Stretch them out and add any other adjectives you can think of as you try to put the Raptors’ toughest playoff loss at home in as many years into perspective.
Joel Embiid, who last walked away from a playoff game at Scotiabank Arena in tears after Kawhi Leonard’s four rebounds in 2019, really did happily jump away on Wednesday after decimating the Raptors with the most unlikely shot.
The 7-foot, 280-pound center hit a 25-foot 3-pointer with less than a second left in overtime to give the Philadelphia 76ers a 104-101 win over the Raptors and put Toronto within one loss of elimination from the postseason. .
Embiid, who had been in control in a five-point, four-turnover first half, ended up being the Sixers’ hero and Toronto’s archenemy with a 19-point third quarter that put Philly back in the game and then He provided the dagger that put the Sixers to a 3-0 win in the best-of-seven series that resumes here Saturday afternoon.
“I have to think about this, but this is a tough loss as I can remember here for my time,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Obviously if we take that thing out, we have a series and instead you have a very, very deep hole to dig.”
The hard pill for the Raptors to swallow is that they actually played a very good game, much better than the first two in the series, and probably deserved to win. They led by as many as 17 points, were up 10 at the half and fouled James Harden out of the game in the final minute of regulation, but they couldn’t seal the deal.
After a timeout with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime and nine-tenths of a second on the shot clock, Embiid took an infield pass and sank the Raptors, completing his 33-point night.
“For a guy who has seemingly gotten better every year he’s played, he’s at a really high level right now,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “I thought Precious (Achiuwa) did a solid job with him for most of the game, but he was able to break free late and impose his will on him.
“He made a couple of tough jump shots, and obviously the last one, so we have to do a better job with him.”
The Raptors got 26 points from OG Anunoby and 24 from Gary Trent Jr.
“At least I thought we brought it in and (played) with great intensity and we played very hard and put ourselves in a position to win, and it just didn’t go the way we wanted tonight,” Nurse said. “But it was hard, for sure.”
The Raptors needed all the scoring from Anunoby and Trent and Precious Achiuwa, who added 20 points, because their stars were locked up.
Pascal Siakam was scoreless in the second half or overtime and finished with just 12 points, and VanVleet was 3-for-13 from the field.
“They put Embiid (Siakam) on for most of the half and Embiid was playing him a little bit more than normal. He didn’t get a lot of cool looks.” the nurse said. “But then again, you have to adjust to coverage and I thought both him and Freddy did that. They passed the ball to some of the other guys and the other guys benefited from that.”
Embiid exploded in the third quarter to create late drama. The Raptors played a tremendous first half before stumbling late.
Achiuwa, who was excellent all night, missed two free throws in a tied game with 27.5 seconds remaining, giving the Sixers a chance to complete their comeback. But Embiid inexplicably settled for a 25-foot step-back 3 that missed and Tobias Harris missed a small drop back along the baseline to set up overtime.
“I don’t want (Achiuwa) to live on that play for sure because he was very, very effective and forceful tonight,” Nurse said.
His teammates felt the same. “For a young guy to have a breakout performance like that is big for him,” VanVleet said. “He will lose sleep over free throws, like we all do. We’ve all been there, but we have to recover and improve.”
The Raptors’ offense is not based on one player dominating and that has helped them exploit various mismatches and advantages for most of the season. Whether that matchup is Anunoby on a smaller player or Trent on someone slower or Siakam on a wing, once the Raptors figure it out, they try to exploit it. However, it changes from game to game and sometimes from quarter to quarter.
“There really isn’t a strict pecking order, anybody takes any shot, as you’ve seen,” VanVleet said Wednesday morning. “We just take what the game gives and the defense gives.”
It worked for most of Wednesday, but not long enough.
“There are no moral wins right now,” VanVleet said. “We can sit back once it’s all said and done and appreciate and have an optimistic outlook, but right now we’re still in the trenches, still in the fight.
“We have to bring even more fight in a couple of days. There is no room to look around and feel sorry for ourselves.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION