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Raptors cut Philly’s series lead to 3-2

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PHILADELPHIA – The Toronto Raptors had the Sixers fans booing their own team off the floor at halftime. OG Anunoby’s dunk with a couple of minutes to play sent thousands of fans to the exits as if there’d been an evacuation order.

Pascal Siakam had 23 points and 10 rebounds and the Raptors dominated the 76ers 103-88 on Philly’s home court on Monday, cutting the Sixers’ lead in their best-of-seven opening-round playoff series to 3-2.

While the Raptors remain a loss away from elimination, they’re also now two wins away from making history.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Thaddeus Young said. “These guys from Day 1 when I got here (in a February trade) seemed like a great group of guys who are very poised. We go out there and we play as hard as we can, everybody listens to each other.

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“No one man is bigger than the team and that’s why we’re able to go out there and win basketball games, we were able to get ourselves back into this series and continue to fight each and every night.”

Precious Achiuwa added 17 points and went hard at Sixers centre Joel Embiid, who looked gassed for long stretches. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. finished with 16 apiece for the Raptors, who were missing injured all-star guard Fred VanVleet. Scottie Barnes, in his second game back after sitting two with a sprained ankle, had 12 points and eight rebounds.

The series heads back to Toronto for Game 6 on Thursday.

Embiid, who was playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb, had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Sixers.

No team in NBA history has come back to win a seven-game series after trailing 3-0. Raptors coach Nick Nurse has called it a “heckuva challenge” and said “somebody’s gotta do it.”

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Two nights after their decisive 110-102 win in Toronto to force a Game 5, the Raptors ran circles around the Sixers for much of the night Monday, pestering them into 16 turnovers. Philly’s only lead was the first basket of the game. Toronto raced out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter and stretched it to 14 in the second. They led by double digits for most of the third and took a 75-66 advantage into the fourth.

“We just tried to move the ball from side to side, set screens, roll, look for the mismatch, and just step into shots, cut, move the ball, and play freely,” Anunoby said.

Boos rained down from the Wells Fargo Arena crowd when Barnes tossed a cheeky no-look pass to Achiuwa for a dunk for a 13-point lead with 6:11 to play. James Harden’s three-pointer sliced the difference to nine points with 6:11 to play. Then, after a couple of scoreless minutes by both teams, Anunoby drilled a three-pointer for 13 points of breathing room with 3:52 to play.

Anunoby drove to the hoop with 2:14 to play, half-emptying the arena. Nurse emptied his bench with 1:19 to play.

“It’s very important to keep this crowd out of the game, they can get very loud, this building can get to rocking and you don’t want that,” said Young, who played seven seasons for the Sixers. “(But) we’re a very resilient team and the crowd hasn’t really bothered us too much.

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“We controlled the game from start to finish, we knew they were gonna make some runs but every team makes runs, it’s about withstanding those runs and we did a really good job.”

Two nights earlier in Toronto, Siakam had poured in a playoff career high 34 points and the Raptors pulled away to beat Philly and stave off elimination.

Thirteen teams have come back from 3-1 deficits, and Sixers coach Doc Rivers has been on the losing end of three of those. Nothing seems out of the realm of possibility for a Raptors team that has endured plenty of upheaval in the past two seasons, including playing out of Tampa, Fla., last season due to COVID-19 border restrictions.

VanVleet, meanwhile, confirmed at Monday morning’s shootaround he wouldn’t play due to a strained left hip flexor suffered in the first half of Game 4. The veteran guard, who’s been battling a bruised knee all season, said his body has “tapped out.” He was unsure if he’d be healed sufficiently to play in Game 6.

Siakam said it was tough to play without VanVleet.

“Obviously he is a big part of what we do as a team and we definitely need him out there,” he said. “I think it’s just been the story of the season for us. We have had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup and we always kind of figure it out. Everyone coming in. Guys stepping up. We have a good solid game plan with guys coming off the bench and executing the game plan and everyone kind of stepping up their level a little bit.”

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The Raptors got off to a strong start, forcing the Sixers into 10 turnovers in the first quarter. Trent Jr. had nine points in the frame to lead the way, and his step back shot had the Raptors up by nine less than five minutes into the game. The Sixers pulled to within a point with a 10-2 run that included an unfortunate Achiuwa tip-in on Philly’s net when he and Barnes both went up to grab a rebound. The Raptors led 29-27 to start the second.

Toronto opened the second with a 12-0 run that featured a behind the back dribble by Barnes, the newly minted NBA rookie of the year, on the fast break. Siakam’s finger roll had Toronto up by 14 points. The closest the Sixers got in the quarter was six points, and the Raptors headed into halftime up 54-41. The disgruntled Sixers crowd of 20,517 fans booed their team off the floor.

The Sixers won Games 1 and 2 by 35 points combined, then Embiid hit a clutch three-pointer with less than a second left in overtime in a Game 3 heartbreaker.

Game 7, if needed, would be back in Philadelphia on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press





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