The Philadelphia 76ers’ playoff run came to a disappointing end again after a brutal Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday night. Once again, the Sixers fell short in two consecutive games in the big stage. After getting a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals series against their rivals, the 76ers failed to get into the Conference Finals—something they did for the last time back in 2001.
Despite falling short in the big moment, the 76ers felt like the team with the highest chances to get out of the East this postseason. They sailed through the first-round series vs. the Brooklyn Nets and pushed the Celtics — one of the fellow East contenders—to the brink of elimination.
Game 7 was a split experience for the Sixers’ fans. In the first half, the visitors showed resilience and put together a good performance, even though Embiid and Harden were struggling to be relevant offensively. However, in the third quarter, the Sixers’ hope for a trip to the Conference Finals was crushed as Boston made a 33-10 run and dominated the game with Jayson Tatum leading the way.
James Harden and Joel Embiid combined for 9 shots in the second half and only made two, while they were bad in the defensive end. As a result, the Sixers’ season ended and the front office is likely bound to make some changes regarding the next season’s campaign.
With that said, here are two storylines you should be following after the Sixers’ brutal finish to the season.
Doc Rivers’ future with the franchise
Doc Rivers has been one of the best veteran coaches in the league, and Philadelphia hired him for his ability to lead star-studded rosters. Despite the great results in the regular season, Rivers wasn’t able to lead his team to success in the last three postseasons. The Sixers failed to get through the Eastern Conference semifinals in all three occasions.
Moreover, he added to a playoff record that sees his teams crumbling in elimination games as they are 17-33 in games in which they had a chance to clinch a playoff series. With Rivers’ on the bench, Philadelphia faced adversity in the previous seasons, but, they were always one of the top regular season teams.
However, playoffs are a different story and the Sixers had the upper hand against Boston and Atlanta in two of the last three postseason runs and they never delivered in the big moments. In the series loss versus Atlanta, the blame fell to Ben Simmons and the rest of the supporting cast, but this time it was a different situation.
Philadelphia was outscored and outhustled on both ends after a relatively good first half, where the Sixers performed well as a team. The Sixers appeared uninspired in the third and fourth quarter of a Game 7 and that could fall on Rivers. With that said, Rivers might become the latest coach to get fired after consecutive winning seasons following Mike Budenholzer and Monty Williams.
James Harden shows duality as a star on a team
James Harden could become a free agent again this offseason after signing for less money last summer in order to accommodate the Philadelphia 76ers in hope to put together a deep team around him and Embiid. They did that, and things were going well for them until Game 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Harden, 34, showed everything he was known for as a player during the series against Boston. He had moments of greatness in Game 1, when the Sixers won without Embiid and grabbed the home court advantage from the Celtics. His great performance followed by two consecutive stinkers, where he was unable to become a factor.
In a reality, the 76ers were a dominant force against a fellow title contender in the games that Harden was playing at his former MVP gear. In Game 4 he hit the winning shot, while in Game 5 was more of a facilitator helping Tyrese Maxey and Embiid registered 30+ points game. However, he was nowhere to be found in Game 6 and 7 as he combined for a horrendous 7 of 27 from the field, while the Sixers scored under 100 points in both elimination games.
Harden said after the Game 7 loss that he believes his team can bounce back and win, while he was asked to address his future, claiming that he haven’t thought about it so far.
“I feel like we had a pretty solid team. Obviously, you always look to get better, whether it’s the personnel you have now or adding pieces. We’ll see how it goes,” Harden noted.
Regardless of what Harden and Embiid say, the Sixers might need to tweak things before entering the 2023-24 season with a newfound belief that they can win after another total collapse in the big stage.