In the span of 12 minutes, the Raptors’ dreams of a historic playoff comeback turned into a nightmare.
The Philadelphia 76ers rolled over disorganized Toronto with a huge third quarter on Thursday en route to a 132-97 rout that ended the Raptors’ roller-coaster season and lofty hopes of becoming the first team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-0.
Chris Boucher had 25 points and 10 rebounds as a bright light on a horrible night, and Pascal Siakam added 24 points for the Raptors, who lost the best-of-seven opening round series 4-2.
Gary Trent Jr. finished with 19 points, while rookie Scottie Barnes had 18 points for the Raptors, who were playing without star guard Fred VanVleet.
Joel Embiid, the 7-foot center Raptors fans love to hate, had 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Sixers, who won the series 4-2. They will face the Miami Heat in the second round.
“We weren’t going back to Philadelphia for a Game 7,” said James Harden, who had 22 points and 15 assists.
WATCH l The Raptors meet the end of the playoff race in Game 6 loss to the 76ers:
The Raptors appeared to be all but cooked after losing the first three games of the series, but won back-to-back elimination games, fueling hope among fans for a historic comeback victory in the series.
The Raptors, who were coming off a dominant 103-88 win on Monday, were held to seven points during the first half despite horrible shooting. But they never seemed to get in sync on either end of the court all night, and the Sixers blew the game wide open with a 30-9 run in the third quarter.
“Listen, congratulations to them, first of all. I think they’ve been really good in all three games in this series, they’ve been really good,” Nurse said of Philly. “They threw, they passed really well in three of the games and tonight was one of them.
The Sixers hit six three-pointers in the third quarter to the groans of the 19,800 crowd at Scotiabank Arena, and a long bomb by Harden put Philadelphia up by 22 points with 3:52 left in the period. The visitors outscored Toronto 37-17 in the quarter, and led 99-78 heading into the fourth.
A Barnes jumper less than a minute into the quarter cut the deficit to 18, but Embiid almost single-handedly extinguished any hopes of an improbable comeback, scoring 10 points in less than four minutes. And when Tobias Harris dunked with 4:34 left, the basket put Philadelphia up by 27 points.
“You just have to be truly resilient during the process. Tonight showed that,” Harris said. “A total effort pretty much the whole game of how we wanted to play and just holding our own.”
Embiid celebrated Harris’ dunk by running down the court with his arms outstretched like an airplane, reminiscent of the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto. Boos rained down on the 7-foot center.
Harris’ three-pointer with 3:38 remaining pushed the Sixers’ lead to 32 points and sent numerous fans heading for the exits.
Siakam fouled out with 2:14 left in the game, and received a standing ovation as he left the game. The Scotiabank Arena crowd chanted “Go Raptors!” when Nurse replaced his starters at that point.
The Raptors made just 7 of 35 – 20 percent – from three-point range, and 39.3 percent from the field. Philadelphia made 40 percent from long distance and a whopping 58 percent from the field.
Nurse praised Boucher, who scored 11 of his points in the second quarter.
“When he gives that relentless energy like that, he can make a lot of good things happen,” Nurse said. “He was cutting and flying around and rebounding, I think he had six offensive rebounds by himself in the first half. He had a block on the three shot, just using his gifts like that and doing it.
“So at least we had a big night from him off the bench. We didn’t have much else off the bench tonight.”
Numerous Toronto athletes were on hand to witness the loss, including Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, Alexander Kerfoot and Wayne Simmonds, Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola and Ifunanyachi Achara, and former Raptor Cory Joseph.
Raps miss injured VanVleet.
The Raptors sorely missed the steady hand of three-point specialist VanVleet, who sat out his second straight game with a left hip flexor strain. The Raptors struggled from long distance throughout the series. Nick Nurse kept saying they had to have a big three-point shooting game.
“They’re going to start coming in, I keep saying that,” Nurse said after Wednesday’s practice. “The next game will be as good a game as any for them to start going in.”
The Raptors’ loss ended a season that began with low expectations, saw them play for several weeks in Toronto in a virtually empty arena due to COVID-19 restrictions, but picked up momentum after the All-Star break, when the Raptors won 14 of their last 18 games.
The Raptors were looking to become the fourth NBA team to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.
The Raptors made seven of their first eight shots, then went more than five minutes without scoring a field goal, missing 10 consecutive shots. Harden, who had scored only 15 points in Game 5, scored 10 in the fourth, and the Sixers took the lead on a couple of occasions. Philadelphia led 34-29 at the start of the second.
A three-pointer by Boucher highlighted a 15-5 run at the start of the second quarter, in which the Raptors went up by five. Green hit four three-pointers and scored 12 points in the quarter as the Sixers struggled to recover, and led 62-61 at halftime.
The Raptors shot just 3 of 15 from long distance in the first half.
The Sixers were without Matisse Thybulle, who is unable to travel to Toronto because he is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.