Somehow, someway a Raptors-Sixers series is at 3-2. The first meeting saw the Raptors blow 1-0 and 2-1 series leads, rally from 3-2 to force a Game 7, which came down to Vince Carter’s miss. The other one saw the Sixers blow a 2-1 lead, but win Game 6 only to fall in Game 7 on Kawhi Leonard’s shot for the ages.
What’s going to happen this time … can the Raptors actually win again to force another Game 7?
Assorted thoughts as we wait to see what’s next:
— Pretty remarkable that point-forwards Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes did not commit a turnover in the second half of Game 5. You’d think the Raptors would have been in trouble without a point guard on the floor, but these unique talents made sure that wasn’t the case.
— Have the Siakam doubters eaten enough crow yet? At his first all-star appearance 26 months ago he told me in a 1-on-1 about where he’d go from there: “I don’t put any cap on anything. I never put any cap on anything I could accomplish, and I’m not going to start now.”
What a ride it’s been for Siakam. From hero, to goat and back to hero. What a rebirth. LeBron James had cautioned at that all-star weekend when asked about Siakam: “It’s not promised that you’ll be here (at the all-star game) next year. But the way he’s playing, he’ll probably be here a lot,” James had said. And he looks right on both counts.
How far can Siakam go? Kawhi Leonard closed big playoff games the way Siakam has the last two. Vince Carter did at times. DeMar DeRozan and Chris Bosh never did as Raptors. And he did it with all-star Fred VanVleet out and rookie standout Barnes at far less than 100%.
— OG Anunoby has thrived on the biggest stage. He’s been dangerous offensively, but even more impactful on defence. As a key part of the switching, earth-shrinking group of long-armed disruptors the Raptors employ, Anunoby has been nothing short of a menace. Whether he’s bothering James Harden, doing his best against Joel Embiid or limiting Tyrese Maxey, Anunoby is basically conducting a masterclass of how to defend.
Harden is not his old self by any means, but he can’t seem to do anything against Anunoby. It should be noted that even when he was an MVP favourite, Harden had issues having big nights against Anunoby. It was the rookie version that held Harden to 8-25 shooting in a Raptors win and then two of Harden’s worst shooting games the next season as well.
— Anunoby is as good as it gets defensively. The only thing stopping him from getting the votes to land on an all-defensive team are how many games he misses each season.
— Ja Morant won most improved player (doesn’t make sense to me, he was already a sure-fire all-star, it would be like last year’s sixth-place finisher Luka Doncic having won last year), but did anyone improve as much in-season as Precious Achiuwa? And he isn’t done yet. He’s getting better as these playoffs go along. Joel Embiid looked exhausted and Achiuwa took it right at him. That needs to continue.
— Didn’t expect Khem Birch to get the start after he didn’t play following six first quarter minutes in Game 4. Birch was good in that one, but it appeared they wanted more offence out of their centre. Instead he was back and had another great first few minutes before tailing off. The eight Raptors rotation players all gave their all and each contributed to the win in a true team effort.
— For the Sixers, Tobias Harris had his worst game of the series and Tyrese Maxey was quiet too.
— Was surprised to see Danny Green’s line of 14 points on 4-9 three-point shooting. Eye test made it feel like an awful Green outing (he had three or four airballs), but he hit some shots and most of his teammates couldn’t say the same.
— Would be shocked to see VanVleet ready for Thursday, but you never know.
THREE STARS FROM GAME 5
1 – Pascal Siakam
2 – OG Anunoby
3 – Precious Achiuwa