoring the betting value you can get on Philly in this one.
I’m not completely sold on the Sixers, but I’d just eat the value here. The 76ers at -105 to cover the two-point spread and at +120 to win outright on the moneyline are both interesting bets. I’d side with the outright win here at +120. Embiid showed in Game 3 that he’s capable of dominating in this series, we just have yet to see it in a couple of games.
Assuming Embiid is feeling better tonight, I think we get a vintage performance and he wills the Sixers to a decisive Game 7 this weekend. Take the underdog Sixers to win Game 6 at home.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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