Toronto turned this back into a series.
The Raptors defeated the 76ers, 101-96, Sunday in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at the Wells Fargo Center. Toronto tied the series at 2-2. Game 5 of the best-of-seven matchup is 8 p.m. Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena.
The Sixers blew a golden opportunity to put the Raptors on their heels by taking a 3-1 commanding lead. But they knew that this would be a tough series matchup, one that was expected to go six or seven games.
“Never let the highs get too high or the lows get too low,” Sixers point guard Ben Simmons said of the series. “It’s on to the next game. We still have an amazing opportunity to go for the Eastern Conference championship and we can get to the Finals. We’re looking forward to it.”
It’s safe to say that they know containing Kawhi Leonard may be impossible.
He continued to dominate Sunday, finishing with 39 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists. The two-time defensive player of the year has scored 45, 35, 33, and 39 points in the four games of the series.
But this time, he got help from Marc Gasol (16 points), Kyle Lowry (14 points, seven assists), and reserve Serge Ibaka (12 points, nine rebounds).
Jimmy Butler paced the Sixers with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Philly’s best player, Joel Embiid, played with a cold and it showed.
The two-time All-Star center finished with 11 points on 2-for-7 shooting. He did have eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, two blocks, and went 7-for-10 from the foul line. But Embiid missed three consecutive free throws during a critical stretch of the fourth quarter.
All this came after Embiid texted coach Brett Brown at 6:20 a.m. Sunday to say, according to Brown, “he really never felt this poorly and he was unsure, coach, if I’m going to play.”
“I didn’t have a good night,” Embiid said after the game. “Didn’t sleep. Was throwing up. I needed an IV at 6 in the morning. I tried to play and tried to get the win. Obviously, it wasn’t enough.”
Embiid said he had a cold, a headache, and felt bad “everywhere,” but he didn’t want to use what ailed him as excuse.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “Once I step on the court, I have to do a better job, no matter what the situation is.”
Embiid said he has to be more aggressive and noted he didn’t play with the same aggression as three days ago in Game 3 when he collected 33 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks.
“I gotta help my teammates better,” he said. “It’s still on me.”
His teammates have his back, and agree that he needs to be more aggressive.
“If you’re going to go 2 for 7, go 2 for 20,” Butler said. "We’re rockin’ with Joel. I’m with it. That’s what we need out of him -- to always be aggressive.
“Go show why you’re so dominant, night in and night out, at both ends of the floor. We got a day to get it right.”
Tobias Harris also struggled on Sunday. He had 16 points on 7-for-23 shooting, including making just 2 of 13 three-pointers.
As the Sixers expected, Pascal Siakam (nine points on 2-for-10 shooting) played despite being listed as doubtful with a bruised right calf.
The power forward was cleared to play after testing out his leg during a pregame workout.
In a series dependent on game-to-game adjustments, Toronto coach Nick Nurse had suggested that his small lineup, which includes Lowry (6-foot-1) and reserve guards Fred VanVleet (6-0) and Norman Powell (6-4), could disappear. They were no match for the bigger Sixers lineups.
Nurse also said the Raptors could opt to play Leonard more than his series average of 38.9 minutes in the first three games and that they could opt to put 6-7 guard Patrick McCaw in the rotation.
Well, they did all three. Lowry and VanVleet weren’t on the floor at the same time. The Raptors actually had a lineup that featured Gasol (7-1), Ibaka (6-10), and Siakam (6-9).
McCaw was in the rotation even though that proved to be a failed move. So he only played 4 minutes, 49 seconds, all in the first half. And Leonard played 42:49.
But the biggest adjustment was having four of his five starters on the floor to start the fourth quarter. The Sixers have been opening the final quarter with at least four starters.
Meanwhile, the Raptors began the fourth quarters with Gasol, Lowry, Siakam and reserves VanVleet and Powell. The Sixers took advantage, opening up sizable leads at the start of the quarter in the past two games.
This time, Raptors starters Danny Green, Gasol, Lowry, and Siakam were on the floor with Ibaka.
As a result, the Raptors trailed by only two points (81-79) when Leonard subbed in for Green two minutes into the quarter.
Siakam knotted the score at 81 on a dunk 13 seconds later. The Sixers were doomed by making just 5 of 21 shots (23.8 percent) and making just 8 of 12 foul shots in the fourth quarter. Harris missed all six of his field goals -- including five three-pointers -- in the final 12 minutes.
With the Sixers trailing, 85-84, Embiid missed three consecutive foul shots on back-to-back trips to the line.
He made the fourth foul shot to pull the Sixers within 87-85 with 3:48 left. Redick’s three-pointer with 2:07 remaining closed the gap to one (91-90).
However, Leonard delivered what turned out to be the dagger, hitting a three-pointer for a 94-90 Raptors lead with 1:01 to play. Leonard came off a pick-and-roll while remaining aggressive on the play. Embiid switched onto him.
“Embiid is a good defender, long,” Leonard said. “So, at the time, I just looked up at the shot clock and tried to get as much space as possible and just took a shot and believed that it was going to go in, and it did.”