Before writing this, I wanted to take a few days to simmer down and fully analyze the situation. The facts of the matter are, the Philadelphia 76ers have been eliminated from the NBA playoffs and once again it comes in the 2nd round.
Sunday night’s Game 7 loss (and this playoff run as a whole) illustrated a number of indisputable truths about the current era of Sixers basketball.
- A) Ben Simmons fit (as he is right now) with this 76ers team isn’t there and his ceiling is a middling all-star until he gets a handle on the things impacting is game.
- B) Tobias Harris cannot be a 2nd option on a championship contending team.
- C) The 76ers mistakes of the past have officially caught up to them.
- D) There is a conversation to be had about Doc Rivers and teams coached by Rivers consistently melting and displaying the basketball IQ a rock when pressure mounts. As well as Rivers stubborness when it comes to rotations.
- E) Joel Embiid’s prime years cannot be wasted.
The 76ers put themselves in the perfect position. They were the Eastern Conference’s number one seed. They had home court advantage in the playoffs. They had an MVP finalist, a defensive player of the year finalist, and 3 players named to the NBA’s all defensive teams. But, when it mattered most, flaws and missteps revealed themselves.
The organizational mismanagement depicted itself in real time as time ticked away on the 76ers season. Not having a player on the roster capable of creating their own shot and depending solely on a 7’2 270 pound center on a torn meniscus to be the only source of offense when a bucket was needed, was the end result.
Embiid, although carrying the bulk of the load offensively, is also not without blame (albeit a minuscule amount). In the last three games of the series against the Hawks, Embiid had 21 total turnovers. Nevertheless, in the current day and age of the NBA, a 7’2 center shouldn’t have to be the sole source of offensive creation in the half-court.
Tobias Harris missed layup after layup. The $180 million man couldn’t be that guy next to Joel Embiid. And frankly, he shouldn’t have been expected to. It’s explicitly clear that Harris is who he is. That being, a fringe starter who can’t be depended upon to consistently go and get a bucket when needed.
Doc Rivers tried a combination of Shake Milton (in the 4th quarter of a game 7 when Shake hadn’t played all game), George Hill, and Tyrese Maxey in an attempt to produce some sort of offense. It didn’t work. Whether staying with a 5 man rotation of 4 bench players plus one starter, going too deep into the rotation, predictable offensive sets, or a specific player’s on court play that has been criticized time and time again (and the coddling of that player), the inability of Rivers to adjust and change up strategy did them in.
And perhaps the most disappointing occurrence of this entire debacle, the second franchise cornerstone and $177 million man, pulled the ultimate disappearing act when his team needed him the most. Throughout the entirety of 2nd round series against the Hawks, Ben Simmons attempted just 3 shots in the 4th quarter. Simmons routinely stood quiescently chained to the dunker spot, appearing almost scared to even touch the ball. Simmons flat out faltered in the moment.
When the player leading the charge on offense is a 20-year old rookie guard and not your 5th-year $177 million franchise cornerstone, that’s a huge issue.
Taking an aerial glimpse at the entire series, it can be summed up as a full scale meltdown on every level. Blowing 18 and 26 point leads in back-to-back games cannot be placed at the feet of just one individual. Losing a game 7 on your home-court is not the fault of one individual.
For a team that has been marred in change over the last five years–two head coaches, five different roster iterations, constant front office shuffling, and three lead execs– it’s a bit emblematic that the exact antithesis of such was what led to the end of the road for the 2020-21 Philadelphia 76ers.
Joel Embiid finished 2nd in MVP voting and he only finished 2nd because of injuries which raises another point. Joel Embiid’s talent level and potential at the center position is some of the greatest we’ve seen since Hakeem Olajuwon. The 76ers organization cannot afford to waste his prime years habitually being ousted in the 2nd round.
Daryl Morey didn’t do enough to build a true winner. He failed to address the primary issue that has caused the Sixers to fail year after year, that being not having consistent perimeter creation within the half-court offense. And the effects of this rippled throughout the team, revealing themselves in the worst way in the worst possible moment.
Now the question becomes, where do the 76ers go from here?
Do they move Ben Simmons? Do they look to move Tobias Harris? Do they look to run it back with the core of the team intact, adding talent around the margins?
The unequivocal fact of the situation is that they were not good enough. And that’s on every level.
They were once again halted in the 2nd round. New coach, new GM, and new pieces around the two franchise cornerstones yet the result is still the same.
There is work to do.
Cover Image Credit: Matt Slocum/AP