(Editor’s note to start: While this was in the process of being written and published, Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice also wrote a Sixers history in Game 7 piece, which can be accessed by clicking here. Kyle is a great writer and we encourage you to check out his piece too!)
This will be the first Game 7 of this era of Sixers basketball, and we should cherish it, because you never know when we’ll get another one. During the Iverson era, there were just two instances of a series going seven games, and they were both in the same postseason. In the dark days of 76ers basketball between the Iverson and Process eras, the team made it to one Game 7 and lost to a Celtics team destined to lose to the Big 3 Heat. In the 70’s and 80’s, the team played in many Game 7’s, but that likely coincided with their success in getting to the postseason. Those eras are now behind us though. The “Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler” era is upon us. In their first postseason, they’ve shown that they are, at the very least, capable. Capable of making deep, sustained postseason runs if given a chance to develop. Capable even of winning an NBA championship.
That may not happen this season, but it can eventually. First, though, is Game 7 against the Raptors. When this era of 76ers basketball is over, this postseason will be the end of the first chapter of the “Post-Process” era. The first real test of what this group is made of comes in the form the win-or-go-home matchup with Toronto. There have been plenty of Game 7’s in 76ers history, twelve in fact (if you only count the times they appeared as the “76ers”). The Sixers have gone 5-7 in those matchups. With Game 7 against the Raptors on the horizon, let’s take a look back at the franchise’s other series that have gone seven games and see how they fared.
1965 DF: Boston Celtics 110-109 Philadelphia 76ers
1965. Chamberlain vs. Russell. This Sixers squad featured Hall of Famers Hal Greer and Wilt Chamberlain facing off against the likes of Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and Sam Jones. Game 7 of this series gave us the famous “Havlicek stole the ball. It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!” An all-time gut punch for Sixers fans here.
1968 DF: Philadelphia 76ers 96-100 Boston Celtics
This one stings a bit. The thing is, and please do not tell any Warriors fans this, but the 76ers we’re actually the first team to blow a 3-1 lead. I know, I know, and to Boston no less. How did this city not implode after that? How was the whole team not traded afterward? If the Sixers blew a 3-1 lead to Boston today, I am quite certain that the city would cease to exist. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even the only time it happened.
1971 CSF: Baltimore Bullets 128-120 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers faced off against the Bullets in the 1971 Conference Semifinals. Hal Greer was still around, and the kangaroo kid Billy Cunningham had come onto the scene by then as well. The Sixers didn’t have enough firepower to get past this Bullets squad however. Baltimore had six players average 12 or more points in the series, while the Sixers relied primarily on Cunningham, Greer, and Archie Clark for their scoring. This would bring the Sixers to 0-3 in Game 7’s in franchise history.
1977 CSF: Philadelphia 76ers 83-77 Boston Celtics
The Sixers finally conquered their Game 7 demons behind the likes of Dr. J, Doug Collins, George McGinnis, and World B. Free. The Sixers would lose Game 1 of this series on a Jo Jo White buzzer beater. Philly answered though by winning games two and three. The two teams would swap games leading into game 7. The 76ers would edge out Boston 83-77 in the seventh game to finally get the franchise’s first Game 7 win.
1979 CSF: San Antonio Spurs 111-108 Philadelphia 76ers
The Spurs of these days were, surprisingly, in the East! George Gervin was their star, and he faced off against some of the more recognizable Sixers of the 80’s. Julius, Mo Cheeks, Bobby Jones, and Darryl Dawkins represented the 76ers in ’79. The Spurs would take the first two games of this series, but the 76ers would battle back to force Game 7 after a Mo Cheeks game winner with ten seconds left in Game 6. The Spurs would prevail in Game 7 though, and send the Sixers home packing.
1981 CSF: Philadelphia 76ers 99-98 Milwaukee Bucks
In 1981 the 76ers would be in two 7 game series. In the first, they’d face off against Marques Johnson, Bob Lanier, Sidney Moncrief, and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks. In the 7th game, the Sixers squeaked by with a 99-98 victory.
1981 CF: Boston Celtics 91-90 Philadelphia 76ers
The Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish Celtics faced off against the 76ers in yet another seven game series between the two franchises. John Hollinger of ESPN ranked this as the greatest series of all time in 2013, and it’s no wonder why.
The 76ers would take Game 1 on Andrew Toney free throws with two seconds left to win it. Boston would take Game 2, and the 76ers would answer by winning games three and four. With a 3-1 lead on Boston once again, the Sixers would let them storm back and force Game 7. In that Game 7, Boston would win by the closest of margins, 91-90. Mo Cheeks missed a pivotal free throw at the end of the game that could have forced OT.
1982 CF: Boston Celtics 106-120 Philadelphia 76ers
Doctor J and company would get a chance at revenge the following season. They dropped Game 1, but won the next three to go up 3-1 on Boston once again. Boston would take home the next two to bring it to Game 7, but this time the Sixers wouldn’t blow the lead. They won Game 7 120-106 in the Boston Garden with chants of “Beat LA!” spraying on them from the Celtic faithful.
1986 CSF: Milwaukee Bucks 113-112 Philadelphia
In 1986 Charles Barkley was a part of the Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks, and Bobby Jones led Sixers. They faced off against the Bucks in the Conference Semifinals. Both teams would steal a game on the road and split the first four games 2-2. In the next two both teams protected home court, and in Game 7, the 76ers would lose on Charles Barkley goaltending a Craig Hodges shot. Absolutely brutal finish. All in all, the 70s and 80s weren’t mighty kind to the Sixers in Game 7’s with a couple of exceptions.
2001 CSF: Toronto Raptors 87-88 Philadelphia 76ers
This year’s Sixers have followed a similar path to the Iverson-led team. In the Conference Semifinals that season, they went up against the Vince Carter Raptors. Carter had a shot for the win at the buzzer but would shoot long off the rim, giving the 76ers an 88-87 win to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
2001 CF: Milwaukee Bucks 91-108 Philadelphia 76ers
These two teams battled for the right to go against prime Shaq and Kobe, and it took seven games before the dust settled. The Bucks stole Game 2 on the road, and the Sixers stole Game 4 before both teams traded games going into Game 7. Iverson, Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, Mutombo and the rest of the gang would close out Game 7 with a 108-91 win.
2012 CSF: Boston Celtics 85-75 Philadelphia 76ers
This Doug Collins coached Sixers team led by Jrue Holiday and Iggy was the 8th seed in 2012. A Derrick Rose injury cracked the door open for them to escape the first round, and they forced it open to face Boston in round two. This Boston squad had the original big three in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Avery Bradley was also somehow on this team, which is a bit surprising because this game feels like a million years ago.
Somehow, against all odds, this Sixers team that featured Elton Brand(!), Spencer Hawes, and Jodie Meeks took Boston seven games. The two teams split the first two games by a combined two points. Boston would eventually go up 3-2 before the Sixers rallied at home in Game 6 to force Game 7. Game 7 was a close, back and forth contest. Paul Pierce even fouled out in the fourth quarter. However, it wasn’t enough and the Celtics won a low scoring game 85-75.
The Sixers have had some heartbreakers when it comes to Game 7. Whether it was blowing series leads or one point losses in the final game. That’s the thing with Game 7s though, it will either end in heroism or heartbreak. The Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris Sixers will have their work cut out for them to win Game 7 in Toronto. The Raptors have plenty of experienced veterans in Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green. Most of the Sixers have never been in a Game 7 and will find themselves in a new and hostile scenario. Let’s see if the Sixers can make the 5-7 in Game 7’s 6-7 (please forgive the amount of 7’s in that sentence).