Sixers fall in embarrassing fashion to Celtics in Game 7

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots at the basket as Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) defends during the first half of Game 7 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In a second chance to come up large, Joel Embiid, James Harden, and the Sixers fell short yet again in embarrassing fashion as they now head toward the offseason.

Against their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers were just one game away. One game away from proving the doubters wrong, one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in over 20 years.

Had one said before the start of the series that the Sixers would lose, many would not have been surprised as the Celtics were favored heading into the matchup. However, after securing a 3-2 lead in the series, expectations changed, as they should have.

Not only to lose this game and this series but to lose in the manner that they did, with such embarrassing moments as Georges Niang irresponsibly pulling on Jaylen Brown’s kneecap, requires severe self-reflection this off-season. Not just by the front office, not just by the players, but by the entire organization. Starting with the continued lack of mental toughness this team has displayed.

“We weren’t very tough”

Philadelphia 76ers’ P.J. Tucker walks off the court after Game 4 in an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 7, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After the game, P.J. Tucker, who the Sixers acquired during this past offseason, spoke on what went wrong for the team this series, and what he said was frighteningly familiar. According to Derek Bodner of the Daily Six, Tucker told reporters: “We weren’t very tough. We weren’t very physically tough, emotionally tough, mentally tough. It just wasn’t enough.”

A lack of physicality, a lack of toughness. Perhaps more troublesome than the matter itself is how often this appears to be an issue for Philadelphia.

For season after season, that is what fans have heard following elimination games. Then the Sixers signed P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, and traded for De’Anthony Melton. Those moves were thought to be the solution to the Sixers’ problems, and yet, here they are once again.

That, of course, is no fault of any of the team’s additions, but it is rather concerning that their “toughness” was not more of a shared attribute, at least not during the last two games of this series.

“We got an unfinished job”

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) smiles while walking down court with James Harden (1) during the second half of Game 5 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Several of Joel Embiid’s postgame quotes stood out. Some as fodder for those looking for clickbait, and then there were his comments about the offseason the team now faces.

Receiving many questions about his fellow star, James Harden, Joel Embiid had this to say:

“We got an unfinished job. We haven’t won anything, and we got the chance to win. Going to 7 games and having a chance to close it out at home, which we didn’t do, I still believe we have the chance to win. We got what it takes to win. So obviously, I don’t know what’s going on. And I know he has a player option or the can extend him. But that’s on [the front office] to figure out, I’m gonna stay out of it. But I still believe that me and him, we got a chance to win.”

Joel Embiid via Rich Hoffman

It’s not surprising that Embiid tiptoed around making a public statement on Harden’s contract status, but it seems clear he does believe in the veteran guard’s ability. The question that surrounds Harden continues to be the will-they won’t-they of his new potential contract with the Sixers, but more on that in a moment.

It’s true that the Sixers did take perhaps the top team in the league to seven games, but this series proved that there are still a few flaws in this team.

Embiid is perfectly right when he says the job is unfinished. What remains to be seen is at what point the organization disagrees.

What does the future hold for the Sixers?

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, right, talks to James Harden during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

There are many decisions that the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office will face during this crucial offseason that range from Doc Rivers’ status as head coach to James Harden’s potential extension and everything in between. Rivers’ comments at the podium postgame suggest that he will again be at the helm next season, though the Sixers’ organization may have other plans.

Harden, who now faces drama surrounding his own potential return, was asked how his relationship was with Rivers, and if he would like to see him back as the team’s head coach next season. He responded by saying, “Uh, our relationship is okay.” Far from a resounding seal of approval.

Reading too much into things, it sounds as though there’s a chance that one’s fate in Philadelphia may rely on the other’s departure, though things are never so simple.

As Joel Embiid said, “I’m gonna stay out of it,” at least for the time being.

Farewell to the 2022-23 NBA season

This season, though it did not end the way fans, including us here at Philly Sports Network, wanted, was incredibly special. Special for the Sixers, special for Joel Embiid, and special for us here at PSN.

This season marks our first as a credentialed news team with the Philadelphia 76ers, and as such, we’ve been able to bring even more great content to you, our beloved readers. I myself have enjoyed experiences covering this team that I did not think possible, but thanks to this site, and thanks to you all, I and others on this Sixers team have had opportunities we’ve only dreamed of. I wish the same to you in return.

You are who makes this possible, and you are who allows us to continue to learn and grow in this field so we can continue to provide our readers with quality content and insight regarding the Philadelphia 76ers.

For that, I will always be grateful.