SIMMONS: Raptors were Broad Street Bullied to end impressive season

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This great Raptors train of impossibility and improbability came to a screeching halt Thursday night — and still, there was applause.

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All kinds of applause.

And there was hugging in the hallway. Owners and players and family members and Drake and the usual throng of hangers-on. They weren’t quite ready for this kind of basketball ending, this soon, this one-sided. They weren’t quite ready to be basically punched in the face without a real defence, without any real reply.

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The historical ending to this first-round playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers that so many were hoping for was not to be. Instead, the Raptors are history instead of making it. There was a partial comeback in the series, from 3-0 to 3-2, but there will be no Game 7 on Saturday night.

Instead, there will be locker cleanout on Friday morning — and film of this 132-97 blowout worth avoiding for a day or several.

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The Raptors playoff season ended Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena without drama, without question, without anything resembling a second-half response from the normally responsive Raptors. The ending was neither close nor emotional. This was a beating, a thrashing, the Raptors were Broad Street Bullied by the Sixers.

“This was the most serious game we’ve played this year,” said Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, who walked off the court after the 132-97, but not before acknowledging the Scotiabank Arena fans. He waved to the crowd — a gesture of appreciation. Said one Philadelphia front office man, walking alongside Rivers: “These are the best fans in the NBA.”

They were the best right to the end of a rather dreadful second half — they kept cheering when there wasn’t anything to cheer about anymore. They stood and chanted “Let’s Go Raptors” as the final seconds of the season ticked off.

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Everyone standing. No one heading to the exits. This isn’t Philadelphia. Even in defeat that doesn’t play here.

Toronto trailed by just one point at the half and there was reason for optimism. For a moment, maybe. But it was never close again. They were blitzed 37-17 in the third quarter. They were blitzed again 33-19 in the fourth quarter. The Raptors lost every game in which the Sixers scored 30 or more points in any quarter. The Sixers did it three times last night.

In the last second half of this season of promise, Philadelphia outscored Toronto by 34. That was it. That was the end.

A season that exceeded expectations. This wasn’t expected to be a playoff team. This wasn’t expected to be a team winning 48 games and two more in the playoffs. This was supposed to be a new beginning — a rebuild — and then the dial got turned up and the Raptors grew at a quicker rate than was anticipated. And then for a day or two, a moment or two, it looked like the Raptors could become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. That seemed so possible.

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Instead, they became the 14th team to come back from 3-0 to 3-2 before losing, and that doesn’t feel like much today:

It might feel better tomorrow or next week or next month, although you couldn’t tell there was any disappointment in the crowd Thursday night.

The fans were relentless. If only the Raptors could have performed at such a level.

The big three for the 76ers came up huge in Game 6. James Harden finally looked like a star after looking the part of imposter the first five games. He came out flying, serious, with 10 points and five assists in the opening quarter. He set the tempo for the Sixers early. The Raptors didn’t seem to have a way to slow him down.
Harden ended up with 22 points and 15 assists and six rebounds and Joel Embiid, between flopping and whining and airplane spinning around — he really can be annoying — scored a game-high 33 points with 10 rebounds himself. And Tyrese Maxey, so sharp in the early wins in the series, so invisible in the losses, scored 25 for Philadelphia.
Philadelphia hit on 16 three-point shots for 48 points. The Raptors hit on just seven of 35 attempts — 20%, which was an improvement after starting just three-of-20 from three. That’s a 27-point difference right there. That, essentially, was the ball game, the series, and the season.

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There were some good moments, especially in the second quarter, from Pascal Siakam, who scored 24 points, and off the bench from Chris Boucher, probably the best Raptor on this night, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds.

With the fans still standing and chanting, the Raptors walked off the court for the final time this season, with rookie of the year Scottie Barnes wearing one shoe, holding the other in his hand, limping just slightly. And coach Nick Nurse, the real star of this show, stopped to kiss his wife and young son and he looked for a moment as he was about to cry.

So many felt the same way as the sound blared on and the season ended.

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