Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday night brought out the best in the NBA. There was drama, a tense end game punctuated by a buzzer-beater that hit the rim four times before it fell. With that came triumph for Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors and an equally heavy despair for the Philadelphia 76ers.
That one of the lasting images from the game will be a photo that looks more like a Renaissance painting is fitting — the game had epic implications that will reverberate through the NBA for years to come. But whether Brett Brown will be fired or Kawhi Leonard will stay in Toronto past this season is something that wouldn’t be decided in the moments following Game 7.
The immediate aftermath of a stunning game, ended abruptly, is acceptance that it’s over. And for Joel Embiid, who guarded the Leonard shot that won it for Toronto, that was especially tough. Video emerged of Embiid near the locker rooms after Game 7, overcome with emotions and consoled by his girlfriend. A reporter shared that video with a quote from Brown about how the big man will grow from this moment.
Embiid also took time to be embraced by a number of players on the court, including Marc Gasol.
Whether an impartial or someone with emotional ties to either team, the scene is a touching one. Gasol stops Embiid from getting past him, though it appears at first that the Sixers forward doesn’t want him to. He then says something to him that makes Embiid break down, and Gasol embraces him again.
After the game, Embiid spoke about what that moment meant for him and how impressed he was by Gasol’s class, calling him “a great guy” and explaining what happened between the two after the game.
Seeing a guy like Embiid, who says he’s himself when he’s smiling on the court and trolling those off it, literally cry in another man’s arms was shocking and illustrated how much he gave of himself in that seven-game series. Two games earlier, back in Toronto, it was an energy-sapped Embiid who tried in vain to will a Game 5 victory, telling Drake afterward that the Sixers would be back.
They were, and Embiid was back to being his dominant self, but it still wasn’t enough for Philadelphia on Sunday.