The Philadelphia 76ers led 3-0 in their series against the Toronto Raptors just days ago. The lead has since been reduced to 3-2.
This wakes up echoes for 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
He is the only coach in NBA history to lose three series in which his team had a 3-1 lead. No coach in NBA history has ever lost a series after leading 3-0 either. But Rivers and the 76ers have yet to sideline the Raptors and now face a Game 6 in Toronto on Thursday night in hopes of avoiding a Game 7 win-win in Philadelphia on Saturday.
“Let’s earn it,” Rivers said. “So we don’t have to talk about it.”
The 76ers are one of three teams to take a 3-2 lead on the road Thursday night, as a Game 6 trio come together. The others are Western Conference games: top-seeded Phoenix will try to shut down New Orleans, and fourth-seeded Dallas has a chance to knock out fifth-seeded Utah.
Philadelphia’s lead seems much more tenuous than those held by Phoenix and Dallas. The Suns and Mavericks are coming off double-digit home wins that made them feel like they were in control of their respective matchups.
But the 76ers are suffering, especially because center Joel Embiid has a torn thumb ligament. And two closing opportunities have already passed, which is why Rivers received questions on Wednesday about those last 3-1 leads that didn’t work out.
The first was in 2003, when he had eighth-seeded Orlando close to beating first-seeded Detroit in the first round before the heavily favored Pistons rallied. The next came in 2015, when the Los Angeles Clippers led Houston 3-1 in the Western semifinals before collapsing when Chris Paul was injured. And the other was in 2020, when the Clippers lost a 3-1 lead to Denver in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando.
“Game 7 would have been in Los Angeles,” Rivers said. “It just happens.”
The Raptors, meanwhile, continue to believe they can make history. Only three teams came back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 in the NBA. None won the series; if Toronto is successful, it will meet Miami — and former Raptors guard Kyle Lowry — in the Eastern semifinals starting Monday.
“If anyone could do it, it would be us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
76ERS AT RAPTORS
Philadelphia leads 3-2. Game 6, 7 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
– NEED TO KNOW: The Sixers lead, yes, but the pendulum definitely seems to be swinging in Toronto’s direction. In the past three games, the Raptors have led (or tied) 92.8% of the time. And if the Raptors hadn’t squandered a 17-point lead in Game 3, the overtime game where Embiid’s 3-pointer was the winner, they might have a chance to wrap things up on Thursday.
—KEEP AN EYE OUT: 76ers G James Harden. He’s shooting just 35% from the field, 29% from 3-pointers and averaging 16.9 points for him in his last eight playoff games since last season. With Embiid injured, Harden needs to do more.
— INJURY WATCH: Raptors G Fred VanVleet (hip) missed Game 5 and is listed as questionable for Game 6. Embiid continues to play with a torn thumb ligament.
—THE PRESSURE IS ON: Philadelphia. If it goes to Game 7, even in Philadelphia, the advantage would be all Toronto.
SUNS AMONG PELICANS
Phoenix leads 3-2. Thu 6, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
– NEED TO KNOW: In the all-rounds-best-of-seven format in place since 2003, only four No. 1 seeds have been taken to a Game 7 in Round 1. Phoenix will try to avoid becoming the fifth. The Suns picked up a very professional victory in Game 5 and will now enter a noisy road environment to try to close things down.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: New Orleans turnovers and 3-point shots. The Pelicans were outscored by 11 (23-12) in points on turnovers in Game 5 and by 15 (30-15) from 3-point range. Phoenix won by 15. The Pelicans can’t afford such gaps anymore and believe it will happen in Game 7.
— INJURY WATCH: Suns G Devin Booker (hamstring) remains out.
—THE PRESSURE IS ON: Phoenix. There’s no way the Pelicans will feel any pressure in this series, having gone 36-46 and needed two play-in wins just to get here. They’re using house money right now, and the Suns can’t risk a Game 7 win-win against a team that’s playing fast and loose.
Dallas leads 3-2. Thu 6, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.
— NEED TO KNOW: The last time Dallas won a playoff series, David Stern presented Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki with the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Mavs have lost all six series they’ve played since winning the 2011 NBA title, but seventh down might be the charm. Utah will try to overcome a 3-2 series deficit for the first time since the 2007 first round against Houston.
—KEEP AN EYE OUT: Jazz G Donovan Mitchell. He’s 3 for his last 30 from a 3-point range, spanning the last 14 quarters. His nine points in Game 5 were a playoff career low.
— INJURY ALERT: Mitchell’s quads are bruised, but an MRI ruled out any hamstring issues.
—THE PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. It’s not just because the Jazz face elimination. If they can’t get out of this round, in a series where Mavs G Luka Doncic has missed three games, it would be reasonable to think big changes could be on the horizon.
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