76ers have a lot to answer for after gutless showing in Game 5 loss to Raptors

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers now face a do-or-die Game 6 back home after a troubling loss in Toronto that was never competitive from the start.

At this point, it may be fair to question just about everything with this Philadelphia 76ers team right now.

Not long ago, it looked as though the Sixers had finally figured out a Toronto Raptors squad that had given them fits during the regular season, mainly due to the elite play of superstar forward Kawhi Leonard.

The Raptors, by and large, had been the better team and had proven so by racking up three wins compared to just one by the Sixers.

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However, this was mostly before Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris became part of the picture. This was before Elton Brand went out and improved the bench, and before the Sixers could boast that the process was finally over.

Everyone assumed the playoffs would be different. That was a sentiment shared by many across the Delaware Valley. And through three games in this series, it certainly seemed like the process was finally taking over and providing the necessary result.

Despite a let down in Game 1, the Sixers edged the Raptors in Game 2 and thoroughly dominated Game 3 in Philadelphia, so much so that the Raptors looked like a defeated team, conceding to a younger, faster, and more dynamic squad.

Fast forward to Game 5, and all that momentum has been washed away, drowned out by perhaps one of the worst showings by this Sixers squad in recent memory. In a game they absolutely had to win, the Sixers were never truly in it, and that’s the disturbing part.

Toronto came out fired up, understanding that this was a pivotal game in the series for both teams. Win, and all they would have to do was win one more out of the next two.

The Sixers clearly played the more daunting role, having to find a way to earn a win on the road after losing an emotional game at home that would have given them a two-game lead in the series.

The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher, and that is what made the effort by the Sixers in this game so perplexing and mystifying.

For a team that had shown it could respond with its back against the wall in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets, the team’s response in Game 5 consisted of playing scared, mistake-filled basketball for four-straight quarters.

Let’s start with Butler, because for the second-straight game, he’s about the only guy who showed up to play.

Butler played 30 minutes and grabbed 22 points, the most out of the starting group by a wide margin. At times, the offense was forced to run through him, but without an effective supporting cast, the end result was predictable.

Still, the loss wasn’t Butler’s fault since he’s out there trying to rally the team and hold it all together, despite the team falling apart over the past two games.

At this point, it’s fair to worry that Butler might not view the Sixers as the organization as an ideal place to sign for a max contract. If he opts to leave via free agency, the organization is in trouble, because the players he will be leaving behind are still not mature enough to lead the team on a path to sustained success.

Can the organization and the players convince him to stay? That remains to be seen.

As for the bad, well J.J. Redick was absolutely horrendous. He scored three points and never really represented anything close to a scoring threat, one of the reasons why the Sixers went 6-for-24 from beyond the arc, with Redick shooting 1-for-3.

Without question, this is inexcusable. Defensively, Redick was abused by the Raptors to the tune of a minus 21. We know that Redick is not here for his defense, but he has to be better than scoring just three points on offense.

Harris wasn’t much better than his game four performance, totaling 15 points in 34 minutes, and was also a minus 34.

Additionally, Harris shot 6-for-12 from the field. He’s clearly not the only one struggling, but he needs to be better to give the Sixers a chance to stay in the series. A lone three-point shot is not going to cut it for someone like Harris, and when he’s on, he’s on.

Frustratingly, the curious case of Ben Simmons continues to go unsolved in the playoffs. For the second-straight game, Simmons has been a complete non-factor on offense.

Yes, he’s been primarily guarding Leonard, which is no small feat and some inefficiency on offense can certainly be explained away just by having to focus so heavily on defense.

But this level of ineffectiveness by Simmons continues to be a concern, as he exited Game 5 with just seven points. That’s just not good enough for a player of his size and athletic ability.

Most importantly, it’s not good enough for the organization that has such high expectations for the 6’10” point guard.

Simmons continues to be a polarizing player, flashing dominance in the paint, but a reluctance to shoot. It’s just baffling. He’s really only had one very good game in the playoffs, which came against Brooklyn after career-nobody Jared Dudley called him out.

In that game, Simmons responded by playing aggressive, no-nonsense basketball, shoving his game right into the face of the Nets players.

But Simmons has once again receded back into the shell of a scared player, a player hesitant to initiate contact, a player that can’t seem to find a way to get to the free throw line despite his size.

It’s all very troubling, and fans of the team will continue to wonder what they truly have in Simmons until he decides to embrace the kind of playing style the team needs him to play in order to win games.

Yes, he’s young still. There will invariably be calls for trades and other rash decisions if the Sixers lose the series, but it’s important to avoid those types of impulsive and emotional decisions while instead focusing on the best way to get the most out of a young and promising player.

It seems there will be plenty of questions about Simmons’ future, regardless of the outcome.

And then there’s Joel Embiid, the team’s best player and a top-five player in the league when healthy. That right there is the rub, when he’s healthy.

Embiid is a player who will seemingly always be at risk when it comes to health, and that’s the giant elephant in the room right now.

Sure, Embiid most assuredly doesn’t want to be sick right now. But one has to wonder what led to such an untimely illness, one that may end up ultimately ousting this team from the playoffs.

There have been endless rumors about diet, but unless you are in the room when an athlete eats his meals, it may not be fair to speculate on his nutrition habits.

Still, the way this has gone down is nothing short of bizarre and unfortunate for both parties.

In terms of Embiid’s play, it was reminiscent of his effort in Game 4. He’s still obviously not himself, and his performance on the court reflects that right now. He scored 13 points and was 5-for-10 from field-goal range and 2-for-6 in three-point shooting.

For what it’s worth, Embiid is out there and he’s trying, but he’s not much help to the team in his current state. What should be more frustrating for fans is that organization has not found a way to have a competent backup who can come in and at least provide league-average play.

Greg Monroe has been awful, and Boban Marjanovic is match up dependent. It’s a problem that must be addressed in the offseason.

Embiid is a special player that can get you 30 points a night on some occasions, and when he does that, the Sixers typically have a better chance than not to win the game.

However, without that kind of effort, it’s going to be a struggle. The Sixers have to hope and pray he can recover by Thursday.

Let’s face it, with Simmons unable or unwilling to step up, this team will go where Embiid takes them. Right now, it doesn’t look like they will get very far barring a complete turn around.

Maybe it’s unfair to have so many questions for such a young team that’s only been playing together for two years, and even less so when you add in Butler and Harris into the mix.

But the bigger concern is how this team could respond so poorly to a loss in Game 4 that frankly should have lit a fire under them. Yes, your best player is ailing, but the rest of the starters boast enough talent that someone should be able to step up in his place.

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Why that hasn’t happened will be the subject of much speculation should this team reach the offseason earlier than expected, but for now, here’s to hoping that Philadelphia shows up on Thursday during their most important game of the season.