The Philadelphia 76ers Rely on Joel Embiid’s Energy to a Fault

Heat 76ers Basketball
Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid lifts up his mask during the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Game 5 was absolutely brutal for the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans. The team, including star Joel Embiid, did not bring the appropriate effort to Miami and put forth an embarrassing performance on the hardwood. Embiid’s energy was subpar in last night’s loss, but as big of an issue as that is, the larger problem is that the 76ers need his energy to function.

Joel Embiid’s Lack of Energy/Effort

As the superstar of the team, Joel Embiid will receive the brunt of the negative attention for the team’s forgettable performance, and to a degree, rightfully so. The demand of the game, however, asks more of leaders. They are tasked with setting the tone, no matter the obstacle. As cold as it sounds, part of a leader’s responsibility is to show those under their leadership that they may be bleeding, but they will rise above — if they show their blood at all.

Whether it be about his literal wounds or emotional ones tied to a regular-season award (not to suggest the latter was the case Tuesday night), Joel Embiid’s responsibility to the team is to be the one they turn to in their moment of doubt. The person who inspires, who fights. While Embiid showed more effort and fight than the rest of the team, that is not saying much.

Again, this is not an indictment against Joel Embiid — although he is not to be without blame. No, this issue is deeper than just the team’s superstar. This is about the failure to approach Game 5 for what it was — a critical playoff game. It doesn’t end at Game 5 either; this has been a running trend of the majority of the team coming small often.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ Lack of Energy/Effort

If Joel Embiid does not play at max capacity — from an effort standpoint — the rest of this 76ers team looks completely deflated. It’s already been stated that it’s a leader’s responsibility to motivate the team, but at what point are they responsible for their own failures as well?

When James Harden was traded to this team in February, the plan was for when to be the second option to Joel Embiid; the Robin to his Batman, the Cal Naughton to his Ricky Bobby. And yet, he hasn’t looked the part since his first four games with the 76ers — save for his surprising performance in Game 4. For Harden to not only fail at assuming the mantle when Embiid is not carrying the torch but to further exacerbate the issue with his own laissez-faire approach is not acceptable. Could Harden’s lingering hamstring injury be a contributing factor? Perhaps, but that defense only goes so far.

Two other issues contributing to the 76ers’ lack of effort can be contributed to the team’s youth and lack of playoff experience. The two are in a way intertwined as some players are young in the sense of their age, while others are young in the sense of their experience. To put it into perspective, the only players on this Sixers team who have made it past the second round of the playoffs (with any team) are the aforementioned James Harden and Danny Green, a career role player in the twilight of his career.

Without another member of the team stepping up, such a young — in age and experience — team like the 76ers cannot, or at least seemingly will not, truly find themselves a contender to win it all.

Who Is To Blame?

Many will point to Joel Embiid, James Harden, or head coach Doc Rivers, maybe some will lambaste Daryl Morey for the roster’s construction, or others may refuse to let the tiresome “Tobias Harris is overpaid” talks end. The reality of the situation, though, is much less simple and much less gratifying.

The blame should be shared by everyone. While all may not be equally guilty, all are guilty to some degree, from Joel Embiid to the roster, the coaches, and the front office — including Daryl Morey. There is no scapegoat that will fix this. There is no one deal that fixes everything for the 76ers like there was for the Boston Celtics.

How Can This Be Fixed?

The tough pill to swallow here is that they may not be a solution this season. That is not the answer that anyone wants from the fans to the players, all the way up to Josh Harris; yet, that’s the most likely truth. This isn’t to say the series against the Heat is over — it certainly isn’t — but even if the 76ers would find a win to force, and then win, a Game 7 against Miami, there are still several hurdles in their way.

If the 76ers make the Eastern Conference, they will be facing off against either the Boston Celtics or the Milwaukee Bucks — both of whom would be the favorite over Philly. If they win the Eastern Conference Finals and advance to the NBA Finals — not impossible but certainly improbable — then they will likely face one of the Suns, Warriors, or Mavericks — all of whom would be favored over the 76ers. All this, not to mention Embiid’s lingering fracture and tear in his face and thumb.

This is not to say that the Philadelphia 76ers should roll over and die. However, the simple fact is that this is a very flawed team; it has been all season. So can this be fixed this season? Likely not though perhaps they can overcome these flaws — as the best teams must. If not, this offseason must be focused on revamping this team, and that is not as simple as firing the head coach or trading away Tobias Harris.