Well, that sucked.
After a back and forth 2nd round series where both teams had their shining moments, ultimately the Toronto Raptors sent the Philadelphia 76ers home empty handed. A miracle shot that bounced off the rim and backboard no less than 84 times made by an actual dinosaur/robot/alien lifeform named Kawhi Leonard is what ultimately ended this run by our boys. It’s the kind of thing you expect as a Philly fan (Super Bowl 52 aside), so it wasn’t really a shock or some type of unexpected outcome. It felt more inevitable that the Sixers would loose in the most agonizing way, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. I guess this was payback for 2001, when a 13 year old Ed watched Vince Carter’s jumper from a similar spot on the court bounce harmlessly to the hardwood, sending Iverson and the Pips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Karma came back for us 18 whole years later. Karma old enough to vote. Karma that can buy a rated “R” movie ticket. What a fickle mistress that Karma is.
Photo: The Athletic
There’s plenty of emotions that came from me in experiencing this game. I had to work on Sunday night, so I lived this game through updates and casual glances at my phone while finishing up. The emotions I experienced during that period were mostly just confusion and anticipation. Waiting for work to be over. Not knowing who exactly was ahead. Having co-workers ask me “what’s the score?”, and not because they cared necessarily. Mostly because they knew I was invested. I do not hide my Philly fandome very well. Luckily, I work in sports so most of the people I do work with are sports fans as well. They can commiserate with having to work and follow your team at the same time. It’s not very fun. So as we’re all finishing up, the 2nd half comes to a close, Sixers down 4, and a new challenge awaits: the ride home.
That drive down 283 felt like it took no less than 12 hours; in reality it was more like 20 minutes. When I tell you I was behind every slow driver to ever drive in the history of driving I am not even exaggerating. It’s like the creators of “The Fast And The Furious” were hiring people to drive in front of me and they gave them the motivation of “you know how Dom and Brian drove in those suped up drag cars? Do the opposite of that, and be sure to do it right in front of this guy in particular”. That guy is me, in case you were wondering. So i’m sitting in my car, following bizarro world Lettty Ortiz down the highway, and the feeling of dread came over me. “What if I don’t get home in time and the Sixers win or lose this game with me on this wet, rain slicked road, cursing at a dude in a Chevy Equinox?” That’s all I could think. Eventually that thought passed, I got off the highway, made it to my street and parked my car just as the 4th quarter was underway.
So now i’m a nervous wreck. Sports, specifically Philly sports, have done this to me plenty of times before. My usual way of dealing with this is to clap really loudly and yell at my TV screen until the game is over, and Sunday was no different. As i’m taking off my rain soaked boots and jacket, thing start to happen. Bad things. The Sixers decide to completely forget that you only have EXACTLY 24 seconds per possession to shoot the damn ball. It’s a rule they’ve known for their entire careers, but at that moment, none of that mattered. All that mattered is that Kawhi and the boys were putting on the clamps. Now, you can attribute some of that to inexperience. A winner takes all game 7 against a talented team in their building is the time when experience would be nice to have. You can’t gain that experience until you go through it (i’d like to tell basically every single place I applied for a job right out of college this same concept, but that’s beside the point). Our one guy with big game experience showed up in the 4th, just like I knew he would. Jimmy “my name is literally Jimmy” Butler had himself a time. After Ben Simmons picked up his 5th foul, he took on the dreaded Kawhi duty on defense. He was the team’s de-facto point guard as he has been in a majority of clutch situations since coming over from Minnesota. He turned his ankle trying to guard Kawhi and shook it off like a pitcher who’s catcher throws up the curve sign but he only wants to throw 101 mph fastballs. I think he even sold some folks beer in the front row. He was James Butler, through and through. When he got the ball off a missed Kawhi free throw, took it right to the rim and banked it high off the glass to tie the game I think I went blind for a second. This was what you trade beloved Process era pieces for. A man named Jimmy. But it wasn’t enough, as I stated before. The Kawhi shot bounced all over my soul and in the hoop and the season was over, just like that.
Now, I know the talk has been hot and cold in the wake of the Sixers 2018-2019 season. Some people want to run it back with the same group; some want to change it up a bit; and then there are those who want it all blown to smithereens. Forget those in the latter group. They will never be happy unless they are truly miserable. They wallow in self-pity and I can’t be concerned with them. Those who want to change it up, I understand. It was a devastating loss and it’s only natural to feel cheated out of a chance at the Eastern Conference Finals and thinking this group needs some help. I’m mainly in that other group who wants to run it back, because this is the most fun i’ve had with a good Sixers team, possibly ever. There are changes in the margins that can be made, but this core is something special, and it took an actual War Machine in cornrows to take them down. Bring back Jimmy, bring back Toby, bring back Mike Scott, let Embiid’s tears fuel him to get better, let Ben work out with whichever Jenner he’s dating and hope she’s a mean shot coach, and probably most the important thing: keep Brett Brown safe. The man coached his butt off in these playoffs, and with this experience I truly believe he will get better and rally the team for the cause of bringing a title to Philly. This one stings, but the best stories need a rally point. That unlucky bounce just might be what sparks the Sixers fire for greatness from here on out.
Ed Roseboro (@ESRosebud)
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