TORONTO – The Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors head into Game 7 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with more than a spot in the conference finals at stake.
Both teams have free agents – Kawhi Leonard for Toronto and Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris for Philadelphia – whose future may be predicated on the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Plus, a Sixers loss may impact Coach Brett Brown’s future with the team. Philadelphia’s ownership group has high expectations for the team. So, we’ll see.
But first things first. The winner of Sunday’s game plays Milwaukee in the conference finals starting Wednesday.
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Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives as 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (23) defends during Game 6 of their playoff series. (Photo: Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports)
Here is what will determine who wins the series finale:
It’s difficult to imagine either team winning without a significant contribution from their top players: Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry for Toronto and Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons for Philadelphia.
Drill down deeper, the Raptors need a tremendous game from Leonard and the Sixers need one from Embiid. The Sixers were able to win Game 6 without Embiid dominating offensively, even though he contributed with his defense, rebounding and pick-and-roll game. His offensive is necessary in Game 7 on the road.
Given Leonard’s performance in the playoffs – he’s been as good or better than anyone in the postseason – it’s just about given he shows up and produces in a major way.
Each team has a couple of players who can sway the outcome with a good game. Siakam’s up-and-down, inside-outside game has caused problems for the Sixers. He’s been really good but has faltered with his shot in a couple of games.
We know about the lack of jump shot for Simmons, but when’s he’s speeding to the rim and passing, like he did in Game 6, Simmons makes the Sixers even better.
Three-point shooting will have some impact on this game so pay attention to the Raptors’ Danny Green (38.2 percent for the series on threes, 11-for-24 in the past four games) and the Sixers’ J.J. Redick (38.2% from deep in this series, 4-for-13 in the past two games).
Leonard has playoff experience from his time in San Antonio, and he was the 2014 Finals MVP. But Raptors coach Nick Nurse is in his first season as an NBA head coach. He’s been on the bench as an assistant for the playoffs, but this is different.
Butler has played in 65 playoff games, including some big ones with the Chicago Bulls, including a Game 7 victory. The Sixers’ Brett Brown has never been in a Game 7 as the head coach, but he has been on the Spurs’ bench as an assistant in significant games, including multiple Game 7s.
Both teams will have to draw on whatever Game 7 experience they can, especially in critical late-game situations.
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