The Sixers took a six-point lead into the second quarter of game seven in Boston and then pitifully folded like the losers they are, getting outscored 89 to 59 the rest of the way en route to a 24-point loss. Jayson Tatum played like a superstar for Boston while Philadelphia’s best and highest-paid players instead pulled a David Blaine-inspired disappearing act. James Harden played so poorly that he looked like Atlanta-series Ben Simmons at times, while MVP and scoring champion Joel Embiid underwhelmed on the biggest stage, in the biggest game of his career.
What happened to the determined, focused, and totally unflappable team we saw in game five? Sunday’s version of the Sixers looked like the choking dogs of years past, incapable of showing one iota of the required mettle or mindset to get the playoff job done. The moment just always seems be to too big for them, and when the best players from Boston, Toronto, Atlanta, and Miami rise to the occasion in the second round, the Sixers inevitably wither and fade.
In this crucial, pivotal, franchise-trajectory-defining game, Harden had more turnovers than made field goals. He showed zero interest in attacking the rim and looked like a lifeless husk of the guy who singlehandedly won game one and then went on to pull the series level at 2-2.
James Harden is a loser.
What about the MVP? His teammates go out and get him a 1-0 series lead, they punt game two while Embiid knocks off the knee injury rust, then we get a Joel who just isn’t good enough when it matters most. That is a fact. As amazing as he’s been in the regular season for several years now, he simply is not impacting the game like a tier 1 superstar in the playoffs.
Joel Embiid is a loser.
Tobias Harris was given a five-year, $180 million contract that always amounted to a gross overpay. He’s a $15 million per year type of guy who was earning twice that, but not performing anywhere close to it.
Tobias Harris is a loser.
And then there’s the coach, Doc Rivers. When the stars don’t show up, it’s hard to blame the guy on the sidelines, but he’s now presided over three-straight second round exits and is 17-33 all time in playoff-clinching games. It’s obvious that he’s not the coach to take this team forward.
Doc Rivers is a loser.
Who else did we forget? Oh yeah, Georges Niang decided to grab Jaylen Brown’s leg while sitting on the bench, picking up a technical in the process.
Georges Niang is a loser.
The jury is still out on the rest of the roster. Tyrese Maxey is young with a ton of potential, so hopefully he hasn’t been permanently compromised by the emanating loser teammate stank. Paul Reed has a future. De’Anthony Melton is a role player. P.J. Tucker did what he could, knocking down some threes in game seven and trying to impart a bit of dawg in his loser teammates, but you can only do so much in that regard.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that every other Philadelphia team seems to find that extra gear and push themselves to play above their level, while the Sixers consistently punch down and underachieve.
In the time since the Sixers last went to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Eagles have played in three Super Bowls, the Flyers have been to a Stanley Cup Final and two more conference finals, the Phillies have played in three World Series, and the Philadelphia Union, who didn’t even exist until 2010, went to MLS Cup and won the Supporter’s Shield. Villanova won a pair of national championships and even Smarty fucking Jones made a run at the Triple Crown.
It really is pitiful, and now there are a lot of hard decisions that need to be made. Is Doc gone? Likely. There are too many quality replacements available right now to stick with him. Is James Harden gone? Hopefully. Can they find another team to eat the last year of the Harris contract? Doubtful, but fingers are crossed. Does Josh Harris get involved, or is he focused on his shiny new NFL toy? Who knows.
And what about Joel Embiid? Can you win a title when your best player is an oft-injured big in a perimeter-heavy league? You have to think about the tactical basketball epoch we’re currently living in. It’s much more than whether or not Joel has “it” from a mental standpoint.
We talked a lot this year about the idea of keeping this Sixers team at arm’s length, the thought that fans were only paying half-attention because they didn’t want to over-invest and get burned again in the playoffs. These fans just experienced five-straight seasons of justifiably-high expectations and disappointing finishes, so of course you become wary of devoting time and energy into the same thing that just let you down. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me five more times in a row, shame on my dumb ass.
Expect little juice for this team moving forward. If they had been competitive and lost in a similar fashion to Kawhi’s buzzer-beater, so be it. But these guys didn’t even keep it remotely close, they fucking folded when it mattered most. No fight, no resilience, no guts, no grit, no drive, no determination, no mettle, no nothing.
Your team, your town, your 76ers.