For the third time in four years, the Philadelphia 76ers were shown the door from the NBA Playoffs in the second round, but this one might be the most disappointing of them all.
The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 overall seed couldn’t get past a hot No. 5 Atlanta Hawks side that made the NBA world known that their upset of the New York Knicks in the first round wasn’t a fluke. No, this team is for real.
But the 76ers should have never let them get this close to a Game 7 decider that they fell on the wrong side of on Sunday night.
The series ultimately turned in Game 5 when the Sixers blew a 26-point lead in Philadelphia, forcing them to claw out a win in Atlanta on Friday night just to force that Game 7.
Naturally, the onus falls on the 76ers’ dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who played key roles in the Sixers’ demise — but that didn’t stop Embiid from pointing the finger at a few other places before placing the blame on his shoulders.
That included the officiating.
“There’s a lot of stuff that went wrong,” Embiid said. “Whether it’s they can foul me all they want. Whether it’s the officiating. Tonight, you got guys fouling, putting their hands up with me going for a dunk, and they don’t call anything. It’s just the last three games, it’s been the same way, over and over.
“Then, last game, I get fined for having my arms out while I’m getting pushed in the freaking back. And I got fined just because, I don’t know why.
“So, there’s a lot of stuff that went wrong. As a team, we still have to be better. We still had a good chance to win. We just made a lot of mistakes.”
One of the most egregious mistakes was a missed opportunity by Ben Simmons to post up an easy dunk with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter with the Sixers trailing by two. Instead, he dished it to Matisse Thybule, who was fouled and hit only one of those.
And Embiid wasn’t afraid to call it out.
“I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when, I don’t know how to say it— I thought the turning point was we had an open shot and we made one free throw and we missed the other and they came down and scored,” Embiid said. “We didn’t get a good possession on the other end and Trae [Young] came back and he made a three and then from there, down four, it’s on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point.”
Of course, Embiid wasn’t exempt from some of the blame. He had eight costly turnovers in Game 7 and a combined 25 over the final four games of the season. There were also some miserable shooting performances including a 9-of-24 showing in Game 6 and an even worse 4-for-20 outing in Game 4. Granted, it was a gargantuan effort just to play the whole series while being hindered by a partially torn meniscus in his knee.
“Just have to be better,” Embiid said. “Personally I felt like I took a huge step this year, and there’s so much more I can do. I can be so much better…
“Next year I’m going to be even better… It’s on me. I got to be better. I got to take another step with it comes to taking care of my body, and my game as a whole because I still feel like I have a lot of untapped potential that people haven’t really seen.”