The Eastern Conference semifinals are getting interesting.
While the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics seem to be preparing for a long series, the Philadelphia 76ers are proving that they’re no fluke. After stealing Game 2 Monday in Toronto, the Sixers kept that momentum going by grabbing a 2-1 series lead with a dominating 116-95 victory on Thursday.
Joel Embiid had his best game of the postseason, scoring 33 points on 9 of 18 shooting and adding 10 rebounds and five blocks. Jimmy Butler’s 22 points also helped move Philadelphia two wins from an East final berth.
Series Odds Flip to Philadelphia
Despite the Raptors losing homecourt advantage after Game 2, oddsmakers still liked their odds and had them as a slight NBA betting favorite in the series.
Those odds have flipped after Philadelphia’s commanding Game 3 victory, and the Sixers are now -129 to win the series according to leading oddsmakers. The Raptors, who beat the Magic in five games and crushed the Sixers in Game 1, are now +105 underdogs to win the series.
There were serious concerns about Embiid’s knee when he missed Game 3 against the Nets in the first round. The series was tied 1-1 and a loss would have put the Sixers’ chances of advancing in real doubt.
But Philadelphia won, Embiid got the rest he needed and since then he has averaged 23.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 blocks. Those still aren’t Embiid-like numbers, but it’s clear that he’s getting closer to full strength. As Jimmy Butler put it after the game, a healthy Embiid is “a force to be reckoned with.”
The Sixers can take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a win on Sunday. They’re now 34-11 at home this season and have won 10 of their past 12 at Wells Fargo Center. They’re certainly playing like the favorites and oddsmakers agree.
Raptors Feeling Playoff Deja Vu?
We’ve seen this Raptors meltdown before. Usually it happens when LeBron James arrives on the postseason schedule, but this time Toronto is struggling on its own. As well as the Sixers played in Game 3, the Raptors had multiple chances in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead into Thursday and couldn’t.
No one can seem to stop Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging 31.5 points on 58 percent shooting in eight playoff games. He has averaged 37.7 points in three games against the Sixers but it hasn’t mattered. The rest of the Raptors have been non-existent, with Kyle Lowry adding after Game 3 that “we’ve got to help (Leonard). He’s playing unbelievable right now. We’re not giving him any help.”
There’s still some value in Toronto as underdogs. If they can steal Game 4 – and they’re slight favorites – they would return home needing two wins in three tries, with two chances at home to get it done. This is still a talented team, and head coach Nick Nurse will have adjustments ready as his team attempts to avoid another early postseason exit.
Are Sixers a Threat to Milwaukee?
The Sixers won’t be looking ahead to the next round but that doesn’t mean we can’t. There’s no denying that a healthy Philadelphia team is arguably the most talented team in the East. With apologies to the Milwaukee Bucks (and even Boston Celtics), the Sixers’ heavy hitters – Embiid, Butler, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick make for one impressive lineup.
The Bucks stumbled out of the gates in Game 1 against the Celtics before a convincing Game 2 victory. But if Boston puts up a fight and pushes the series to seven games – or even pulls off the upset – the Sixers will feel like the favorites heading into a potential Eastern Conference final.
They’ve got work to do against a talented Raptors team, but the Sixers’ +300 odds to win the East makes for an excellent value play right now. Betting on Joel Embiid seems like a winning proposition these days.