Sixers vs. Raptors Game 6: Storylines to watch

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Storylines to watch for Sixers-Raptors Game 6 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

If they Sixers win Thursday night, they’ll next play Monday in Miami against the Heat.

If they don’t, a first-round series that history suggested was just about over will require a Game 7 Saturday in Philadelphia.

With the stakes clear and high, here the essentials for Sixers-Raptors Game 6:

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

  • Where: Scotiabank Arena

  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia

  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app

And here are storylines to watch:

Can’t keep playing from behind

Toronto took double-digit leads in the first halves of Games 3, 4 and 5. Game 2 would also be on that list if a Fred VanVleet three-pointer had fallen instead of spinning around the rim and out with the Raptors up 11-2.

Every team obviously wants to start fast, but doing so looks vital for the Sixers given that negative trend and Toronto’s recent success controlling the game’s tempo. The Raptors enjoy turning turnovers into transition offense, but they’re not inclined to run recklessly.

“They got everything they wanted,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after a second straight loss Monday night. “And not only did they get it, they used 23 seconds damn near every possession. So they turned the game into a slow-paced slugfest, but whenever they could run, they did run — so they got both. They beat us in transition. And when they didn’t have transition, they backed it out, used the clock, got the iso they wanted and scored on us.”

What will the stars bring?

VanVleet exited Game 4 in the second quarter with a left hip flexor strain and watched Game 5 from the bench. He remains out for Thursday’s game. (The other rotation player ruled out was Matisse Thybulle, who’s ineligible to play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated.)

Pascal Siakam has been stellar without VanVleet the last two contests, totaling 67 points on 20-for-36 shooting, 18 rebounds and 12 assists. The Sixers at least held him to two free throw attempts in Game 5, 13 below the season-high mark he hit in Game 4. They’ll continue to prefer contested Siakam jumpers over easy drives into the paint and foul shots.

The Sixers traded for James Harden in large part because they believed he could make their playoff offense significantly better. This isn’t anywhere near an ideal situation — an offseason of rehab after he played through a Grade 2 hamstring strain last playoffs; only 21 regular-season games with his new team; star teammate Joel Embiid dealing with a torn ligament in his right thumb — but the bottom line is the Sixers need Harden to perform well as their primary ball handler. He posted 22 points on 17 field-goal attempts in both Games 1 and 4. That’s the most he’s scored in an outing this series.

Will outside shooting get back on track?

After four consecutive games shooting over 40 percent from three-point range, the Sixers dropped off Monday.

Danny Green went 4 for 9 and everyone else combined to go 6 for 28.

“I got some great looks,” Green said Wednesday. “Some of them went bad, some of them went great. Just staying with it and shooting them confidently, and trying to make the defense pay when they leave us open. We have to. That’s my job.

“If they’re going to keep doubling Jo … eventually, we hope that that changes maybe, but we’ve got to make them change it by us doing our job, knocking down shots and keeping the defense honest. … The only way to keep the paint not crowded is to spread the floor and knock down those shots, and make them guard us on the perimeter.”

While the Sixers don’t intend to depend on three-point shooting, it would be seriously surprising if Toronto shifted to single coverage against Embiid. Open jumpers from the players around him must go up — and the Sixers will hope more of them go in.