TORONTO — The 76ers find themselves in a must-win situation.
If not, all of their in-season trades will have been for naught, at least for this season. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were the headliners of two separate blockbuster trades, because the franchise said “the window is now” to contend for an NBA title.
The expectation is to at least reach the Eastern Conference final. Which means the pressure will be on overload for coach Brett Brown and the Sixers in Game 6 of their conference semifinal series with the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Raptors commandeered a 3-2 series lead with Tuesday night’s 125-89 victory at Scotiabank Arena. How lopsided was the loss? In the final minutes, the Raptors subs built their lead to 40 points, which would have handed the Sixers their worst playoff defeat since a 1982 loss to Boston by the same margin.
“Hell if I was the coach, I wouldn’t even show the film,” Butler said. “Move on. We got our [butt] kicked. It’s as simple as that. No other way to put it.
"We know what we have to do. So we got to go do it at home.”
The Sixers can only hope that Joel Embiid feels and plays better than he did on Tuesday.
The two-time All-Star center had one of his worst games of the season while battling an upper respiratory infection. He was a total nonfactor after being cleared to play right before the game.
“I was just trying to do the right thing and come out and fight,” Embiid said of playing.
He finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including making two of six three-pointers. Embiid also had six rebounds, but his eight turnovers matched a season high.
Teammate Ben Simmons also had a tough time maintaining possession of the ball. The All-Star point guard had five turnovers to go with seven points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
Butler and Harris, however, came to play.
Butler finished with a team-high 22 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds. Harris added 15 points and five rebounds.
Raptors forward Pascal Siakam finished with a game-high 25 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 21 points and 13 rebounds. The small forward dunked on Embiid twice. All five Toronto starters and reserve power forward Serge Ibaka scored in double-digits in this lopsided game.
Meanwhile, the Sixers, as a whole, were unable to match the Raptors’ effort. That’s something they couldn’t really explain.
“I would love to have an answer for that,” Harris said. “But you know what killed us tonight, not having that energy. We have to be better.”
The infection led to Embiid remaining at the team hotel to rest while his teammates participated in Tuesday morning’s shootaround. He had a fever and was in bed the last three days.
From the start, the big man was out of sync. He had no rhythm on offense, which led to four first-half turnovers. Defensively, he was either a step too slow or not in the right area.
Embiid also was hampered by illness in Sunday’s Game 4 loss. He struggled offensively while playing solid defense that night.
And, before Game 2, Embiid dealt with gastroenteritis. He finished that win with 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting, six rebounds, and five assists.
In the opening-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, he was a regular on the injury report because of tendinitis in his left knee. Embiid missed Game 3 of that series and 14 of the final 24 regular-season games with that ailment.
The Sixers were confident going into Tuesday’s game, even after blowing an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Teams with a 3-1 series lead advance 95.4 percent of the time.
But instead of taking the commanding lead, the Sixers surrendered the series momentum to the Raptors.
“We’re fine,” Butler said Tuesday morning. “I think we perform better when our backs are against the wall anyway.”
Brown agreed with the swingman.
“The group has shown a disposition, an attitude, to respond to a loss or situations that are not favorable to us,” Brown said. So, when you have an uncertainty with Joel, and when you come off a loss, my belief is that our team, we will be here tonight. And I believe you are going to see a great effort from our team tonight."
Things didn’t go well, though.
Simmons turned the ball over on the Sixers’ first two possessions while being guarded by Leonard. Meanwhile, Harris picked up his second foul two minutes, 19 seconds into the game.
The Sixers were able to keep things competitive because of an improved job of double-teaming Leonard. The Raptors took a 27-26 lead into the second quarter.
Toronto’s Siakam led all scorers with nine points, while Kyle Lowry added eight. Harris and Butler had seven apiece for the Sixers.
But the Raptors went on to open up a 21-point lead at the half.
Philly had more first-half fouls (16) than field goals (14).
However, the Sixers pregame optimism turned into the reality of being one loss away from ending the season. They didn’t just lose. They were totally dominated. The Raptors had a commanding 40-point cushion late with 1:31 remaining.
Brown said the Sixers’ fight went away a little earlier than he thought it would. Embiid disagreed.
“I feel like we played hard,” he said. "We just made mistakes, turned the ball over (19 times), got outrebounded (42-37). Those are the types of stuff that we can fix.
“But to talk about us not fighting, I don’t think that’s the right word. They made a lot of shots. Got to give them credit.”
Brown, Embiid, and the entire franchise will agree that the Sixers were flat-out dominated on this night. The margin could have been larger if the teams didn’t empty their benches.
“I think we laid an egg,” Butler said. “No other way to put it. But the great thing about it, we get to go home and continue to battle and try to even it out again and come back here and try to steal one on the road for Game 7.”