Jimmy Butler lived up to his Jimmy Buckets nickname to help Philadelphia force a seventh game against Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinals, hitting them in bunches and scoring 25 points in the 76ers’ 112-101 victory over the Raptors on Thursday night.
Game 7 is Sunday night in Toronto.
Kwahi Leonard, who had scored 30-plus points in five games vs. Philly, was finally tied up early by the Sixers and hit 29 points well after the game was out of hand.
Leonard and the Raptors had no answers for Butler and All-Star guard Ben Simmons. Simmons broke through and scored 21 points — more than his combined total of Games 4 and 5 — and helped show the Sixers still had some fight after a brutal Game 5 loss.
Joel Embiid had played through a bad left knee and a stomach bug for most of the playoffs and the entire team had reason to be ill after the Raptors crushed the Sixers by 36 in Game 5.
Embiid had a burst of energy late in the third when he blocked a driving Leonard, and Simmons capitalized with a basket for an 18-point cushion. Embiid had 17 points and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Embiid didn’t do much early in Game 6, but Butler and Simmons built some needed separation.
Butler about did it all, and showed in the first half why the free agent will command a max contract in the offseason.
Butler, disgruntled in Minnesota before he was traded to Philadelphia in November, scored 19 points in the half and all of them seemed worthy of the highlight reel. He took a bit of a trick shot when he rebounded his own missed jumper and was fouled by Kyle Lowry on an off-balance attempt. The basket was good and so was the free throw. Butler stole the ball from Leonard and capped the half with a fast-break dunk for a 58-43 lead.
Butler made 9 of 15 shots in the first and gave the Sixers the confidence they needed to know another game wasn’t going to turn into a rout.
Simmons was called out by Butler about the need to attack the basket and play more off screens to become the triple-double threat he was in the regular season and not the non-factor he was against the Raptors. Simmons did it all early (eight points, five assists in the first quarter) and the Sixers got the outside shots to fall — an early domination that happened even as Embiid was held scoreless until he sank a 3 early in the second quarter.
Embiid missed the entirety of Toronto’s 12-0 run that cut a 19-point lead to seven and had fans booing as the All-Star big man took a breather. Embiid couldn’t afford to rest, backup Boban Marjanovic checked in at minus-15 in just 4 1/2 minutes of playing time in the half.
There was one cause for concern late in the fourth when Embiid was whistled for a flagrant 1 foul and now faces a one-game suspension if he earns another in the playoffs. Embiid, playing in garbage time because he has no reliable backup, has three flagrant fouls in the postseason.
Raptors: Missed 14 of 17 3s in the first half. … Scored four fast-break points in the first half.
76ers: Hall of Famer Julius Erving had a lengthy courtside pregame chat with Simmons. … The Sixers borrowed a page from the Eagles’ Super Bowl run and had Chris Long and Lane Johnson ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell. Long and Johnson wore their dog masks used when they embraced the underdog theme in the 2018 postseason.
Game 7 is Sunday night in Toronto. The Raptors are 2-1 at home in the series.