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May 07, 2019

Instant observations: The Sixers were complete trash in Game 5 loss to Toronto Raptors

TORONTO — The Sixers didn't know until close to tip-off whether Joel Embiid was going to be healthy enough to play in Game 5. The rest of the team didn't have that excuse, but they somehow managed to lower the bar anyway, getting absolutely torched by the Raptors in Game 5 to the tune of a 125-89 final score.

I won't waste any time dressing this one up. The Sixers flat-out sucked, and here's what I saw on Tuesday night.

The Good

• Tobias Harris was the victim of early foul trouble on Tuesday night, but say this about him — he did not back down from shot opportunities as a result of his terrible Game 4. He was one of Philadelphia's only reliable contributors on offense in Game 5, showing off the diversity in his game that has been missing for a lot of this series.

You would never have guessed it from looking at the plus/minus splits from this game, as Harris ended up massively negative for most of Game 5. That felt more like a product of the ineffectiveness of the lineups around him, because he was active as an off-ball defender and efficient when he had the ball on offense.

If the Sixers got this version of Harris in Game 4, perhaps the Sixers would have been up 3-1 coming into this one, and maybe they could have rested Embiid for a potential closeout game at home on Thursday. Instead, they are going to be playing for their season in Game 6. So it goes.

• Jimmy Butler at least showed up ready to compete. He never found the range against Toronto in Game 5, and I thought there was a little too much hero ball from him, but there weren't exactly a lot of superior options for the Sixers on Tuesday.

The Bad

• Just like on Sunday, the story of Ben Simmons' game was largely defined by his inability to score around the basket. There were point-blank layups that Simmons missed without any shot alteration to blame it on, and there's simply no other way to put it — he has to make them, no excuses.

It's worth pointing out that this was something of a teamwide problem in Game 5. Butler was getting into the teeth of Toronto's defense fairly easily, but he could not buy one around the basket in the early going. Getting fouled on a pair of threes in the first quarter made up the majority of his scoring output, despite Butler being heavily involved in the action.

The Raptors certainly show you a lot of bodies and arms in the paint, and they were a top-five defense in the playoffs for a reason. But the Sixers made them look like the greatest defensive team of all-time out there for stretches of the first half, and that's simply inexcusable for a team with their firepower.

• Let's hover on Simmons individually for a second. At times in this series, it has been easy to handwave away his disappearing act on offense by pointing to the difficulty of the assignment he has on the other end of the floor. He gets no such pass in Game 5. He was a man adrift for a lot of Tuesday's game, often failing to make easy plays in addition to making some head-scratching decisions on both ends.

All the physical gifts and hypothetical basketball intelligence in the world do not matter if you don't apply them when it matters. Simmons was loose with his handle, threw passes that were downright careless, and committed his third foul near the end of the first half on a reach-in that never had a chance of knocking the ball away from Kawhi Leonard, who was already double-teamed and not going anywhere. Unforced errors have been the bane of Philadelphia's existence all year, and Simmons is at the heart of the problem.

A lot of the disappointment after Game 4 was directed at Joel Embiid because his failure to produce while sick became a big story after the game. Part of the reason that happened is that expectations are generally lower for Simmons locally and nationally. Why should that be the case? He was the No. 1 overall pick, a player some have compared to great, all-time level prospects, and the subject of many arbitrary Basketball-Reference queries the last two seasons. The GM of the team has basically said he's guaranteed a max contract at the end of his rookie deal. 

If that's the case, there should be far fewer plays where you have to sit and wonder exactly what in the fresh hell he is thinking. There should be a coach working on his jumper who is slightly more qualified than his brother. And there should probably be less dismissal from Simmons when he's approached about these issues after shocking performances. If you want to carry yourself as if you are above criticism, it would be wise to avoid being humbled by good teams in the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Unless the Sixers somehow pull this one out of the fire, it is going to be a long summer for Simmons. And he's going to deserve every bit of criticism that comes his way.

• I don't know what happened to the team that was so dominant on the glass in the second and third games of this series, but the Sixers were straight up gifting the Raptors extra possessions in Game 5. They managed to do it with a creativity that would be impressive if it wasn't so pathetic to watch.

On one play, Mike Scott was rising up by himself to collect a rebound only to knock it out of bounds for no apparent reason. On another, JJ Redick was vacating the space a rebound was obviously coming to in order to crash into an already crowded paint, leaving Danny Green wide open on the perimeter to knock down an easy three.

After looking like the team that was ready to take physical control of the series midway through it, the Sixers have wilted the longer it has gone on. I'm not sure there's any singular cause to point to, but it's hard to figure out.

• Apply most of the section above this one to Philadelphia's transition defense. Coming into the series, Toronto's ability to score off of turnovers and in early offense was a big point of emphasis. You would not know it from watching the Sixers play on Tuesday night.

The rebounding issue may not have been all effort, but it was 90 percent of the problem here. The Sixers were just getting blown past whenever the Raptors decided they wanted to run, which was often, and you're not going

• I have often been one of the primary advocates for Joel Embiid to shoot more threes. But that comes with a disclaimer — those shots have to be looks the Sixers and Embiid are actively looking for, not ones he is settling for because he doesn't have the juice to do anything else.

Time and time again, we see him jack up threes when he doesn't have the legs underneath him to go to work in the post or work as a roll man. Early in the game, the Sixers did have some success when they asked Embiid to dive toward the rim off of pick-and-rolls with Butler, but Embiid didn't show much interest in continuing that practice as the game wore on. He drifted out to the three-point line after screening for (most often) Butler's man, and his outside touch wasn't there to bail him out.

They have to get on him not to settle in these instances, and perhaps be more proactive about subbing him in and out if his conditioning brings him to this place.

Embiid gets somewhat of a pass from me because you can see how the illness has impacted him just by looking at him. He does not look like a guy prepared to play in an NBA playoff game. My beef is that if he's going to be out there, they need him to actually bring the intensity required to win a second-round playoff game. Strip away the turnovers and the missed shots and the various issues on Tuesday. Underneath it all, Embiid was not prepared for this game. And if that's going to be the case, he shouldn't play, regardless of whether the options behind him are that much worse.

• It was nice for the Sixers to have decent bench players while it lasted, but Greg Monroe's effectiveness in the early part of this series has quickly gone out the window. In Game 5, he got torched on defense and offered the Sixers nothing on the other end to make up the difference.

James Ennis wasn't a whole lot better. He picked up some insanely stupid fouls in transition to help the Raptors pick up points at the line, and his shooting touch didn't make it through customs this time. Neither one of these guys is going to shoulder the load for Philly, but they actively took things off of the table on Tuesday. With a short rotation, that can't happen. 

• When a playoff game is basically garbage time for the final eight minutes of the game, you know you really got your ass handed to you. Good grief.

The Ugly

• Let me say this about the experience of watching a game at Scotiabank Arena — it ain't Philly. The arena was half empty in the moments before tipoff, and the crowd was not particularly inspired during the game, either. Between the first and second quarters, the Raptors played "Welcome to the Jungle" and put a decibel meter on the screen, which usually inspires people sitting in an arena to let out a few screams, and the decibel meter actually went down during that moment.

That homecourt advantage Toronto allegedly has? Meh. More about the Raptors having a good team than anything those fans are doing.

• "Ugly" will be my reaction if the Sixers force a Game 7 and subject me to a game like this one during the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. 

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