Coming Up Small, Again – Observations from Hawks 103, Sixers 96 (Game 7)

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This was the biggest 76ers game in 20 years. Bigger than Toronto in 2019. This team had higher expectations and home court advantage. Legacies were on the line in front of a raucous, full-capacity Philly crowd and national television audience.

And they blew it.

They lost three times at home to the Atlanta Hawks and crashed out of the playoffs in pathetic fashion, coming up short in all phases of the game.

You have to pause and think about the path the Sixers had to the Eastern Conference Finals. All they had to do was beat the Wizards and Hawks (minus a starter) at home. Brooklyn and Milwaukee were on the other side of the bracket. Boston stunk. Miami stunk. The Knicks and Pacers stunk. They seriously could not have had more of a cakewalk to the ECF and they totally caved.

Oh yeah, and LeBron was out of the picture and the West had no dominant team this year. It might be another 20 years until the Sixers get this kind of postseason path again, and that is not an exaggeration. This goes down as one of the most pitiful collapses in Philadelphia sports history. It’s just as bad, if not worse, than the Eagles’ NFC Championship game losses to the Cardinals and Bucs.

More than any kind of coaching/rotations/officiating stuff, the Sixers needed a Game 7 superstar performance from one of their max players, and they didn’t get one. Tobias Harris shot 8-24. Joel Embiid turned the ball over eight times. Ben Simmons was AWOL in the fourth quarter, as has been the case for some time now. Add to that disappointment the fact that Atlanta was successfully hunting Seth Curry on offense, Danny Green wasn’t available, and the bench couldn’t do anything, and it’s like taking every individual year-long concern and molding them into one amalgam nightmare that should haunt dreams perpetually.

And then there’s Doc Rivers, who inexplicably decided to go 10-deep in a Game 7. Now he adds another blown series lead to his already-highly-suspect postseason record:

“Listen, this team last year got swept in the first round,” Rivers said postgame. “We had a chance to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m not going to make this into a negative year.”

Except that it is a negative year. It’s a monolithically negative year. Three second round exits in four years is not acceptable, even if Rivers only oversaw one of those disappointments. He’s certainly not culpable for what happened prior to his arrival, but Sixers fans now have enough evidence to know that Joel Embiid + Ben Simmons + Tobias Harris is not it. It works in the regular season but schematically is not capable of executing high-leverage, half court, postseason offensive basketball.

On the last few possessions last night:

  • Ben Simmons passed on a dunk.
  • Simmons split a pair of free throws.
  • Matisse Thybulle fouled Kevin Huerter while shooting a three.
  • Embiid turned the ball over and missed a three.
  • Shake Milton got away with an up and down call after banking in a miracle two-pointer.

All of that is just not good enough, and it’s a shame, because the Sixers were a solid closing team this season. They got positive moments from Embiid and Harris, who couldn’t get it done in the postseason.

“If you wanna circle one thing, it’s 17 turnovers,” said Rivers. “We shot what, 75% from the free throw line? They just had too many extra shots at the end of the day, for us to win the game. Offensively is what, to me, let us down tonight. I thought our defense hung in there as long as it could. We couldn’t make shots. I don’t think we trusted passing tonight. It’s a great lesson for us, but not the lesson we want to learn in a Game 7.”

Joel Embiid

31 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes of play on a torn meniscus.

He carried the load all year long and carried it again Sunday night, and I think the eight turnovers, a lot of that has to do with him being the guy and having to over-dribble in those fourth quarter scenarios. It’s impossible for him to do it all himself and create half-court offense as a center, but that’s the reality of the situation when playing alongside:

Ben Simmons

This has to be it for Ben in a Sixers uniform. A change of scenery would benefit both parties.

He looked a lot better to start the third quarter but got whistled for a questionable offensive foul on a downhill drive to the basket. Doc left him in with four fouls, and he responded with a couple of assists and then hit that alley oop reverse dunk. It helped that the Sixers were able to get into transition a lot more in the third quarter, but when the game slowed down and became static, he went back to being his ineffective self, highlighted by this play, which will live in infamy:

Said Simmons of this play:

“I just assumed Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) was coming over my back. Then Collins moved out, so I thought we had a wide-open dunk.”

Yeah, well, it didn’t happen that way.

And then coming out of the two-minute timeout, Simmons got a steal, but was fouled with the ball in his hands and went on to split the free throws, which happened to be his only trip to the foul line that entire game.

“Offensively, I wasn’t there this series,” he said. There’s a lot of things I need to work on.”

If you want to sum it up in one tweet it’s this one:

Said Rivers on Ben Simmons:

“Obviously he struggled from the free-throw line and that became a factor in this series. There’s no doubt about that. Still believe in him, but we have work to do. Gonna have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go forward.”

Don’t waste your time. Just start looking for a trade partner. C.J. McCollum makes sense. There are enough rebuilding teams that would take a stab at Ben. His value is not as low as people think it is and he just can’t continue with this team, in this city.

Seth Curry

One of the best players in this entire series, he only played 31 minutes in Game 7. A couple of early fouls send him to the bench, and the defensive issues were glaring in the second half, which is unfortunate. It was difficult for Rivers to hide Curry, because they already had Simmons defending Gallinari and didn’t have another body to go to. They just didn’t have a lot of options.

Curry still scored 16 points on 6-10 shooting, despite the limited run.

Tobias Harris

24 and 14 in Game 7, but he only shot 33%.

He was a 51% shooter this year and if they got a little bit more from him during the back-end of this series, maybe they’re advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rotational stuff

This was a mess. Rivers went ten-deep.

The Curry fouls in the first quarter saw Tyrese Maxey come in early, and then Doc gave us Dwight Howard and George Hill while keeping Simmons on the floor. That Simmons/Howard lineup has not been good offensively this season.

It looked like this:

  1. Ben Simmons
  2. Tyrese Maxey
  3. George Hill
  4. Tobias Harris
  5. Dwight Howard

Doc then came out of the timeout with a lineup of Howard/Hill/Harris/Thybulle/Maxey, so that’s nine deep in the first quarter of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Fast forward to 5:00 in the second and Embiid again exited for Howard. That left us with Hill/Howard and three starters for about 2:32, when Trae Young committed that offensive foul by bulldozing Curry, which allowed Embiid to get back on the floor during the stoppage.

In the second half, we got some third quarter Thybulle and third quarter Maxey along with Howard, who again just did spot duty for Embiid. Hill also played third quarter minutes. It was four bench players plus Harris, then Embiid came back in around the two minute mark.

And when, for whatever reason, Doc opened the fourth quarter with Shake Milton and Thybulle joining the starters. Milton hadn’t played a single minute up to that point. He brought Curry back in at the 7:33 mark and closed with Thybulle and the starters, subbing on George Hill to help on both ends down the stretch.

Turnovers

12.5 per game in the playoffs

14.4 per game in the regular season.

They committed nine in the first half of this game and eight in the second half.

Again it just created a situation where the Sixers shot fewer field goals than Atlanta, and on a night where they weren’t sharp offensively, losing the volume battle is the last thing you want. It’s disappointing because this team has improved in the turnover department since Brett Brown’s middle years.

Tyrese Maxey

Couple of rookie moments in the early going, with a blown hedge and then some turnovers. They needed him to just shake it off and keep playing his game, but unfortunately he finished 0-2 from the floor and only hit a couple of free throws.

Bright future for him, though.

Trae Young

He shot 5-23 from the field and the Sixers still lost. Incredible.

If there’s a silver lining, at least we don’t have to watch more of this:

The NBA is going to change the way these fouls are called, this offseason, and it’s badly needed. It’s just brutal watching that shit on a nightly basis.

Other notes:

  • They got Ryan Howard, Bernie Parent, and Brian Westbrook to ring the bell. One member of each of the other “four for four” sports.
  • This will fall by the wayside, but again, Atlanta played the entire series without De’Andre Hunter. The Sixers got two games out of Danny Green before the calf strain happened.
  • Young didn’t hit a single first quarter shot.
  • They could have used that Harris dunk to end the 1st half.
  • Dwight Howard picking up a flagrant? Brutal.
  • The Eagles chant at the end of the third quarter was also brutal. Jesus Christ. No more Eagles shit at non-Eagles sporting events. We sound like neanderthals.
  • Thanks for reading these recaps this season. I’m not gonna lie; it was really hard to create interesting content without in-person media access. All of the COVID and Zoom stuff really made for a “detached” kind of season.  It really was a slog, but I appreciate everybody who came to Crossing Broad to check out our stuff. Thank you.
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