Happy Groundhog Day Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia 76ers have been eliminated from the NBA playoffs in the same way they have lost every other playoff series since 2001, in the second round. The Sixers lost game 7 to the Celtics 112-88 with one of the most embarrassing playoff performances this city has ever seen.
The Sixers were up 3-2 in this series with a chance to close them out on your home court. The series ended in that 4th quarter collapse. They blew it and maybe blew their best chance to win a championship.
This Sixers team has a lot of work to do this offseason, and there have to be changes. The future of this franchise hangs on the moves they make this summer, and Daryl Morey needs to take a long look in the mirror and realize that next year might be our last chance at a championship. Running it back with the same team is not an option, or else why should we care about this team going forward?
The Sixers have an owner whose time is divided with city rivals, a President of Basketball Operations who has never built a champion, two-star players who have a legacy for shrinking in the playoffs, and a coach who has blown the most playoff series in NBA history. From top to bottom, this franchise does not know how to be a champion, and it is hard to imagine this version of the 76ers will ever be champions.
All season long I kept saying this team was different and all season long this team felt different. Well as it turns out, this team was the exact same. The Sixers lost the fanbase last night, and it is going to be extremely hard to get it back.
Joel Embiid Disappoints
In the biggest game of his life, Embiid played one of the worst games of his life. Embiid finished the game with 15 points and 8 rebounds. Embiid’s effort from the tip was pathetic, and it really makes you wonder if the Sixers can ever win a championship with him as the best player. The Sixers have had different coaches and different players, yet one person stays the same. The common denominator is Embiid. In years past Embiid has slid under the radar because of the play of people around him. At a certain point, you have to look at the best player, the MVP of the NBA. If we as a fanbase believe Embiid is the guy that can bring us a championship, he does what Jayson Tatum does in game 7. He takes over the game and wins it by himself by scoring 51 points. But Embiid never does that, it’s always someone else’s fault.
People want Embiid to play like he is a center back in the 1970s, but that is just not his game. He can not handle double teams, and he can struggle in the post. Joel’s game is from the foul line extended, and he went away from that yesterday. It’s not 1970 anymore, and Joel can not play like it is and succeed.
Maybe as a fanbase, we have to accept the reality that while Joel is a top-three regular-season player, he can not be relied on to drag you to a championship. No player can win a championship alone, and Embiid’s co-stars deserve a ton of blame as well, but the MVP of the league does not put up a performance like Embiid did last night.
Now that Embiid has won his MVP award, he needs to treat the regular season like it does not matter. Embiid has been injured in just about every second-round series in his career, and I believe his fatigue showed yesterday. Doc Rivers talked about how he hoped that Embiid could be healthy for a playoff series just once. Bryce Harper was the best player in the 2022 MLB postseason with a torn UCL, stop blaming the injuries. If you are on the court you are expected to perform. The only thing that matters in the NBA is the playoffs, and Joel needs to start treating it that way.
After past playoff losses, Embiid has thrown his teammates under the bus in post-game press conferences. We all did not care because he was just saying what we were all thinking. But yesterday he crossed a line. After the game, Embiid stated, “Me and James, we can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five-on-five. We need everybody to find ways to be better”. In a game 7 where you shot just 23% from the field, this is embarrassing. He did say he needs to be better but he always has to find a way to pass blame. You are the MVP of the NBA and put up an all-time stinker performance, don’t blame your teammates.
While I do not believe the Sixers should trade Embiid this offseason, this next season may be his last in Philadelphia. Whether he requests a trade, or they blow it up, this next year may be their last shot with Embiid.
Have Fun in Houston
Another player who no-showed last night was James Harden. Harden finished with 9 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. It seemed as if Harden was playing basketball in the rain last night as multiple times the ball slipped out of his hands. He was nonaggressive in the lane and was forcing bad shots from the outside. The best version of Harden is when is he aggressive, and he was extremely timid yesterday. He seemed completely disinterested in actually scoring the basketball while foul grifting. He only showed up in two of the seven games of this series, and that is unacceptable for a “co-star”.
If the Philadelphia 76ers are serious about winning a championship James Harden can not be on this team next season. I don’t care how much Daryl Morey loves him, this version of Harden is not a championship-caliber player. Every team that has won a championship has multiple players who are consistently good throughout a playoff run. In his two postseasons with the Sixers Harden has been anything but consistent. He shows just enough in a few games to keep the hope alive, but when you need him most he disappears.
Joel Embiid has never had a co-star that he can count on in the playoffs. The Sixers are never going to get anywhere when the team keeps players around him who can not hack it in the playoffs. First, it was Ben Simmons, now it’s James Harden. Harden turned into Simmons multiple times this series by not even looking at the basket when he enters the paint. No MVP can win a championship alone, and the Sixers need to find someone who can be consistent.
James Harden will be 34 to start next season and giving him a large contract extension would be a disaster. If this is what he looks like now, I can’t imagine what he looks like in 3 years. Harden does have a player option for next season so it may not be the Sixers’ choice whether or not he is here next year, but you can not extend him. This team will get nowhere with an aging Harden on the roster, and the Sixers need to find a way to turn him into something valuable.
There have been countless reports of Harden wanting to go back to Houston, including one this morning from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN where he said Harden is very serious about a return to Houston. That is completely fine with me, just make sure it’s a sign and trade.
Same Old Glenn Rivers
Stop me if you have heard this before, Doc Rivers has blown a 3-2 series lead. While I believe Rivers has done a good job this season, the results are the results and the team needs a new person at the head. When taking to account if he should return or not, his whole body of work has to be judged. In 2021 he was a major part of the team blowing a 2-1 series lead to the Atlanta Hawks. In 2022 the Sixers lost in 6 games to the Miami Heat. In 2023 the Sixers blew a 3-2 series lead to the Boston Celtics. That was the 7th time in his career he has blown a series with a either 3-1 or 3-2 series lead. At a certain point, it does not become a coincidence.
Jayson Tatum ran the same play over, and over, and over again and the Sixers made zero adjustments. If Rivers is not going to make a difference, he doesn’t need to be here.