When we talk about Game 7s in the NBA, we talk about the pressure, the intensity, and the flare that comes with a “win or go home” situation. Because a series is knotted up three wins a piece, any Game 7 is likely to be a thriller. Both teams put it all on the line, for a chance to move on, or in some cases, secure the title.
On Sunday, however, only one team seemed to show up in the final game of the second-round series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. In an embarrassing 112-88 loss, the 76ers finished their season blowing a 3-2 series lead, with Jayson Tatum leaving 51 points on their doorstep in a Mother’s Day massacre.
Philadelphia is used to postseason basketball at this point, but unfortunately, they’re also used to the same result, and it isn’t an NBA championship. They’ve made the playoffs every season since 2018, yet they can’t seem to figure it out. Six playoff appearances, zero appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After a regular season that saw Joel Embiid take home the MVP award, there was a real chance that this team would be playing past what they were used to for so long. Had they beaten the Celtics in round two, they almost certainly would have been favored to beat the Miami Heat in the following round, giving themselves a real shot at the NBA Finals. Yet again, however, the 76ers faltered.
Despite the same result each season, this roster has changed frequently since their first playoff appearance with Embiid in 2018. The only thing that seems to stay the same is that he remains their prized possession, their best player. There’s no doubt that Embiid is that guy, but no matter who GM Elton Brand surrounds him with, the result stays stagnant. Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons (before they regressed, especially Simmons), James Harden, and the list goes on. How many more players need to go through this team to succeed?
It didn’t help that Embiid shot 5-18 in Game 7, along with Harden who shot 3-11 and couldn’t even crack 10 points. It’s a full circle moment when you realize that these two players, in the biggest game of the season, fail expectations to come up clutch in a playoff game, something they’ve been criticized about for almost their entire careers. This loss falls entirely on the stars of the team, and their coaching.
Speaking of coaching, the 76ers organization fired Doc Rivers late Tuesday morning (per Adrian Wojnarowski). This was expected, as they had no real playoff success under his tenure. Philadelphia previously got rid of former Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown to hire a head coach with postseason “experience” like Rivers, but it’s clear that no real difference was made.
I think this proves that Rivers is the most overrated head coach in NBA history. It took Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo to win his first and only NBA championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics. Since leaving Boston to coach the Los Angeles Clippers and then the 76ers, Rivers had yet to reach a conference final before his firing. Funny enough, the Clippers made the Western Conference Finals the year after he left.
To add on, Rivers has now lost his last five Game 7s as a head coach, with his ten total Game 7 losses coming in as the most of any coach in NBA history. The NBA put out a list of the top 15 head coaches ever last season in celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary, and looking back now, it’s clear he should not have made the list. Rivers has been carried by pure talent his entire career, and it couldn’t be more evident as of right now. The question is, where does the 76ers organization go from here?
There’s been a recent spree of firings in the head coaching department after multiple contenders got eliminated. The Milwaukee Bucks parted ways with Mike Budenholzer and the Phoenix Suns canned Monty Williams. While I don’t think Budenholzer is necessarily the best for the job, Williams does seem knowledgeable enough to elevate the guard play in Philly, as he let Devin Booker take his game to the next level and have an enormous impact on the team reaching the 2021 NBA Finals. It’s something to consider.
The 76ers don’t have to worry about Embiid leaving them in free agency until 2027. Embiid has always expressed how he wants to retire in The City of Brotherly Love, so it would come as a surprise if he requested a trade. The main focus is to grab another superstar to pair with the Cameroonian.
Trying to keep James Harden is ideal, however, if the 76ers want to compete for a championship, he can’t be their second scorer. He is past his prime at 33 years old and should embrace himself in more of a playmaking role. The former MVP averaged 10.7 assists this season, however, it seems like Rivers has been relying on him to score more, and it just won’t work. As a free agent this summer, both sides have a decision to make. Harden has been rumored to opt out of his contract and take his talents elsewhere.
In terms of other notable free agents, it doesn’t seem like anyone would thrust the 76ers into a heavy title favorite. Boosting their bench, however, could go a long way. Jerami Grant, Caris LeVert, and Gary Trent Jr. are all notable names that Brand could bring in to help increase depth.
Although Tobias Harris was once a legitimate scorer, his time in Philadelphia should come to an end over the summer. The forward put up some of the worst numbers of his career in nearly eight years, and it looks like he can’t be their third option. It’s time to move him, and other assets (perhaps Harden as well), in an attempt to find a co-star for Embiid.
Although he isn’t a superstar, Philadelphia has a hidden gem in Tyrese Maxey. In just his third year, the Kentucky product has shown tremendous improvement, going from 8.0 points per game in his rookie season, to 20.3. This is all while starting in just 41 out of his 60 games played this year. It might be time to give him more opportunities on offense next season. Hiring a coach like Monty Williams could certainly help his development.
Whatever the organization does has to ensure two things besides being a contender: that Embiid will not request a trade before his contract is up, and that when his contract is up, he will stay. He is undoubtedly a top-ten player in today’s league, but he just needs the right pieces next to him instead of around him to get to the promised land. A lot needs to be done this summer, and hopefully, we see some major changes.