There will be at least two Game 7’s in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, as both Philadelphia and Portland took care of business at home Thursday night. Joel Embiid didn’t produce an eye-popping stat line in the 76ers’ win, but his presence on the court continues to have a significant impact. It also helped that Ben Simmons was more involved (and aggressive) on offense than he had been in first five games of the series, with Toronto once again failing to get much production from anyone other than Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. In the nightcap Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led the way offensively for Portland, which also received key contributions from Rodney Hood and Zach Collins.
Below is a look at Thursday’s doubleheader, followed by a quick look at the injury report for Friday’s Game 6 between the Warriors and Rockets.
76ers 112, Raptors 101
Milwaukee will have to wait a couple more days to find out its opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Philadelphia forced a Game 7 with a comfortable win over the Raptors. Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons may have been the leading scorers for the 76ers, tallying 25 and 21 points, respectively, but it can be argued that Joel Embiid was the most important player for the winners. Dealing with an upper respiratory infection, Embiid played 36 minutes and finished with 17 points (5-of-14 FGs, 5-of-7 FTs), 12 rebounds, two blocks, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers. He did turn the ball over five times, which would impact players in nine-category playoff/DFS leagues, but his plus/minus on the night was a staggering +40. Philadelphia finished the night a minus-29 without Embiid on the court.
As noted above Butler led the way with 25 points, shooting 9-of-18 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line while also accounting for eight assists, six rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes. After he was limited to ten points in Philadelphia’s Game 1 loss to the Raptors, Butler has scored 22 points or more in each of the last five games. A key for him during this stretch has been the foul line, as Butler is averaging just under eight free throw attempts per game (he was 2-of-4 in Game 1).
Butler was one of two Philadelphia starters to tally at least six assists Thursday, with Simmons being the other. The second-year point guard picked a good time to have his best game of the series, as he supplemented his 21 points (9-of-13 FGs, 3-of-6 FTs) with eight rebounds and six assists. Simmons was far more involved in the 76ers offense, as his usage percentage of 37.8% and offense rating of 160.3 were his best numbers of the series by far. In the first five games of the series Simmons had a usage percentage of 14.0% and an offensive rating of 101.
Tobias Harris and JJ Redick also scored in double figures, with Harris tallying 16 points and Redick 11. Harris got off to a decent start but he would finish the night shooting 6-of-17 from the field, and the veteran wing contributed nine rebounds, five assists, one steal and two 3-pointers (on eight attempts). Redick also struggled with his shot, shooting 3-of-10 from beyond the arc and 4-of-11 from the field overall. He didn’t contribute much outside of the points and three-pointers, finishing with one rebound and one assist.
Philadelphia essentially went with a seven-man rotation, as James Ennis III played 26 minutes off the bench and Mike Scott 20. Scott shot 3-of-4 from three, scoring 11 points with four rebounds and two assists, and his plus/minus of +29 was the second-best number on the team. Ennis shot just 2-of-6 from the field, but he did manage to rack up eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot to go along with his five points scored. Boban Marjanovic entered the game just five minutes in but did not have much of an impact, playing seven minutes and finishing with two points and one turnover. Following the game Brett Brown said that he’s looking for that eighth man — a backup center — but has been unable to find a suitable answer. Boban was ineffective and Greg Monroe, who had some success early in the series, was a DNP-CD.
Toronto’s issue offensively was the same as it has been for many of the team’s losses this postseason: Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam did not get enough help from their fellow starters. Leonard shot 9-of-20 from the field, finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal and four turnovers in 40 minutes. Siakam also surpassed the 20-point mark, scoring 21 (8-of-16 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs) with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two 3-pointers. But just one other Raptor, Kyle Lowry, managed to score in double figures. Lowry shot 5-of-11 from the field, scoring 13 points with six assists, five rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers.
Lowry’s point total was only two points less than what Danny Green and Marc Gasol combined to contribute, as they scored 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. In addition to his seven points Gasol accounted for four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and one steal, with Green shooting 2-of-8 from three and finishing with eight points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. Like Philadelphia the Raptors went with a seven-man rotation, as Serge Ibaka played 22 minutes off the bench and Fred VanVleet 16. Ibaka finished with nine points, three rebounds, one assist and one block, while VanVleet’s lone point was scored at the foul line with the backup point guard also accounting for three assists, two rebounds and one steal. Ibaka has had his moment during the series, but VanVleet has struggled throughout.
If Toronto is to win Sunday’s Game 7 they’ll need more consistent production from the reserves, but after a regular season in which the second unit was able to consistently produce that hasn’t been the case in this series.
Trail Blazers 119, Nuggets 108
Portland’s perimeter tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum certainly deserve credit for the way in which they played Thursday night, as they combined to score 62 points. But it can be argued that reserves Rodney Hood and Zach Collins combined to save the Trail Blazers’ season, as both stepped forward with critical contributions on the offensive end of the floor. Hood, who last spring fell completely out of the Cavaliers’ rotation during the playoffs, shot 8-of-12 from the field and 6-of-9 from the foul line and scored a playoff career-high 25 points in 32 minutes. Hood also grabbed four rebounds, and his point total was four more than what he produced in games 4 and 5 combined.
Collins played 29 minutes, scoring 14 points (4-of-8 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs) with five blocks, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer. The last time a Trail Blazer managed to block five shots in a playoff game: LaMarcus Aldridge in 2010. The play of both Collins and Hood helped make up for the lack of production from the starting front court, as Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Enes Kanter combined to score 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting from the field. Aminu, who shot 2-of-4 from three, scored seven points with two rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes. Harkless played just 16 minutes, scoring two points (1-of-5 FGs) with three rebounds and two steals. As for Kanter, while he shot just 2-of-9 from the field and scored six points, he did grab a team-high 14 rebounds in his 29 minutes on the court.
As for the Blazers’ star guards, Lillard scored 32 points (11-of-23 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) with five assists, three rebounds, one steal, six 3-pointers and five turnovers. Seventeen of the All-Star guard’s points were scored in the third quarter, with Portland taking a seven-point lead into the fourth as a result of Lillard’s offensive mastery. McCollum added 30 (12-of-24 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) with six rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers in a team-high 42 minutes, bouncing back from his 5-of-16 night in Tuesday’s Game 5 blowout loss in Denver. Portland didn’t call on Meyers Leonard at all on Thursday after he played 16 minutes in Game 5, with Turner playing eight more minutes Thursday night (11 minutes in Game 5).
Portland’s gone with smaller lineups more often, as their front court has struggled to defend the tandem of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap for much of this series. However, while the former was able to get his on Thursday, scoring 29 points (10-of-15 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs) with 12 rebounds, eight assists and two 3-pointers, the same cannot be said of Millsap. The veteran forward scored 17 points, but did so on 4-of-15 shooting from the field (8-of-8 FTs), and he also accounted for six rebounds, three steals, one assist, one blocked shot and one three-pointer. The six rebounds are the fewest that Millsap has tallied in a game since Game 1, which the Nuggets managed to win.
Jamal Murray scored 24 points while also accounting for ten rebounds, five assists, one steal and three 3-pointers, but he shot just 7-of-20 from the field while playing a game-high 46 minutes. The young guard was much better in Denver’s first two games in Portland during the series, as he scored 34 points in both. Gary Harris added 15 (4-of-11 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), five assists, three rebounds, three steals and three 3-pointers, and Torrey Craig (ten points, four rebounds, two blocks and two 3-pointers) had his best offensive game of the series. But outside of Jokic the Nuggets’ main offensive options were unable to score in an efficient manner, and the bench was thoroughly outplayed by Portland’s reserves.
Will Barton played 26 minutes, scoring seven points (3-of-8 FGs) with four rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer, with Mason Plumlee (four points, four rebounds and one assist) and Malik Beasley (0-of-8 FGs, two points, one rebound) playing 13 and ten, respectively. Monte Morris, a key option off the bench for much of the regular season, played just two minutes after playing 14 in Game 5. Denver’s bench scored a total of 13 points, one less than what Zach Collins produced on his own, and they’ll be in a position similar to that of Toronto’s reserves on Sunday. Second units tend to perform better at home than on the road, and the Nuggets will need this to be the case if they’re to advance.
Warriors @ Rockets (9 PM, ESPN)
The biggest injury news in this series is the right calf strain that Kevin Durant suffered during Game 5, with the perennial All-Star having been ruled out for the next week (he will be reevaluated at that point). Without DeMarcus Cousins the Warriors went to their “death lineup,” with Andre Iguodala moving into the starting five with Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Steve Kerr has another hole to fill, and the answer could be to move Kevon Looney into the starting lineup. No one player is going to replace what Durant brings to the table, and given how the minutes have been distributed throughout the series Looney may be the best option to slide into the first unit.
That could open up some minutes for Andrew Bogut, who’s played a total of ten minutes in the series. This may not be the best matchup for the veteran center, but given the personnel losses his name could be called Friday night. Houston had no players listed on Thursday’s final injury report.
At the very least the ball should be in Curry's hands more, as he either scored or assisted on 20 of the 36 points Golden State scored after Durant's departure Wednesday night.