SIMMONS: Are the Sixers about to become the 1964 Phillies? Thad Young hopes to make it so

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Thaddeus Young all but grew up in Philadelphia.

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Those are his words. I started with the 76ers as a teenager. He left seven seasons later as a man.
He understands the rather crazed passion of the Philly sports fan, the angst and the emotion. He understands what it is to be a Sixer, under pressure with so much of the focus of a city that he lives for sports and its teams.

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“I saw the fans walking out (during Game 5),” said Young, the oldest and most experienced Raptor. “I heard them booing. I was there long enough. I know what the fans can be like. But I can’t be sitting here thinking about them right now.

“My focus is trying to beat them and trying to get the series over. We can’t be focused on what they’re feeling in their locker room, what the town is thinking right now.

“I love Philly to death. It’s like a home to me. But right now, I’m only thinking of one thing — helping the Raptors and trying to get us a win.”

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That is the imbalance of emotion that is this teeter-totter playoff series between the Raptors and the 76ers.

The Raptors are playing with house money. Whatever they manage now — win the series, lose the series — the only pressure they’re under comes from themselves. They are this close to making history, though — just two wins away from that.

And the Sixers, in tight, tense Philadelphia, are attempting to avoid one of the great collapses in sporting history. They could become basketball’s version of the Phillies of 1964, authors of the greatest collapse in baseball history. And the Raptors could be like Chris Pronger’s Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins, somehow coming back to beat Boston 4-3 in Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the clinching game.

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That’s Philadelphia. So much history. Three sides to every story. Those Phillies and Flyers teams are still talking about today. A Sixers win in this series is nothing historical. A Sixers loss on Thursday, followed by a loss on Saturday in Game 7, would put the Raptors in rarefied air and the Sixers on the wrong side of history.

Thad Young thinks it’s more than possible for the Raptors to win here. He loves what he sees with this team he knew almost nothing about when he was traded here at the deadline, one of the last pieces of the Kyle Lowry deal with the Miami Heat.

Young was playing just a little bit in San Antonio when his agent called and told him Toronto had interest in acquiring him. The first thing Young did was check the standings.

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“I saw, holy sh–, they’re in sixth place,” he said. I thought: ‘That’s surprising, that’s pretty good.’
“When you’re in the Western Conference, you don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in the East. I didn’t know much about the team and I didn’t know much about these players.”

He now has a PhD in this team and he wasn’t just added to the playing roster, he was unofficially added to the coaching staff. He plays for the Raptors and he assists when needed with Precious Achiuwa, with Scottie Barnes, Chris Boucher, Khem Birch and whoever needs a push, a prod or, more than that, a touch of wisdom.

“This is a good group,” said Young, and when he says that, he is talking about the Raptors, top to bottom. Theplayers. The coaches. Management. The scouting staff.
“Right now, for me, this is about staying even keel the whole time. We enjoyed the last win, but our job is to finish this. We can’t get too high. We have to work through the process. We have to act like (Game 6) is just another game.”

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But it’s not just another game. It’s not a defining game but it’s a game that could turn an 0-3 series into a 3-3 series and a Game 7. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in the NBA.

The Raptors are playing short-handed, which is really the only way they ever play. They started the series with Gary Trent Jr., down with an illness. Then the rookie of the year, Barnes, injured his ankle and missed almost three games. And after Barnes came back, all-star Fred VanVleet tore off his jersey in frustration, knowing that his hip was n’t co-operating any more. His series of him was over.

All of that happened in just four games. Three huge players in, then out, or out, than in.

“We just keep going,” said Young. “We’re not about one guy. You have four or five or six guys who can probably get you 20 any night. How many teams can do that?

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Joel Embiid led the NBA in scoring this season and is a finalist for the MVP. He’s 10th in scoring in the playoffs. At times, he’s been a load for the Raptors to deal with, especially hitting the off-balance last-second game-winner in Game 3.

But Pascal Siakam has outplayed him in the past two games, the two Raptors victories, and in Game 5, Birch and Achiuwa outscored Embiid playing similar minutes.

In Philadelphia, where Santa Claus gets booed every Christmas, they have piled on Embiid before. He seems like such an affable fellow in conversation but on the court, he is brilliant and moody, sulking, unstoppable and a load for the Raptors. He is also often a load for his own team and coaching staff. That’s what great players can be.

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He isn’t the LeBron James kind of playoff superstar that Young has faced before. If there’s one playoff series that haunts Young, it’s the season he played against LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers and his Indiana Pacers lost a seven-game series in 2018.

“One quarter in each game we lost cost us the series,” said Young. “If you look back, we won 24 of 28 quarters against Cleveland. That’s one of the most insane stats there is. We really felt we were going to beat them.”
And then LeBron did what LeBron does. In the final three Cleveland wins, he scored 46, 44, and 45 points.

“He went crazy,” Young said.

The biggest stars can do that.

Can Embiid do anything similar, especially with an injured thumb?

Can the 76ers bounce back?

Or are the 1964 Phillies about to have some company?

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