Sixers, Trail Blazers survive to force game sevens
By Agence France-Presse
The Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers both forced game sevens in their NBA second round playoff series on Thursday with a pair of bounce-back wins to stave off elimination.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points while Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid also had spirited performances as the 76ers survived to fight another day with a 112-101 win over the Toronto Raptors in game six.
Butler also had six rebounds and Embiid finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, who kept their season alive by squaring the best-of-seven Eastern Conference second round series at 3-3.
“I play to win,” Butler said. “Right now, this is what I have to do in order to give us a great chance at winning.”
Simmons rebounded to deliver 21 points after struggling mightily in game five with just seven points and five turnovers. His game six total was more than his combined points total of games five and four.
“It was amazing focus. Everybody was locked in,” Simmons said. “We knew what was at stake.”
Franchise cornerstone Embiid, who was listed as a probable starter due to a sore knee, also got back on track after making eight turnovers in game five.
“I knew I had to come in with high spirits,” Embiid said. “If I’ve got to play 45 minutes and push myself out there, that’s what I’ll do.”
The winner-take-all contest will be Sunday in Toronto with the victor advancing to face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Game one of the Eastern Conference finals is slated for Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Tobias Harris contributed 16 points, and JJ Redick and Mike Scott had 11 each for the third-seeded Sixers, who haven’t advanced to the Eastern Conference finals since 2001, when they ousted the Bucks in seven games.
Kawhi Leonard led the second-seeded Raptors with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Pascal Siakam added 21 points, and Kyle Lowry had 13.
Leonard has scored at least 20 points in eight straight playoff contests.
Elsewhere, Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 32 points in the third quarter, and the Trail Blazers forced game seven in their series with Denver with a 119-108 win.
– Second half surge –
Denver went in front by as much as 10 points in the first half before getting blasted by the Trail Blazers in the second half.
CJ McCollum added 30 points, and Rodney Hood came off the bench to score a career playoff high 25 for Portland, who haven’t advanced to the NBA final four in 19 years.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 29 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray added 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Lillard put the Blazers ahead to stay with a three-pointer with 4:18 remaining in the third period.
Portland’s Hood hit two key baskets when the Nuggets threatened early in the fourth, helping the Trail Blazers send the series back to Denver for a showdown on Sunday.
“It is unfortunate but we have been here before,” said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. “Now we go home and we have best home court advantage in the NBA and we are going to try to take advantage of that and close it out.”
The winner of Sunday’s game will face the winner of the series between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The defending NBA champion Warriors have a 3-2 advantage in the series after a 104-99 victory on Wednesday. Game six is Friday in Houston.