TORONTO — In the end it all came down to Kawhi Leonard, one shot, and four bounces. But, the 76ers’ 92-90 Game 7 loss at the hands of Leonard and the Raptors could possibly have been avoided had the Sixers maintained the rebounding advantage that had gotten them to this point of the series.
“That was the key to the game,” Tobias Harris said in the locker room after the loss. “They killed us on the offensive glass and got second-chance points. ... It doesn’t come down to that one shot. ... We had our opportunities tonight.”
For days, Toronto coach Nick Nurse harped on how important rebounding was going to be in Game 7 and noted that if his team continued to get outrebounded by the Sixers that the Raptors would have less of a chance of taking this series.
The Raptors finished the night with a 49-41 rebounding advantage over the Sixers and had the upper hand all night on the offensive glass, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds to the Sixers’ 5.
“There are two things that you’ll think about all summer, and that’s one of them,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the playoff-ending loss.
Brown went on to say that the Sixers had too many dry possessions down the stretch when they needed a basket and didn’t get one. Rebounds and missed opportunities. That’s what will haunt the Sixers as they head into a second consecutive offseason after falling short in the second round of the playoffs.
One thing that can’t be overlooked is that the Raptors also took advantage of time because of their offensive rebounding dominance on Sunday. One possession in particular illustrates this point.
Jimmy Butler hit a free throw to cut the Raptors’ lead to three points with 59 seconds to play. Leonard rebounded Butler’s second free-throw attempt, a miss, and 18 seconds later took a shot on the other end. He missed, but Serge Ibaka came up with a rebound.
Another 12 seconds would tick off the game clock before Leonard again took a shot and missed. Though the Raptors hadn’t extended their score, they left the Sixers in a tough spot, down three with just 24 seconds remaining. The Sixers had to use their final timeout. If the Sixers had been able to secure the rebound, they could have had a two-for-one situation if they scored quickly. But the Raptors ate enough of the clock to make things even more difficult.
» READ MORE: Observations from the Sixers’ loss
From the Raptors’ perspective, they knew that rebounding was going to be necessary. But they hadn’t anticipated having such a poor shooting night. The Raptors shot just 38.2 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent from three-point range.
“We had a lot of offensive rebounds because there was a lot to get,” Nurse said with a laugh. “High volume of shots available to offensive rebound tonight. But again, I though there was great determination there. I thought even when [the Sixers] did secure them, it was a hard defensive rebound for them, and that’s a telling sign of how hard your team is playing."
Size, length, and strength had been the Sixers’ calling card all season and throughout the playoffs, but it failed them on the night that determined whether their season would end or be extended.
It’s often difficult heading into an offseason and an uncertain summer to think about the smaller and more granular pieces of the game. But playoff games often come down to things like rebounds, free throws, screens, and the small things that make up the game.
The more sensational story, and rightly so, is Leonard’s brilliance and his ability to hit a walk-off, series-winning shot. But as Brown said, it will be the smaller moments that will stick in the Sixers’ minds.
It’s going to be the little things that will determine the work that the players put in during the summer, the types of players that the Sixers try to keep and acquire, and any changes to schemes.