Why not them?
Nick Nurse asked the question when his team was facing a 3-0 hole in their Eastern Conference quarter-final with the Philadelphia 76ers.
It didn’t sound quite so unlikely after the Raptors got the series back to Toronto and down 3-2.
It didn’t even sound unlikely when they went to the locker room of Game 6 at the half down a point to a Sixers team that clearly wanted no part of taking this series back home for a seventh and deciding game.
It started to sound kind of tough about midway through the third quarter after the Sixers came out of their locker room and basically blew the Raptors’ doors off eventually ending the Raptors season with a 132-97 drubbing.
It was not the end many would have predicted or hoped for the Raptors who seemed to be growing with each game in this series.
At some point the idea that the Raptors might just pull this off and become the first time in NBA history to rebound from a 3-0 hole started to seem believable.
And it stayed that way until Tyrese Maxey, the 76er who jumped on the Raptors in Game 1 putting them in that early hold finally re-asserted his dominance in this series in that third quarter with 15 points. He would finish with 25.
The Raptors were outscored 37-17 in the frame and never got back in the game.
Joel Embiid, who has had his issues playing in Toronto and has been booed every time he touched the ball while on the Scotiabank court, enjoyed this one to the hilt.
As the Sixers lead grew through the game-turning third quarter and into the fourth, Embiid could be seen cupping his hand to his ear wondering where all the noise had gone.
Midway through the fourth on his way to the bench during a timeout he exchanged words with the fans seated on the baseline by the Sixers bench.
It was there that he broke out the airplane pose with arms spread that earned him so much vitriol in the series the Raptors beat the Sixers in on their way to the championship in 2019.
Then, in case it was missed the first time Embiid once against spread his arms as he ran back up the court having just extended the league to 27 with a bucket.
He was smiling broadly for a handful of seconds until Pascal Siakam came down and caught him flush in the face with an elbow as he went up to score.
Initially the play was ruled a foul on Embiid who went immediately to the bench to be attended to, but when the play was challenged by the Sixers, it was overturned and Siakam was assessed an offensive foul.
It was a tough ending to a night that began with some promise.
The one point deficit at the half quickly grew to 19 as the Sixers couldn’t seem to miss in the first eight minutes of that quarter.
The Raptors, on the other hand, completely lost the range with their shots, not that they have been exactly locked in at any point really in this series.
Nurse has been inviting the breakout to come, but all the way through six games he was left wanting.
For the game last night the Raptors were just 6-for-29 from three. Give the Sixers their due. They made it tough, but there were enough wide open, weakly contested threes that just didn’t find the mark to leave Nurse and the entire roster wanting for a little more.
Between them Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby and Siakam were a combined 2-for-13. Throw in Scottie Barnes 2-for-7 and the entire starting five was just 4-for-20 from distance.
With just over two minutes remaining and the loss sealed, Nurse emptied his bench allowing the crowd to show their appreciation for a fine season in which the Raptors showed plenty of growth.
There actually wasn’t much to choose between the two teams in the first half.
The Sixers took a one-point lead into the locker room on the strength of Danny Green’s three point shooting, an aggressive first quarter from James Harden and Embiid’s mostly mid-range game although he did get to the line six times.
The Raptors got the more-or-less expected from Siakam and Trent who combined for 31 in the first quarter.
The surprise was the 19 points and nine boards from Chris Boucher.
Boucher talked about a growing chemistry with Thad Young between Games 5 and 6. Young apparently told Boucher to cut hard to the basket and he would find him.
That duo clicked a handful of times in the first half. Boucher was easily the most aggressive Raptor in the first half making six free throws before any other Raptor was even awarded one.
He pulled down nine boards while keeping the offence afloat almost single-handedly in the first and early part of the second quarter.
It was in the second that Siakam got it going following up a two point first quarter with 16 in the second.
The Sixers will advance to take on the Miami Heat at the Eastern Conference semifinal beginning Monday in Miami.