TORONTO — Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said his team evened up its second-round series 1-1 Monday with a 94-89 win over the Toronto Raptors thanks to one of his players slipping into an alter-ego.
Jimmy Butler, with 30 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and a blocked shot, became James.
“This was James Butler,” Brown said. “That was the adult in the gym. … He was just a tremendous sort of rock. He willed us to a lot of different situations. … He was a stud. He really was an adult in the gym.”
Butler pushed back against the formal moniker — “My name isn’t James, it is literally Jimmy,” he said — and wanted to focus more on the Sixers’ defensive effort than on any of his offensive contributions, such as how he scored 12 points while playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter to close things out.
“It was a team effort,” he said of the Sixers’ holding the Raptors to just 89 points on 36.3 percent shooting — the first time Toronto finished with fewer than 90 points since a Dec. 28 loss to Orlando. “I always go back to defense. We get stops, and we’re taking off into the open floor. Guys are making plays, like Jo [Embiid] and Ben [Simmons]. … Whenever we’re playing like that, guarding like that, we’re such a good team.”
Coming off Leonard’s career playoff-high 45 points on Saturday, Simmons made the former Finals MVP work for the 35 he scored in Game 2.
“They had Ben guarding me tonight,” Leonard said after he was held to just four points in the first quarter as Philadelphia ran out to a nine-point lead (26-17), as opposed to the 17 the Sixers scored in the opening frame in Game 1. “They did a good job, honestly; got to give them credit.”
And Embiid was matched up often with Siakam, who finished with 21 points on 9-for-25 shooting after putting up 29 points on 12-for-15 shooting in the series opener.
“Obviously, it was difficult for us to handle just by looking at the numbers,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. “I think Pascal had a low shooting percentage tonight, a lot of those were trying to take on Embiid at the rim.”
It was a satisfying ending to a difficult day for Embiid. He missed shootaround because of a bout with gastroenteritis, staying back at the team hotel with medical staffers. Then, Brown said, Embiid received IV fluids prior to tipoff.
“If you had the s—- before … if you had it before, you would know how it feels,” Embiid said. “These are my guys and want to show up every night. Tonight, I felt like that was a big game for us. … I knew I was playing, there was no way I was missing the game. This game was really important to us. It didn’t matter what I had, I was going to play. Doesn’t matter.”
Embiid finished with a substandard line of 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting, 6 boards, 5 assists and 6 turnovers, but one of his buckets came with 24.3 seconds remaining to extend the Sixers’ lead from 1 to 3.
Like Brown, he reserved his praise for Butler’s performance over his own.
“Told him that he had to carry us, and he did that, and that was amazing,” Embiid told ESPN of Butler.
No matter what they called him — James or Jimmy — the Philadelphia wing player was the talk of the postgame media session on a night when he became the third Sixer in the past 35 seasons to top 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, joining Embiid (who has done so twice) and Charles Barkley (five times).
“It was a great night for him to just kind of put his head down and be the guy,” said JJ Redick.
Much like the Sixers looked far better than they did in their 108-95 loss in Game 1, Butler bounced back individually from his meager 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting on Saturday, too.
“I think first and foremost, look, Jimmy Butler’s a gamer,” said Nurse. “A late-gamer and big time. Look, he wasn’t going to be quiet this whole series, right? This guy can play. We know that.”