December 9, 2023

The Biggest Game of the Process Era — 76ers @ Celtics Game 7 Preview


May 11, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in action during the second quarter in game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Mother’s Day! Unfortunately for all of the wonderful mothers out there, the Philadelphia 76ers play the biggest game of the last 21 years today.

After a great game 5 win on the road, the Sixers blew a huge opportunity to close the Celtics out at home, and it seems all the confidence from the fanbase is gone. If the Sixers lose this game, and series, it will be extremely hard to get the city to buy back in for a long time. This game is a culmination of everything we as a fanbase have been through since the process began, and they need to win it.

The Sixers need Joel Embiid to have his legacy moment today. While we hope legacy moments will come in Conference and NBA Finals, you can not have those moments without winning these games. After an amazing performance in game 5, it seemed as if he had turned a corner. In game 6 Embiid was great on the defensive end of the court but somewhat had his struggles on the offensive end. The Celtics coach made the adjustment of starting Robert Williams III instead of Derrick White, allowing Williams and Horford to double Embiid down low. The Celtics coaching staff do not respect P.J. Tucker as a shooter enough, so they used his man defender as a roamer daring him to shoot. This will likely be the plan again tonight, and Embiid needs to be smart with the ball. While it may not show up in the box score, he needs to make all the right plays offensively. Whether that is taking the elbow jumper, or finding the open shooter, he just has to be in control.

The Sixers did not get Embiid the ball enough down the stretch in game 6, and despite this game being a blowout, this can not happen again. Embiid has been one of the best players in the clutch all season long with multiple game-winning shots. He is the MVP of the NBA, let him do what he is supposed to do.

This very well could be James Harden’s last game in a 76ers uniform. With a player option this offseason, and countless rumors of a return to Houston, it seems hard to believe that if they lose this series he will be back. This Sixers team seemingly goes as James goes. In games 1,4, and 5, Harden played really well and the team won. In games 2,3, and 6, Harden was horrible and the team lost. After 2 days of rest, the Sixers need James Harden to be among the top 75 players of all time he is. Harden has a legacy of losing, and he can change all of that this season. If he plays badly tonight, then goes back to Houston, his legacy will be that of someone who could not do it in the playoffs.

Harden does not need to be 40-plus points Harden today for the Sixers to win. He just needs to be his average. Harden proved in game 5 of this series that he does not have to be the leading scorer for them to win. The biggest factor for Harden is his shooting efficiency. In game 6 he shot just 18% from the field. If he shoots closer to 50% and has around 10 assists, the Sixers will likely be moving on.

Another player who may be playing their last game in a Sixers uniform today is Tobias Harris. Harris will be entering the last year of his contract and will be a primary trade chip. Even though no one expects Harris to play like a max player, scoring just 2 points in 42 minutes is unacceptable. Harris has played good defense on Jayson Tatum, but he needs to show up on the offensive end. Even if the Sixers win this series Harris may be gone, but the Sixers can not win this game without him showing up offensively.

Despite doing a good job this season, Doc Rivers’s job, and career may be on the line today. Rivers has a reputation for blowing series leads, and if he blows another one it will be hard to justify him returning to the team. Joe Mazzulla made a major change by inserting Robert Williams III into the Celtics’ starting lineup for game 6, and Rivers needs to have a counterpunch today. Williams was able to be a roamer and left P.J. Tucker and Melton wide open for threes, which they missed. It is not Rivers’ fault that his players missed shots, but it is his fault that P.J. Tucker is in that position. Everyone loves Tucker, and he is a winner, but if the Celtics are daring him to shoot he can not be on the floor.

Rivers also deserves blame for Embiid not getting the ball down the stretch in game 6. It is a coach’s job to put his players in the best position to succeed, and the team succeeding is Embiid getting the ball down the stretch of close games. If you see he has not touched it, call a play to get him the ball. You are the coach, do not talk about how the players did not trust each other enough, get Embiid the ball.

Sixers fans have been through so much in the last decade, and it may all come down to today. In the biggest game of the Joel Embiid era, how will they respond?

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