Earlier in the playoffs, Jimmy Butler said he’ll continue to do the little things to help the 76ers win.
It didn’t matter what it was, rebounding, finding teammates, playing solid defense or just being the vocal leader. The swingman said he was willing to do whatever.
On Thursday, they needed the offense to run through him, a role he thrives on. He scored 19 of his 25 points in the first half of a win-or-go-fishing elimination game, Butler’s effort helped the Sixers outlast the Toronto Raptors, 112-101, in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The victory at the Wells Fargo Center knotted the best-of-seven series at 3-3. The winner-take-all series finale is Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
“The way he started and even the way he ended the first half, he just stamped his authority and his skill package and his will ... he was all over that game,” coach Brett Brown said.
The coach said you could sense the Sixers’ serious side during their shootaround three hours before the game. They realized the magnitude of the moment.
“I think he got it as much as anybody and led us,” Brown said of Butler. “He was a tremendous leader. His performance mirrored his attitude.”
In addition to his 25 points, Butler had eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals. He scored at will as the offense ran through him in the first half. That forced the Raptors to take Kawhi Leonard off Ben Simmons to defend Butler.
That slowed Butler down in the third quarter, when he scored just two points and missed his only shot attempt. However, the attention he received opened things up for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Embiid scored 10 points in the third quarter and Simmons added nine as the Sixers took an 87-67 lead into the fourth quarter.
Butler scored four points — all from the foul line — in the fourth quarter before exiting the game for good with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left. He only took two shots — both misses — in the final quarter.
Simmons had his best performance of the series with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Tobias Harris added 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Embiid finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks after struggling the last two games with an upper-respiratory infection. He graded out at a game-best plus-40.
Mike Scott added 11 points in a reserve role.
Scott said when the Sixers move the ball like they did Thursday “Ain’t nobody [messing] with us.”
Leonard finished with a game-high 29 points for the Raptors.
The Sixers benefited from Embiid’s presence even though he didn’t score his first points until 1:03 into second quarter.
But they built a 29-21 lead after one quarter with Simmons (eight), Butler (eight) and Harris (eight) combining to score 24 of those points.
Simmons attacked the rim more than in the last few games. He also scored one of his first-quarter baskets on a tip-in. The point guard made 4-of-5 shots and had five assists in the first quarter.
Harris went 2-for-3 from the three-point line and shot 3-of-5 overall in the quarter, while Butler made 4-of-8 shots.
The Sixers also made an adjustment, going to back to Boban Marjanovic as the backup center. Greg Monroe assumed that role the past few games.
Philly looked solid in a streaky opening quarter.
The Sixers started the game by making six of their first 11 shots to take a 13-5 lead, 1 minute, 56 seconds into the game.
Butler scored six of those points on 3-for-4 shooting. Toronto shooting guard Danny Green started out defending Butler. After Green was unable to keep up, Kyle Lowry drew the assignment. However, that was short-lived after a few unsuccessful defensive possessions. So they put Green back on him.
But the Sixers couldn’t extend their good start. The Raptors responded with a 10-0 run to take a 15-13 lead on Serge Ibaka’s foul shot with 4:35 left in the quarter. Embiid re-entered the game while Ibaka was at the foul line.
The thought was that Raptors center Marc Gasol would be on the floor whenever Embiid was out there. However, he didn’t do that this time and Toronto paid for it.
The Sixers went on a 10-0 run of their own to take a 23-15 lead before the Raptors called a timeout with 2:25 left in the quarter. Gasol reentered the game following the timeout.
Embiid’s presence alone opened things up for his teammates. The 25-year-old also didn’t force things.
After holding onto a six-point lead after one quarter, the Sixers led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter.
A lot of that had to do with Butler, who was a matchup nightmare for the Raptors.
Toronto had a tough time keeping players in front of him. He scored and racked up assists while penetrating and finding teammates. With Green and Lowry struggling mightily, the Raptors put Leonard on Butler.
He scored 11 points in the quarter on 5-for-7 shooting. He also had four assists. Perhaps his highlight of the half was his stripping Leonard and scoring a breakaway layup before time expired at the half. His basket gave the Sixers a commanding 58-43 cushion.
“I said this before. There is an adult in the room when he’s in the room,” Brown said. "You know the athletic plays that he makes, the physical plays that he makes; he’s a tank, and he’s so strong. When he has that sort of laser focus and that body to back it up, incredible things happen offensively and defensively.
“Then you drip feed in that he has that mind and that sort of attitude, that’s a hell of a package.”
Embiid had just three points on 1-for-8 shooting to go with six rebounds in the first two quarters. However, he graded out at a plus-30. The sellout crowd chanted ‘Jimmy Butler!’ as the team exited the court at the break.
Embiid received a Flagrant 1 foul on what appeared to be accidental hit to Gasol mouth while battling for a rebound in the fourth quarter. This was Embiid’s third Flagrant 1 foul of the postseason. He’ll serve a one-game suspension if he picks up another one.