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May 10, 2019

A complete history of the Sixers in Game 7

How has the franchise — and the players currently on the roster — fared when playing in the decisive game of a series?

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Led by a pair of young players, the Sixers do not have a ton of experience to offer heading into a pivotal Game 7 in Toronto this Sunday. But Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have the chance to start rewriting the history of the Sixers' franchise this weekend if they can manage to pull off the victory in adverse circumstances.

They would be fighting against history to make it happen. Going on the road in Game 7 tends to be a death sentence, and it has been an especially poor spot for the Sixers in the decades that have passed. 

In advance of the Sixers' Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday, I thought we could take a look at the franchise's history in these Game 7's, as well as some numbers and performances from the Sixers' current players in these games. We'll work backward in reverse chronological order, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there's a lot of torture at the hands of the Celtics.

Franchise record: 6-9 all-time (1-8 on the road)

2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals @ Boston — Loss

Truly one of the weirder Sixers seasons in recent memory. After upsetting the top-seeded Bulls following a career-altering injury to Derrick Rose in Round 1, the Sixers and Celtics traded wins back and forth every game, and Boston happened to be on the right side of the scoreline when the final whistle sounded.

The belief in this team was minimal, which is why they were broken up starting with the Andrew Bynum trade in the summer of 2012. Playing for the right to lose to the Miami Heat in 2012 wasn't much to play for, though Boston did end up forcing us a narrative-shifting performance from LeBron James in Game 6 of that series. Maybe Philly would have been a part of history had they won.

2001 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Milwaukee — WIN

This is the forgotten Game 7 from Philadelphia's run to the NBA Finals, and on some level is the forgotten series from that year. Allen Iverson's battle with Vince Carter in the previous round tends to stand out in your memory a bit more.

But this one featured a pair of classic performances from Sixers players. Dikembe Mutombo nearly managed a 20-20 game with the season on the line, putting up 23 points, 19 rebounds, and seven blocks across 47 minutes in an absolutely sensational performance. It was only topped by Iverson's one-man show on the offensive end of the floor, with Bubba Chuck dumping in 44 points on 33 shots to send the Sixers to their first Finals since the 1980's.

A true classic...

2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Toronto — WIN

The battle with the Bucks and Iverson's famous Finals stepover wouldn't have had a chance to happen if Vince Carter's shot had gone down in the closing moments of the second round. In a series that featured some huge scoring outbursts from both men, Iverson narrowly edged out Carter 21 to 20 in the scoring department of Game 7.

I am sure this game will be discussed to death in the days to come. The hero for Philly may have been Eric Snow on this day — he gave the Sixers 34 minutes off of the bench, and his +13 was a team-best mark by a mile.

1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals @ Milwaukee — Loss

A heartbreaking, one-point defeat for the Sixers in one of the last playoff series for Julius Erving in Philadelphia. The Bucks have largely been forgotten because they were the third team in a conference featuring the Sixers and Celtics in the 80's, but they consistently challenged both teams when the going got tough in April and May.

A tip of the cap goes to Sidney Moncrief, who was in and out of the lineup due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot but managed to rally for 23 points in the decisive Game 7, when Milwaukee needed every one of them.

1982 Eastern Conference Finals @ Boston — WIN

An important game for a lot of reasons, but three things stand out for historical purposes:

  1. This is the only time in franchise history the Sixers have gone on the road to win a Game 7. 
  2. This game was the origin of the "Beat L.A.!" chant that has since become a staple for opposing fans whenever the Lakers are good. With the game in hand late, the Celtics fans asked their Eastern Conference rivals to handle their foes to the west in the Finals. Darryl Dawkins allegedly told Boston writing great Bob Ryan, "My d*ck got stiff" when he heard the chants.
  3. This was the series that produced one of the greatest sports nicknames in Philadelphia history: Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney. He was sensational all series, and he scored another 34 to send the Celtics packing.

1981 Eastern Conference Finals @ Boston — Loss

For the second time in their history, the Sixers coughed up a 3-1 lead to the Boston Celtics to go home in the most inglorious fashion possible. This series is widely considered one of the best of all-time, with the final three games decided by a margin of five combined points. 

Boston emerged as 91-90 winners on their home floor in Game 7, thanks to Larry Bird scoring the only basket for either team in the final three minutes of the game. 

1981 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Milwaukee — WIN 

Prior to losing to Boston in the next round, the Sixers were on the right side of a one-point victory in Game 7. On Easter Sunday in 1981, there were 19 lead changes, 11 ties, and the Bucks nearly climbed out of a 16-point hole to win the game when all was said and done.

But Dr. J's 28 points and a big assist from Bobby Jones off of the bench was enough to see the Sixers through to the next round. It was not a well-attended game — reports from the time suggest under 7,000 people attended the do-or-die game at the Spectrum, where the Sixers were 37-4 during the regular season that year.

1979 Eastern Conference Semifinals @ San Antonio — Loss

Whoever made the decision to put the Spurs in the Eastern Conference when they joined the NBA must have been on some serious hallucinogens, but no matter. This time it was the Sixers who nearly pulled off an impossible comeback against George Gervin and Co. — the Sixers climbed out of a 3-1 hole to force the seventh game on the road, and they erased an 18-point lead during the game to give themselves a chance late.

Alas, it was not to be. Dr. J's 34 points edged out Gervin, but the Spurs got 20+ point games from Larry Kenon and Mike Green, the latter of whom would retire from basketball following the 1979-80 season. So it goes.

1977 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Boston — WIN

He is known more now for the colorful suits he wears to Sixers games, but what if I told you World B. Free was once the key to a Game 7 victory for Philadelphia? 

After starting the Game 0/6 from the field, Philadelphia's microwave bench scorer started cooking in the second half and dropped 27 points to earn the Sixers a win. The Sixers ended up being prohibitive favorites in the Finals that year, only to get taken down by one of the forgotten great teams in NBA history, the Bill Walton/Maurice Lucas Blazers.

1971 Eastern Conference Semifinals @ Baltimore Bullets — Loss

37 points from Archie Clark and 30 more from Billy Cunningham were not enough to overcome Baltimore, whose attack was much more balanced than Philadelphia's. The Bullets would end up representing the East in the NBA Finals, and once again, I have to question the NBA's understanding of geography, because they for some reason met the Western Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks to decide the season.

It remains wild to me that there was a franchise nicknamed the Bullets for as long as they were. Good thing there were no incidents connected to that name during the franchise's history.

1968 Division Finals vs. Boston — Loss

The Warriors losing the 2016 Finals became the meme that took over basketball internet, but the Sixers were the first team in the history of the NBA to lose a playoff series after holding a 3-1 lead. This is a part of Philadelphia's long and storied history I'm sure they'd like to push to the side.

That it came one year after the Sixers ran roughshod over the league probably made it sting even more. Philadelphia's title defense ended painfully.

1965  Division Finals @ Boston — Loss

A game that can be summarized with just a single quote: "Havlicek stole the ball!"

This season was the first for Wilt Chamberlain in a Sixers uniform after Philadelphia acquired him in a trade with the Warriors earlier in the year. It would not be the last time the Celtics got the best of Wilt's Sixers.

R.I.P. to the great John Havlicek, by the way, who passed away recently.

1959 Division Finals @ Boston — Loss

1955 NBA Finals vs. Fort Wayne Pistons — WIN

1954 NBA Finals @ Minneapolis Lakers — Loss

I am not going to pretend I can tell you anything useful about the three Game 7's the Sixers played when they were the Syracuse Nationals. All I know is Dolph Schayes scored a lot of effing points. Seems like he was pretty good.

Current Sixers players in Game 7s

Jimmy Butler — Record: 1-0 | Stats: 9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 30/25/100 shooting splits

Not the line you would expect Butler to have in his only Game 7 if you were guessing based on his playoff run this year. But his lone Game 7 came all the way back in 2013, the first year he was a regular rotation player and long before he was the dominant two-way force he is now.

What was notable from that Game 7 was Butler going ironman for the Chicago Bulls to help them get past the Nets. In true Tom Thibodeau fashion, Butler was on the floor for all 48 minutes of Chicago's 99-93 win over Brooklyn, leaving parts of his body and soul behind to bring home the victory. The Sixers will almost certainly buy him some rest here or there, but expect the minute count to soar on Sunday.

(By the way, the man who tied for Chicago's leading scorer that day was Philadelphia's old friend Marco Belinelli. Time is a flat circle.)

JJ Redick — Record: 3-2 | Stats: 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 43.2/32.1/75.0 shooting splits

Redick has the most experience in Game 7 situations by far, with his time in Los Angeles giving him plenty of reps in these situations. 

His responsibilities in these games also highlight how much a long series can distort what players are asked to do — with Chris Paul battling through a hamstring injury for the entire second half of a classic in 2015, Redick had to help out some with ballhandling duties to save CP3's legs, and his drive-and-kick for a Matt Barnes three late in the game proved vital to the victory. During LA's loss to Houston in Game 7 in the next round, Redick somehow came up with four blocks, which seems downright impossible.

Whatever it takes to get a victory. 

Mike Scott — Record: 0-1 | Stats: 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 35.7/30.0/100 shooting splits

Scott was Atlanta's lead reserve during their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers in 2014, but he went cold from deep in the lone Game 7 he appeared in. The Sixers would likely take 15 points from Scott off of the bench if they can get it, but they will certainly hope they don't get a repeat of this game from an efficiency standpoint.

He has been around long enough that the moment shouldn't bother him, at the very least.

Amir Johnson — Record 1-1 | Stats: 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 75/NA/100 shooting splits

Prepare yourself for a shocking bit of information — Amir Johnson once scored 20 points in a Game 7. I know he is relegated to texting towel-waving duty on the sideline these days, but he was once one of the league's best energy bigs, and his standout performance was almost enough to overcome a subpar shooting night from Kyle Lowry to get the Raptors a win in 2014.

I doubt he'll see the floor on Sunday, but again, this highlights the wacky nature of Game 7's. Buckle up and prepare for anything.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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