Earlier this week, the Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 103-96 in their seven-game series. This marks Philadelphia’s 4th straight playoff appearance where they have not gotten past the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, this was a banged up Sixers team with Joel Embiid playing on a torn meniscus and Danny Green being sidelined with a calf strain. Despite being an early playoff exit once again, there was a lot to cheer for with all of Philly’s regular season success. However, the postseason left a lot to think about.
Joel Embiid’s MVP Caliber Season
After getting swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics in the Bubble last season, Joel Embiid came into this season more dominant and motivated than ever. Daryl Morey made some key moves to Jo’s success this year by swapping an awkward fit in Al Horford for Danny Green, one of the most experienced 3&D players in the league. Additionally, he flipped inconsistent Josh Richardson for Seth Curry, one of the best perimeter shooters in the league. As a result, Joel Embiid was nearly unstoppable on both ends and led the 76ers to 1st place in the East with a 49-23 record. The big man averaged a career-high 28.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, while shooting 51.3% from the field and 37.7 from three. Moreover, Joel’s conditioning was much better as he played in almost all of Philadelphia’s back-to-back games this season. Embiid’s mentality also dramatically improved, going from having fun to winning at all costs.
Sadly, Embiid had to sit out two weeks with a bone bruise, which ultimately killed his chances at being named 2021 MVP.
With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court together in the regular season, the Sixers outscored opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions played (98th percentile).— Cleaning The Glass (@cleantheglass) June 21, 2021
In the playoffs?
+19.2 per 100 possessions (99th percentile).
In the playoffs, the Washington Wizards had no answer for the big fella, but tragically in game 4 Joel Embiid slightly tore his meniscus, which ended up keeping him out for the rest of the series. However, the MVP candidate’s will to win forced him to play in round 2 vs. the Atlanta Hawks. On a torn meniscus, he averaged 30.4 ppg, 12.7 rpg and shot 46.9% from the field. His injury caused worse efficiency, but Embiid was still able to contribute despite a potential season ending injury. In his last press conference Joel Embiid said: “Personally, I feel like I took a huge step this year and there’s so much more I can do.” Overall, an amazing season from the 76ers’ star Joel Embiid.
Doc Rivers’ First Year
After parting ways with longtime coach Brett Brown, the 76ers were looking for a new voice who could bring them a winning culture. Doc Rivers excelled at that in a multitude of ways. Rivers instilled a winning mentality into this team, which greatly helped their success in the regular season. Tobias Harris’ scoring and efficiency greatly improved under Doc Rivers who told him to make quicker decisions and dribble less. Harris averaged 19.5 ppg on his best efficiency of his career shooting 51.2% from the field. In addition, Philadelphia learned how to win on the road, finishing with a 20-16 record in away games.
However, Doc Rivers has his struggles that greatly showed in this years’ playoffs.
In the regular season, Doc Rivers implemented an all-bench lineup of George Hill, Shake Milton/Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, and Dwight Howard. This lineup was often dysfunctional offensively and defensively it was below average. The bench lineup often produced turnovers, lacked ball movement and showed little chemistry. Rivers has a very high regard for his players and great trust, so as a result this bench lineup was used in the postseason. The result was identical to the regular season and caused many Sixers leads to be blown, especially in the Atlanta Hawks series.
Doc Rivers, on improvements for next season: "Size wise I think we get small too quick. One substitution and we're too small. That was every night all year, and that was a concern for me all year. So we have to improve that, in some way."— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 21, 2021
Another big weakness in Doc Rivers’ coaching is his poor adjustments.
Firstly, Rivers’ bad adjustments blew two huge series-deciding leads of 18 and 26 points. Also, In game 7 of the 76ers/Hawks series Rivers went to an inconsistent and struggling Shake Milton in the 4th quarter. The result was not good as Milton finished with 2 points on 1/3 shooting. Furthermore, starting Furkan Korkmaz after Danny Green went down was crucial to losing the series. In the series, Korkmaz averaged 7.3 ppg while only shooting 37.5% from the field. Rather than starting a cold Korkmaz, he could have started Tyrese Maxey, who arguably saved Philadelphia’s season with his performance in game 6 or Matisse Thybulle who was better than Furkan on both ends in the series. Doc Rivers was undoubtedly an upgrade over Brett Brown, but did not have a great postseason.
Doc Rivers 2020 playoff exit:— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 21, 2021
G5 — Blew 16-point lead
G6 — Blew 19-point lead
G7 — Blew 12-point lead
Doc Rivers 2021 playoff exit:
G4 — Blew 18-point lead
G5 — Blew 26-point lead at home
G7 — Lost at home to opposing best player shooting 5-23 pic.twitter.com/kHmlD2SNtu
Ben Simmons is the player on every Philadelphia sports fans’ mind for all the wrong reasons. With the hiring of Doc Rivers, fans expected to see a more aggressive Ben Simmons with somewhat of a jump shot. This was not the case as Simmons was the most passive he has ever been in his whole career. He averaged a career-lows of 14.3 ppg, 6.9 apg, and 7.2 rpg. However, one thing Simmons did very well this season was on-ball perimeter defense, which made him viewed as a 2021 DPOY candidate. Though his perimeter defense was elite, there were still things Ben could have been better at defensively.
In the playoffs, Ben Simmons possibly played his worst basketball of his career.
FT misses this playoffs:— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 21, 2021
48 — Ben Simmons
29 — Phoenix Suns
28 — Brooklyn Nets pic.twitter.com/1dGBaTXHiC
Against a weak Washington Wizards defense, Simmons had some good games such as a near 19 point triple-double in the close out game. Additionally, Ben Simmons did a decent job on Bradley Beal defensively. Against the Atlanta Hawks, Ben struggled on offense and that is a severe understatement. For starters, he had the worst free throw percentage in NBA playoff history, shooting 34.2% from the line. Apart from this, Ben Simmons was playing extremely soft, not even looking to score the ball.
A huge example of this is Ben Simmons passing up an easy dunk opportunity that could have changed the result of game 7.
Joel Embiid admitted that this was the “turning point” of the game.
Simmons’ lack of scoring possibility had to do with his fear of getting fouled, regardless he was not mentally right. Also, throughout the series Atlanta used the “hack-a-Ben” strategy, which threw off the 76ers’ offense and was a factor for two blown leads in the series. Over the course of these 7 games, Ben took a total of 3 shots in the 4th quarters. In his last post game interview he admitted: “Offensively I wasn’t there, I didn’t do enough for my teammates.”
This could very well be Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ last year together and it could be a good thing for both Philadelphia and Simmons. Daryl Morey is known for his gutty trades and will look to make changes to the roster. Embiid has been advocating for Ben to shoot and to be more aggressive, but for whatever reason it has not happened. Ben Simmons is not a true point guard and that was proven this season.
Record and chemistry wise, this was the best 76ers team of the “Process” era. With Joel Embiid in his prime, promising players such as Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle, surrounding, and great regular season success, the only way this Sixers team can go is up!