Philadelphia (WPHL)- Many Philadelphia 76ers fans are distraught that the team is heading back to Toronto for a game six against the Raptors after being up 3-0. The pressure on the entire 76ers team and organization to close out the series in game 6 is at an all-time high due to the team’s recent game seven failures.
The 76ers have the better team, stars, and coach. The Sixers have MVP candidate Joel Embiid and former MVP winner James Harden. They have arguably one of the best defenders in the NBA in Matisse Thybulle. Tyrese Maxey has taken his game to a new level this season and is becoming one of the best young guards in the league. This season, Doc Rivers was named the NBA’s top 15 NBA All-Time coach. So why is it so hard to close out the Raptors, who doesn’t have the star power like the Sixers?
Being out coached
Nick Nurse, coach of the Raptors, has been out coaching Rivers. Nurse’s small-ball lineup has been crushing Rivers’ offense and defense the last three games. The Raptor’s game plan is to force Embiid to play at the top of the perimeter and trap him as he drives to the basket. The Raptors can switch on defense now that Fred VanFleet, who was a defensive liability, is out. Rivers was having his players attack VanFleet when the Raptors switch off pink n rolls, but now that he is out, the game plan does not work. On defense, the 76ers are having a hard time stopping the Raptors from attacking. The main reason is that Ben Simmons is not there anymore, and the team does not have a true elite on-ball defender. Thybulle is more of a passing lanes defender. In the NFL, he will be more compared to an Asante Samuel type of corner, which is excellent at Zone defense but not lockdown like Darrelle Revis.
The solution for Rivers on offense is to tell Embiid to stay in the post and dominate 6’9 Precious Achiuwa. Embiid has to dominate in the post and play like a Center game six instead of a shooting guard. Rivers have to tell him he doesn’t want him to take any 3-pointers or long mid-range shots. Embiid needs to score 35-40 points Thursday night. He is the MVP this season! On defense, Rivers must commit to the zone defense early. Harden, Maxey, and Danny Green are not good on-ball defenders. Raptors forwards are big and athletic and a mismatch for the Sixers guards. Force the Raptors to beat you from the 3-point line.
James Harden has to adjust
Harden, for years, was on teams where the floor was spread with shooters and had a big man who just wanted to catch lobs off pick-n rolls. Well, this Sixers team does not have any of that. He has to find a way to stay aggressive and involved in the offense. He is there to be the closer for the 76ers, but he hasn’t closed a game this season for the team. He needs to stop shooting, stepping back threes, and get back to the old Harden, who was a mid-range killer in his first year with the Houston Rockets. He is not as quick, and with the new NBA rules, the referees are not giving him the foul calls he got in past seasons. Get back to the basics, Harden!
The bench is atrocious again
The Sixers bench is terrible. But this has been an issue since last season. The Simmons headlines distracted everyone from this glaring problem the previous year against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. In-game 7, the Sixers bench scored 15 points, and Hawks 6th-man Danilo Gallinari scored 17 points. Let that sink in. The bench was addressed this past off-season with the signings of Georges Niang and Andre Drummond. But now, since the team traded for Harden, the team got rid of Drummond and Seth Curry. Curry leaving forced Thybulle to start now, weakening the bench. The bench was also depleted when Simmons never decided not to play for the team, forcing Maxey to start. The bench needs someone to come in and spark in game 6 to help the Sixers close the series.