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May 12, 2023

The Sixers' history in Game 7s

How have the Sixers performed in Game 7s throughout franchise history? Here's a game-by-game guide to them all.

It's quite fitting for the general pessimism that permeates through this Sixers fan base that the morning after their Game 6 clunker against the Celtics also happens to be the four-year anniversary of the Kawhi Leonard shot. 

As The Sixers let a shoulda/woulda/coulda close-out win slip through their grasp on Thursday night, they're now facing a Game 7 on Mother's Day. Surely that won't ruin any poor mother's afternoon!

Though it's an odd thought for younger generations of Sixers fans, playoff Game 7s are a familiar place for the Sixers to find themselves in. Since moving to Philadelphia ahead of the 1964 season, the Sixers have played in 14 playoff Game 7s. Their record in those games? 5-9. Rough! Six of those games were against the Celtics, as Sunday will be. The Sixers have gone 2-4 in those matchups with wins coming in 1977 and 1982.

Of course, none of these figures are actually predictive of what will go down Sunday in Boston, but it does ultimately showcase that this fan base has suffered greatly in the biggest of moments. If you can muster the energy without succumbing fully to indignation, here's a peek at the Sixers' Game 7 history...

2021: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 vs. the Hawks

After one of the worst collapses in the history of the sport in Game 5, the Sixers were in a 3-2 hole. A five-point win in Atlanta against the Hawks in Game 6 forced a do-or-die Game 7 in Philly. The Sixers, well, died. The Hawks prevailed 103-96. The defining moment of that game, of course, is Ben Simmons' passed-up layup:

That's the stuff of Philly nightmares. 

2019: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 vs. the Raptors

Kawhi Leonard dropped 41 points on the Sixers' heads in a decisive Game 7, but no two points were bigger than his buzzer-beating jumper that broke a 90-90 tie. I don't need to embed a video from YouTube. The shot is already burned into your brain. 

The win put Toronto on the path to a championship and created a domino effect for the Sixers organization where Jimmy Butler left, Al Horford was brought in and the 2020 season combusted in the bubble. 

2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 vs. the Celtics

The most recent Sixers-Celtics Game 7, when a plucky No. 8 Sixers team upset an injury-plagued Bulls team in the first round and then improbably went the distance against a Celtics core that had been to two Finals, winning once in 2008. The Celtics won a disgustingly sludgy 85-75 game up in Boston amidst approximately 500 moving screens from Kevin Garnett.

The Sixers wouldn't play in another playoff game for six years after that loss. 

2001 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Bucks

Hey, a win! The Sixers thumped a Ray Allen-led Bucks team in a 17-point win to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in 18 years. Allen Iverson put up 44 points while Dikembe Mutombo had a 23-point, 19-rebound night. 

2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Raptors

Raptors star Vince Carter had a chance to give Toronto the upset win at the game's end, pulling up for a jumper while the Sixers were up just a point at 88-87. Carter's shot clanked off the rim, sending the First Union Center into a frenzy. 

I was a bit young for that, but it just looks like such an emotionally enthralling win. That's what this spring's Game 6 against the Celtics should've been. Alas...

1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 vs. the Bucks

Another Game 7 matchup with Milwaukee, the Bucks narrowly eked out a one-point win. Three Milwaukee starters scored at least 23 points. Julius Erving, in his age-35 season, shot just 35.3 percent from the field (17 attempts) as the Sixers were sent packing. It's the last time Dr. J would play in the second round of the playoffs. 

1982 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Celtics

This is one of the biggest wins in franchise history and mirrors what the current Sixers are dealing with. The Sixers held a 3-2 series lead with a chance to close things out in Game 6 at home, too. The Celtics, however, pulled off a 13-point win to send things back to Boston for Game 7. The Sixers locked down Larry Bird defensively, as the MVP runner-up shot just 38.9 percent from the field that day while Andrew Toney was a stone-cold killer. Toney put up 34 points and the legendary "Boston Strangler" nickname was born. 

The Sixers were headed to the NBA Finals for the third time in a six-season span. 

1981 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Celtics

Well, things were a bit different the year prior. The Celtics prevailed 91-90 in Boston, as Larry Bird put up an overall elite 23-11-5-5-2 stat line. Boston would go on and beat the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals. 

1981 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Bucks

The Bucks were low-key a pain in the Sixers' side at times in the 1980s, but Philly got the best of them here. Despite 36 from Milwaukee's versatile forward Marques Johnson, the Sixers proved victorious in a one-point win at The Spectrum. All-Star Bobby Jones added 21 points off the bench. 

1979 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Spurs

Down in Texas, the Spurs won by just three points. Hall of Famer George Gervin put up a 33-12-5-2 stat line as the Spurs advanced to the conference finals for the first time since joining the NBA after the league's merger with the ABA ahead of the 1977 season.

1977 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Celtics

The World B. Free Game! Off the bench, Free put up a game-high 27 points while the Sixers' defense stifled Boston, who shot a putrid 30 percent from the field. The Sixers would go on to take down the Rockets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before meeting Bill Walton and the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals. After taking a commanding 2-0 series lead, the Blazers kicked their teeth in and won four-straight games to win the title. 

It's so Sixers for them to beat Boston and have that Finals lead only for everything to come crashing down upon them. 

1971 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. the Bullets

In a high-scoring 130-128 affair, the Sixers came up short. Archie Clark and Billy Cunningham had a pair of 30-point games for Philly, but it just wasn't enough. Wes Unseld put up 16 points and 22 rebounds while five other Baltimore players were in double digits scoring-wise. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, promptly swept the Bullets in the Finals, a fate that would've likely befallen the Sixers as well if they advanced that far. 

1968 East Division Finals vs. the Celtics

Wow, another Game 7 loss to the Celtics! I'm shocked! In one of the many matches where Bill Russell bested Wilt Chamberlain, the Celtics won 100-96 and went on to win the NBA Finals after the Sixers had won the championship (and beat Boston in the postseason) the year prior. Chamberlain hauled in 34 rebounds against Boston, tied for the sixth-highest mark in franchise history (Wilt was the player who did so all eight times, via Stathead). Sam Jones was the Celtics' leading scorer with 22 points.

1965 East Division Finals vs. the Celtics

The Sixers' first, but certainly not last, Game 7  matchup with the Celtics. As you might imagine, it was a losing effort for Philly. This game has a hallowed place in NBA history. Sixers guard Hal Greer was inbounding late in the game while his squad trailed by a point, hoping for a bucket to put them ahead and propel Philly to the NBA Finals. Boston's John Havlicek had other plans, jumping the inbound pass as the Celtics ran out the clock and preserved the win.

The play resulted in one of the most famous basketball radio calls ever, as broadcaster Johnny Most screamed, "Havlicek stole the ball!" in a shining example of Boston homerism that would come to dominate sports media in the 21st century. 

To wrap things up, Sixers fans should be hoping to exorcise the ghost of Game 7s past on Sunday. I'm sure it'll be an anxiety-inducing day right until the final buzzer sounds. 

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