The prevailing thought is the lessons learned by losing a Game 7 can also help a young team to grow.
“If you go back and look at some of the possession [in the fourth quarter] that really hurt us – offensive rebounds, shot-clock violations,” said Sixers veteran Amir Johnson, who did not play Sunday, but has appeared in two Game 7s in his career. “I re-watched the game when I got back to Philly and there were so many possessions we could have been better at.”
Learning by losing is necessary. In the last six years, the NBA title was won by a team that had lost Game 7 the prior season (Spurs 2014; Warriors 2015, 2017).
But dig a little deeper and history paints a more concerning picture for Sixers fans because of the way they lost.
Before the Sixers’ hearts were broken by Kawhi Leonard, there were seven Game 7s that were one possession final scores in the last 24 years. Nobody lost on a buzzer-beater like the other night, but the 2015 Spurs were beaten by the Clippers with one second left on a Chris Paul bank-shot.
The Raptors in 2014 and again in 2001, the Kings in 2004, Miami in 2000, and the Knicks and Suns in 1995 all lost their Game 7 by three points or less. The only team of the seven to win the NBA title was Miami six years later with an entirely different nucleus.
You have to go back to the 1993 Rockets, who lost by three in overtime at Seattle, to find the last team that bounced back from a crushing Game 7 loss to win an NBA title within five years. Houston had a chance to win that 1993 conference semifinal, but Vernon Maxwell missed an 18-footer and Seattle made two free throws with 0.8 seconds left to win 103-100.
Houston beat the Knicks the following year to win their first NBA title as Michael Jordan scuffled with Double-A baseball. They won the series in seven. Repeated as champs in 1995.
Misery to ecstasy happened a few times in the 1980s, once when Julius Erving lost a Game 7 to the Celtics (while blowing a 3-1 series lead) and won his title two years later. And again when the Pistons dusted themselves off after getting beat by three in both the 1987 East Finals (by Boston) and the 1988 NBA Finals (by the Lakers). Detroit won the championship in 1988 and 1989.
The Bird and Magic era was winding down and the Bulls hadn’t yet figured out how to win.
Joel Embiid was specific in the lessons he learned from the Raptors, especially in Game 7. Double teams are coming and he better know how to handle them.
If priority No. 1 for the Sixers is bringing back Jimmy Butler. Priority No. 2 should be Ben Simmons ending his bizarre reluctance to shoot from the outside.
“Watching the whole series, I’m sure that’s the way [other teams] will start guarding me in the future,” Embiid said. “You kind of hafta get the ball out of my hands and that’s what Toronto did. There was always two guys on me. I’ve got to find better ways to create for myself and my teammates.”