The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers were knocked out by the underdog Atlanta Hawks in Game Seven Sunday night, 103-96.
Kevin Huerter led the Hawks with 27 points and seven rebounds while Joel Embiid went for 31 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort. Trae Young had an inefficient night shooting the ball (5-23 FG) but notched 21 points and 10 assists and made clutch buckets for the Hawks down the stretch.
Atlanta is back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015, where they will face the Milwaukee Bucks and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This result is nothing short of a catastrophic failure for the Sixers: it is a total failure at every level and there is no excuse.
First and foremost, General Manager Elton Brand deserves serious criticism for his decisions to extend Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris on max contracts after the 2019 season. The pair of Sixers were rewarded for a Conference Semifinal in Game Seven— perhaps Simmons and Harris were conditioned to believe that was the end goal, because they weakly fell out in the same manner this year.
Joel Embiid has also not played up to his contract, regardless of his MVP runner-up status this year. Let me make myself clear when I say this: I do not care what his stat-line looks like. Embiid missed two crucial free throws with 11 seconds left in Game Five and allowed Atlanta to pull a 26-point comeback, completely disappeared in a Game Four loss in which he went 4-20 from the field and let the underdog Hawks win three games on the road after leading his team to a 29-7 record at Wells Fargo Center in the regular season.
So far in his career, Embiid has made $100,775,877 from his contract— $80,794,851 of that has come since he signed his extension in the summer of 2018. The Philadelphia 76ers have played exactly 227 regular-season games during that span, yet Embiid has only participated in 166 games. This means that whereas his contract should be allocated at $355,924.45 per game, he has earned $486,715.97 for suiting— essentially, Phili is paying a 137% premium on Embiid because of his health, which has also limited him in the playoffs.
Back to Simmons; to say that he has been calamitous lately is not an understatement. Somehow, an All-Star and All-NBA First-Team defender allowed Trae Young, who is giving up 10 inches and 60 pounds of size, to average 29 points and 10.9 points in this series. Simmons was horrendous offensively as well, posting a line of 9.9 points, 8.5 assists and 6.3 rebounds in the series. These numbers look like they belong to Draymond Green as the fourth option on a team that includes Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, not to a man that is the second option and was deemed “the Next LeBron.”
Simmons was pathetic at the free-throw line too and has only been getting worse as time has gone by. He shot 70.7% at the line in the 2018 playoffs, 57.5% in 2019, and 34.2% in 2021. That mark is the lowest ever for a player with 70+ postseason attempts.
Simmons’ confidence got so low that he passed up a wide-open look directly under the rim, trailing by two points and with 3:30 left in the game. The closest defender was the miniature Trae Young, yet Simmons still could not bring himself to get the easiest two points of the series; he could not even bring himself to attempt a field goal in the fourth quarter of the final four games, finishing 0-0 during that stretch.
Simmons ended Game Seven with five points on 2-4 shooting.
Another member of the 76ers organization that cannot escape fault is Doc Rivers, brought in from the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason to end the trend of early playoff exits. Rivers choked a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets last year and threw this series away with poor management of Simmons in the fourth quarter and a failure to scheme for Trae Young as a playmaker, even though he struggled shooting the ball in games four and seven.
Rivers has one championship as Head Coach of the Boston Celtics on his resume, but it is rather deplorable outside of that. He has appeared in more Game Sevens than any other coach in NBA history, yet is only 6-9; meanwhile, Doc’s replacement in LA, Tyronn Lue, is 12-1 in playoff games with a chance to end the series. Rivers has also blown three 3-1 series leads and only made three conference finals in 22 seasons as a head coach.
The only player that showed up in every game for Phili was Seth Curry, a first-year arrival from the Dallas Mavericks. Curry scored a playoff career-high 36 points in Game Five and averaged 21 points for the series, the second-highest on the team behind Embiid. Curry also looked like the second-best player on the team and, at times, the most dangerous. He finished the series shooting 51-84 (61.4%) on field goals and 31-52 (59.6%) on threes.
There is no more trust for “the process” in Philadelphia: the Atlanta Hawks went to a conference finals the year Joel Embiid was drafted and are on their way back with a completely different team.
The Sixers have blamed Jimmy Butler, JJ Reddick, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and Brett Brown at one point or another, used three lottery picks to improve their team, and are now running thin on excuses. If Philadelphia could not get past a team with zero All-Stars, a miniscule point guard making his playoff debut, and an Interim Head Coach that took over less than three months ago, there is little to no hope moving forward.
Nobody on the 76ers roster should be considered “safe” from the trade block this offseason because they are headed nowhere fast.
Well done Atlanta for making the conference finals and setting a date with the Milwaukee Bucks. This was the 76ers’ chance to take an easy path to the championship, and they failed miserably.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.