Jimmy Butler Refuses to Lose Hope in Embiid and the Rest of the Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers knew that their Game 5 matchup in Toronto was going to be tough. After allowing the Raptors to steal a victory in South Philly, the Sixers were looking to bounce back up North - At least, so we thought. The Sixers ended up playing their worst game of not only this series - but their worst game so far in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
Since the Sixers failed to put up a fight in Game 5, they will face an elimination game at home on Thursday after back-to-back uninspiring losses. While the Sixers continue to ride on Jimmy Butler's back for this series, Philly is hoping that their big man Joel Embiid feels better by the time they take the court this Thursday.
Out of the four playoff series that Embiid has appeared in over the last year, he's clearly putting on his weakest overall performance. Aside from a dominant Game 3 showing at home, Embiid is visibly playing his worst basketball. And while he tries to feel better from his sickness, which is diagnosed as an upper respiratory infection, there's not much else for the Sixers' superstar to do aside from lay around in bed until game time.
There were two types of players on Tuesday night for the Sixers. One guy showed up for the afternoon shootaround at the arena and decided to put in additional time into his pregame practice. The other guy was given the afternoon off because he wasn't feeling up for practicing. The two players being described is Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid.
Although Butler's extra work allowed him to put up a team-high of 22 points, his statistical performance isn't what has been standing out for Philly. Throughout the entire 2019 playoff run, Butler's leadership has been unexpectedly pleasant. Butler has established himself as somewhat of a locker room distraction over the last year or so, according to media masses. But it sure seems like Philadelphia is getting a patient, and much more mature side of Jimmy Butler as they try to remain mentally strong in this series.
Over the last few games, we've found out that the Sixers need Joel Embiid more than anybody in order to win. For that, Butler refuses to allow the seven-foot center to lose his confidence. As Embiid had to face the media after the blowout loss in Game 5, Butler made it his duty to sit beside Embiid at the postgame podium, despite not being on the schedule to do so. "We're going to ride or die with the big fella," Butler told the crowd of media. "We’ll be just fine, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, encouraging him to keep battling through injury and sickness and we’re here with him."
Butler's last hope of statements comes just hours after he told the media that the Sixers tend to play better when they are doubted. They were in fact, doubted on Tuesday, and that clearly didn't do them any favors. However, as they face an elimination game this week, the doubt has never been greater. The Sixers will need everybody on the same page this week as they try to force a Game 7. Their fearless leader hasn't given up on them yet, and that should be all of the motivation they need to put on in Game 6.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for South Jersey's 97.3 ESPN. You can follow Justin on Twitter: @JGrasso_