Think having a short memory is key to being a pro athlete?
The Sixers have blown some pretty big leads of late — most notably in London last week — and their downfall has come in the third quarter.
But instead of blowing a 22-point lead, like the did across the pond, the Sixers built one Monday against the 29-13 Raptors (second best record in the East) into a 21 point cushion late in the third. And despite a furious comeback effort by Toronto, the Sixers prevailed 117-111. Fueled by a monster afternoon from Joel Embiid — 34 points and 11 rebounds — the 76ers got back to 20-20 and in the thick of the playoff race once again.
Shooting 50 percent from the field was a big boost despite shooting a dreary 24 percent from three, as was a career-high output from T.J. McConnell (18 points with eight assists to boot). J.J Redick chipped in with 15.
Before Brett Brown’s usual rotation substitutions took effect, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid had combined to score all of the Sixers’ 20 points through the game’s first eight minutes.
The battle between Embiis and Jonas Valanciunas took center stage, as a dunk on Embiid by the Raptors’ big man fueled a trio of Embiid fadeaways including a three-point play (for seven straight Jo-Jo buckets). He would collect 18 points in the first 24 minutes.
In the second quarter the foot stayed on the throttle, as a JJ Redick three-pointer lifted a near sellout crowd to its feet putting Philly ahead by 10, 39-29.
But the crowd really got on it’s feet later in the second, after a brief shoving match between McConnell and Demar Derozen (and even more vocal when no technical foul was called). The Sixers held tough but a mini Toronto 6-0 spurt at the end of that period had the count 59-49 at the half. By games end, Simmons and Kyle Lowry had been tossed for some harsh words exahanged at center court in the fourth quarter in what was a fully feisty game between the division rivals.
Philly held its own in the third, building to an 18-point lead entering the last frame but the Raptors didn’t make it easy, getting inside six points midway through.
A three-pointer drilled by Delon Wright near the three-minute mark chipped the lead to just three points and a Derozan jumper to just one as fans feared yet another missed opportunity was upon them. But a Simmons layup and Saric three back-to-back put things back to a six-point spread.
Hack-a-Simmons started again at the 1:44 mark, with the rookie drilling a pair of free throws to keep the lead at six (he would go for 12 total). A C.J. Miles layout, after a Kyle Lowry three and Sixers turnover had the Raptors back by three with 36 seconds to play. Embiid made a pair as well, with 25 second left, to give Philly a two-possession lead, 113-108.
In the impressive win, six Sixers players scored in double figures as the team overcame 21 turnovers (they were worst in the NBA heading into Monday averaging 17.9).