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Doc Rivers can rest easy.
For the moment, at least.
The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Toronto Raptors, 132-97 on Thursday to secure a 4-2 win in their first-round playoff series. With the win, the 76ers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals where they'll face the top-seeded Miami Heat. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday.
In the process, they broke a two-game losing streak after opening a 3-0 series lead that rankled nerves in Philadelphia and shone a spotlight on Rivers' 15-31 career record in closeout games. The third-year 76ers head coach has seen his teams blow 3-1 series leads three times in the playoffs, twice more than any other coach in NBA history. The previous two losses to the Raptors marked three straight losses in closeout games dating back to last postseason's bitter second-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks that signaled the end of the Ben Simmons era in Philadelphia.
Raptors fade after strong first half
For a half on Thursday, it looked like that record might extend to four straight closeout losses as the shorthanded Raptors kept things competitive. Playing without All-Star guard Fred VanVleet, who's been sidelined since Game 5 with a hip injury, the Raptors kept things close with an 11-0 run as the 76ers took a 62-61 lead into halftime. But the wheels fell off in the third quarter.
Paced by a 15-point effort from breakout guard Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers outscored the Raptors 37-17 in the third quarter to take a 21-point lead into the fourth. They countered Toronto's first-half run with a 15-0 run of their own. The Raptors would not challenge from there as their offense struggled to find buckets from anywhere on the court. Toronto finished the game shooting 39.8% from the field and 7 of 35 (20%) from 3-point distance in the loss.
Sixers stars look strong
The 76ers, meanwhile, saw all five starters score in double figures with three breaking the 20-point barrier. Joel Embiid showed little sign of the right thumb injury he sustained in Game 3 while leading the Philadelphia effort with 33 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. He didn't hesitate to go hard at the rim on a fourth-quarter dunk.
it's a bird, it's a plane, it's JOEL EMBIID. ✈️😏 pic.twitter.com/QwnDLTtVAY
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 29, 2022
Maxey, meanwhile, finished with 25 points and eight assists while shooting 5 of 12 from 3-point distance and James Harden posted 22 points and 15 assists after averaging 18.4 points and 9.2 assists through the first five games of the series.
The 76ers will now have three days to rest and prepare for a Heat team that finished the Atlanta Hawks in five games in the first round.