The Philadelphia 76ers were up 3-0 in their series against the Toronto Raptors just a few days ago. The lead has since been sliced to 3-2.
That is waking up some echoes for 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
He’s the only coach in NBA history to lose three series in which his team had a 3-1 lead. No coach in NBA history has ever been on the losing end of a series after leading 3-0, either. But Rivers and the 76ers haven’t put the Raptors away yet, and now face a Game 6 in Toronto on Thursday night with hopes of avoiding a winner-take-all Game 7 in Philadelphia on Saturday.
“Let’s win it,” Rivers said. “Then we don’t have to talk about it.”
The 76ers are one of three teams that will take 3-2 leads on the road Thursday night, when a trio of Game 6’s are on tap. The others are Western Conference matchups: Top-seeded Phoenix will try to close out New Orleans, and fourth-seeded Dallas has a chance to eliminate fifth-seeded Utah.
Philadelphia’s lead looks far more tenuous than the ones held by Phoenix and Dallas. The Suns and Mavericks are coming off double-digit home wins that gave the appearance of them gaining control of those respective matchups.
But the 76ers are hurting, most notably because center Joel Embiid has a torn thumb ligament. And two closeout opportunities have already come and gone, which is why Rivers was getting questions Wednesday about those past 3-1 leads that haven’t worked out.
The first was in 2003, when he had eighth-seeded Orlando on the brink of beating top-seeded Detroit in Round 1 before the heavily favored Pistons rallied. The next was in 2015, when the Los Angeles Clippers led Houston 3-1 in the West semifinals before falling apart when Chris Paul got hurt. And the other was in 2020, when the Clippers lost a 3-1 lead to Denver in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando.
“Game 7 would have been in LA,” Rivers said. “It just happens.”
The Raptors, meanwhile, continue to believe they can make history. Only three teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 in the NBA. None has gone on to win the series; if Toronto pulls this off, it would meet Miami — and former Raptors guard Kyle Lowry — in the East semifinals beginning Monday.
“If somebody could do it, it would be us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Philadelphia leads 3-2. Game 6, 7 p.m. EDT, NBA TV.
—NEED TO KNOW: The Sixers lead, yes, but the pendulum sure seems to be swinging Toronto’s way. Over the last three games, the Raptors have led (or been in a tie) a staggering 92.8% of the time. And if the Raptors hadn’t blown a 17-point lead in Game 3, the overtime game where Embiid’s 3-pointer was the game-winner, they could have a chance to close things out Thursday.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: 76ers G James Harden. He’s shooting just 35% from the field, 29% from 3-point range and averaging a low-for-him 16.9 points over his last eight playoff games going back to last season. With Embiid hurting, Harden needs to do more.
—INJURY WATCH: Raptors G Fred VanVleet (hip) missed Game 5 and is listed as doubtful for Game 6. Embiid is continuing to play through a torn thumb ligament.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Philadelphia. If this goes to Game 7, even in Philly, the advantage would be all Toronto.
—NEED TO KNOW: In the all-rounds-best-of-seven format that has been in place since 2003, only four No. 1 seeds have been taken to a Game 7 in Round 1. Phoenix is going to try and avoid becoming the fifth. The Suns had a very businesslike win in Game 5, and now will enter a raucous road environment to try and close things out.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: New Orleans’ turnovers and 3-point shooting. The Pelicans were outscored by 11 (23-12) in points off turnovers in Game 5 and by 15 (30-15) from 3-point range. Phoenix won by 15. The Pelicans can’t afford discrepancies like that again and think this is going to Game 7.
—INJURY WATCH: Suns G Devin Booker (hamstring) remains out.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Phoenix. There’s no way for the Pelicans to feel pressure in this series, after going 36-46 and needing two play-in wins just to get here. They’re using house money right now, and the Suns can’t risk a winner-take-all Game 7 against a team playing fast and loose.
MAVERICKS AT JAZZ
Dallas leads 3-2. Game 6, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT.
—NEED TO KNOW: The last time Dallas won a playoff series, David Stern handed Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Mavs have lost all six series they have played since winning the 2011 NBA title, but the seventh try might be the charm. Utah will try to overcome a 3-2 series deficit for the first time since the 2007 first round against Houston.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Jazz G Donovan Mitchell. He’s 3 for his last 30 from 3-point range, spanning the last 14 quarters. His nine points in Game 5 were a playoff career-low.
—INJURY WATCH: Mitchell’s quads are bruised, but an MRI ruled out any hamstring issues.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. It’s not just because the Jazz face elimination. If they can’t get out of this round, in a series where Mavs G Luka Doncic missed three games, it would be reasonable to think that big changes might be on the horizon.
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