The 76ers will have to spend their summer thinking, thinking about what could have been.
They fell to a 103-96 game seven loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, missing out on a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.
Joel Embiid had 31 points and 11 rebounds. Tobias Harris scored 24 points on 8-for-24 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds.
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey now enters an offseason that will feature some high-stakes questions. Embiid is eligible for a four-year, supermax extension. Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott will become unrestricted free agents. The Sixers have the 28th and 50th pick in the draft.
Here’s three takeaways:
Embiid gives it all, turnover problems
Playing his seventh consecutive game on a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, Embiid scored the Sixers’ first six points with two pull-up jumpers and two free throws. He also guarded Trae Young on a switch and forced an air ball, a play the fans gave a loud ovation for.
Harris was the first non-Embiid Sixer to get on the board, doing so on a coast-to-coast drive. As usual, the Sixers looked far more fluid and dangerous in transition than in half-court offense.
Embiid drew the second foul on Clint Capela with 30.7 seconds to go in the first quarter. That forced Atlanta to bring in 20-year-old Onyeka Okongwu, who Embiid powered through to score on the final possession of the opening quarter, putting the Sixers up 28-25. The only notable flaw of Embiid’s first quarter was three missed foul shots, but his determination to create contact and carry the Sixers offensively was exactly what the team needed.
Okongwu held up fine on Embiid. The Hawks, for a matter of fact, began the second period on an 8-0 run highlighted by two Danilo Gallinari threes.
The Sixers were screwed over by the officiating on several occasions early in the second quarter. It seemed their run had reached a peak when it looked like Ben Simmons had been called for his second foul as Young was about to take a timeout. However, the Sixers caught a break, with the officials ultimately ruling Young’s timeout came before any foul and then assessing the Hawks star point guard a technical foul for his vehement disagreement.
Embiid erased the Sixers’ five-point deficit entering the fourth quarter with a foul-line jumper and trailing three-ball, but he couldn’t save the day down the stretch.
Turnovers were again an issue for Embiid, who committed eight. The Sixers had 17 turnovers as a team, while the Hawks only had 10.
Trying to rest the stars
Tyrese Maxey was the first Sixer off the bench, followed by George Hill, Dwight Howard, and Matisse Thybulle. Shake Milton played four fourth-quarter minutes, as well.
Harris was 0-for-3 with two points in his first stretch with Howard. The Sixers still initially managed to avoid a dive in the Embiid-less minutes, though. Howard missed a layup but also grabbed an offensive rebound, giving the Sixers another possession that eventually resulted in a Thybulle three-pointer.
Embiid ended up playing 41 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter. Harris went 45.
In the third quarter, Howard cost the Sixers a possession with a moving screen but then snuffed out an Atlanta trip with a block on Okongwu. Soon after, he left John Collins open under the rim and committed a flagrant foul. If Howard’s minutes were anything, they were eventful.
Though Howard is an upgrade over the past few back up centers the Sixers have had the last few seasons, the team had to feel somewhat uneasy whenever he was on the court and Embiid was resting. In Howard’s seven minutes, the Sixers were outscored by five points.
Before the series, Rivers had said he thought Simmons and Harris were capable of guarding centers. He still used Howard in every game, however, instead of employing small-ball options.
Sixers unable to capitalize on a Young off night
Young recorded 21 points on 5-for-23 shooting. Simmons and Thybulle did well on the ball, the Sixers changed their looks on him and Harris was solid on switches. The Sixers were also lucky with a few open misses.
Young was bound to make an important shot at some point, though. He nailed a long three-pointer with 2:31 left to give Atlanta a 93-87 lead.
After an opening half in which he recorded eight assists but rarely considered seeking his own shot, Simmons picked up his fourth foul early in the third with perhaps his most aggressive play of the game offensively. He plowed through John Collins on a full-steam fast break. Rivers kept Simmons in the game for another five minutes or so, valuing his defense and transition playmaking.
Young continued creating positive plays despite his shooting struggles. He posed problems for the Sixers all series when he got downhill, either kicking the ball out to open shooters or hooking up with Clint Capela on alley-oops.
The Furkan Korkmaz vs. Kevin Huerter matchup was a troublesome one early for the Sixers as Huerter started 4-for-4 from the floor. The Sixers switched things up, putting Korkmaz on Bogdan Bogdanovic, who played through right knee soreness and scored four points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Seth Curry took Huerter, who finished with 27 points and was impressive regardless of the man guarding him. Thybulle committed a very costly foul on Huerter with 54.0 seconds left, bumping him on a three-point try. Huerter made all three attempts, putting the Hawks up 96-92.
For the game, Simmons had five points on 2-for-4 shooting, 13 assists and eight rebounds.
The Hawks intentionally fouled him to stop a potential fast break with 1:48 left, and he split the free throws.
Scoring isn’t everything, of course, but we’ll note Simmons had 19 points over the series’ final three games.
A big Simmons takeaway was in the fourth quarter, Simmons was in the paint and was in for an easy dunk. But, he decided to pass the ball away and let Thybulle get fouled and settle for 1-for-2 from the line.
Embiid said this postgame: “I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when we — I don’t know how to say it — is when we had an open shot and we made one free throw…”
The season, unfortunately, is over. I had fun covering the Sixers all year and writing articles from day one to this game seven loss.
It’s always fun to go back and see the improvement I’ve made in writing these articles since game one.
I would like to thank all of you for reading these articles and supporting me through this season, it truly means the world to me.
Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks will be Wednesday night in Milwaukee.