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Sixers - Hawks Game 7 Recap: Another Early Exit Raises More Questions

that wasn’t fun

On Sunday Night, the Sixers lost Game 7 to the Atlanta Hawks, 103-96. There's a lot be said and a lot that will be said. So here's my reaction and my quick look ahead to the off season.

First things first, I need to thank God for Joel Embiid. No, he wasn’t perfect. He had 8 turnovers and looked like Greg Monroe in a second half this series. But what can you reasonably expect better from him? With everything working against him, he poured in a 31 point double-double. His ‘co-star’ makes life harder for him on offense, his third ‘star’ can’t make a god damn layup and every shooter that isn’t Seth Curry reeks. His two real guards (Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry) played a combined 45 minutes, while Tobias Harris in his 45 minutes scored 24 points on 24 shots. This roster is better than the 2020 but is thousands of miles away from an ideal roster around Joel.

And how is it going to get better? Realistically, that is. Because of his ‘co-stars’ performance that I’ll talk about later, he practically ruined his trade value so that instead of a 24-year-old three-time all-star that is a DPOY finalist, he’s a 24-year-old that hasn’t developed an offensive game, has his own coach questioning if he can be a championship PG and has the superstar on his team pointing to his shortcomings as the turning point.

Joel said after the game that the turning point was when they had an open dunk and only made one free throw. He's obviously talking about this play with about 3 and a half minutes left in their season, where Simmons does a rare thing and creates his own offense, a wide open dunk, only to pass the ball to a Matisse Thybulle that was fouled, which resulted in the sixers getting one point.

That's just stupidly inexcusable, and at the left of the screen you can see Joel Embiid just in awe of what happened in front of him.

Joel Embiid deserves the world. He has consistently put his body, his health and well-being on the line at every opportunity for a franchise that won’t reward him for it. He deserves it all. Joel Embiid deserves a parade with the city cheering for him. Embiid deserves to get to hold his son in one hand and a Larry O Brien in the other. He deserves every bit of praise that’s gone his way as he’s leveled up his game and taken it to new heights. But now the team around him has fundamental flaws that prevent the team from reaching those heights, and it’s on Daryl Morey to fix it.

The biggest question for the Sixers isn’t ‘will Ben Simmons be traded?’ the question is ‘who wants Ben Simmons and what caliber of shot creator will the Sixers get back?’. Because his performance was just the culmination of everything wrong with him, and what came out the day after was just the cherry on top.

First, let’s talk Box Score, something Simmons likes to use to defend his performance. He had 5 points as opposed to 4 fouls, ranked third on the team with 8 rebounds and collected 13 assists. He also had a +/- of +1, and in his 36 minutes of playing time he was notably absent to close out the game?????? Yeah, that’s right. Not only did a max player put up a Ricky Rubio stat line, he also can’t be trusted to close out the game, with a 20 year old rookie that didn’t make a field goal taking over those honors. You want to know why he can’t close games? Let’s start:

a.) He can’t make free throws. When your offense can be handicapped by fouling your 'point guard' every time they get the ball, and the free throws that result from that are about as likely to be hit as Steph Curry becoming a Sixer, that’s not good. It’s been like this. His shooting form is clunky, he’s shown small at best improvement and he might even try switching hands in the off season. As long as Ben Simmons is a Sixer their offense will never realistically be an elite one.

b.) Lack of offensive game. No, it’s not just that he can’t/won’t shoot. It’s that he refuses to do anything on offense but stand in the dunkers spot and run at the rim, do a behind the back dribble and hope his defender falls over. This hasn’t changed. Before it was a roadblock that once fixed would let him become a premier two-way player. Now, his offensive game stops him from staying on the court in what might have been the biggest game of his career. In what way has Simmons improved on offense since his days at LSU? He had that one two week stretch where he made two threes a year ago, but his offensive attack is one a kindergartner could stop, let alone a competent coach.

c.) Lack of aggression. The dude looks like he’s going for playmaking badges constantly. He had a wide-open dunk at a time the Sixers needed points, and instead because he is literally terrified of taking a shot he passed it, and Philly got one free throw out of it.

These are issues we’ve been asking Ben to fix for years now, and now we’re at a point where his trade value is so low a season where he was a DPOY finalist might not be enough to get CJ McCollum. Ben Simmons was a bad basketball player in Game 7. He’s been bad this series and now has a playoff track record of shrinking in the team's biggest moments and can’t be trusted in crunch time.

When Ben was playing well, he was getting triple doubles and being unplayable in the playoffs. Now when he was sucking, he looks checked out, and is still unplayable in the playoffs.

And the worst about Ben isn’t the allergy to improvement is that after the game, when asked about his performance, he pointed to HIS ASSIST COUNT and TRAE YOUNGS SHOOTING to defend himself. Just the lack of awareness, cockiness and stubbornness.

Now for the rest of the sixers roster, and their leader. Let’s get this taken care of.

Seth Curry: Perfect Guard next to Embiid, got attacked on defense but was great all series and playoffs. He isn’t untouchable, but you hesitate before including him in a trade. His contract is a goddamn steal.

Matisse Thybulle: Thybulle has the chance to be a one-of-a-kind role-player, and had a bone headed foul but provided great minutes throughout the season and for the off season, is in the same boat as Seth in that you don’t refuse to trade him but hesitate before doing so.

Tyrese Maxey: He didn’t make a field goal in this game, but in only 14 minutes (which is too few considering the other options) he provided the energy he had all season. He has a potential he hasn’t begun to reach, seems to have his head on his shoulders and is worlds better from the player he started the season as. Joel is the only untouchable on this roster, and Seth, Maxey and Matisse are the only three players who you give serious pause about before/if you ship them off.

Furkan Korkmaz: He goes 1/5 from three every game, and still isn’t a positive on defense. He’s fine as a reserve guard who can be used in the regular season. He should not be getting 18 minutes in a game 7.

Tobias Harris: Inefficient disappointing game from him that is bogged down by missed opportunity. He was allergic to seeing the ball go through the basket and it’s such a disappointing end to a strong bounce back season from him. You still try to move him and his contract in the offseason, but assuming Simmons is traded for a number 2 guard, Tobias as a 3rd scoring option is very intriguing and can’t hurt to see. He's still overpaid, but he isn't in the same boat as some other Sixers players where you can't imagine him on the team next year.

Dwight Howard: Wow this was bad. I wasn’t expecting 6th man of the year play from him, but in Games 1, 5 and 7, Howard played 24 minutes that the Sixers were outscored by 34 points by. A change is needed, but Dwight back as a third center and locker room vet would be more than fine, but jesus he looks like Andre Drummond in the playoffs.

George Hill: C’mon Daryl, I get Hill was injured but he did maybe two good things in these playoffs. I can remember mayyyyybe four good plays he made??? He was a –15 on this game, and looked passive and scared the whole night. I pray that a contending team will think he’s worth something and offer Philly something useful.

Shake Milton: He’s as bad as George Hill, but isn’t afraid to take whatever shot he gets one so he’s sliiiiightly better, I guess? He still shouldn't be a bench guard for a championship team if he continues to play like he did on Sunday.

Glenn Rivers: The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So can anyone answer why in a Game 7, Doc did this:

  • Ran a lineup with 4 bench players that had been blowing leads all season

  • Ran lineups with Ben and Dwight on the court at the same time which were proven not to work

  • Didn’t let Seth Curry into the game in the beginning of the 4th quarter

  • Went 10 deep, including minutes for Shake Milton, too many minutes for George Hill, not enough minutes for Maxey and Thybulle

None of those decisions make sense individually in a do or die game, let alone all of them. It’s just insane what he does, and it’s so easy to see how he got his resume of playoff disappointment. You don’t fire him, because he’s still a good coach working with a bad roster in terms of fit, and there don’t seem to be too many options that will be immediately better. But, if Morey wants a parade down Philly streets he needs more from his coach.

Morey also needs more from his players, and has moves to make. But their future isn’t as good as he touted in his exit interview. Their main ticket to acquiring their perimeter creator just tanked his value by shooting worse than 33% from the free throw line, not being able to close games and continuing to expose his fundamental flaws. He also has 4 years on a max contract, what an attractive package! Tobias Harris is still good but overpaid and would be hard to move to get value back. Seth Curry is on a good contract, so that’s cool. But what this team needs to be a championship contender is a staggering amount for the number of assets they have to do that. The Sixers future isn’t super bright, it isn’t super bleak It just looks ….. meh for now, largely carried (like always) by Joel Embiid. That can change depending on this offseason, but it doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Right now, the sixers have a superstar to build around. They’ve assembled a roster where they’re roadblock to true championship contention is their second max player that can’t close games. He also recently lowered his value, and any trade where Ben Simmons leaves the team for the perimeter creator Joel Embiid deserves, it leaves the team with several holes that I hope have been exposed this playoff run, and especially this Game 7.

On paper, this Sixers team should be competing for a finals bid. But basketball isn’t played in hypotheticals. Daryl Morey should take a look at this roster and see that he has a superstar that he can’t waste, and needs to make the moves to do that.

And Daryl Morey might just be up for the task. He has a good track record, and is no idiot when it comes to basketball. There’s a reason his teams are consistently good. This loss was the topper to a season that ultimately exceeded expectations for a lot of it. The Sixers have many avenues to take, and flaws to fix after such a disappointing and confusing playoff run. What prevents the Sixers from competing for a championship (bad fit, inconsistent secondary and tertiary stars, incomplete depth) were all exposed in the Game 7 Loss, and now all eyes are on an offseason that might be the most important in recent years. Play their cards right, the Sixers break a championship window wide open. Fail, and you're looking at more of the same next year.

I don't envy Daryl Morey, but I'll end this with something Morey himself said back in November 2020.

'My goal is to win a championship, so whatever gets us there is what we'll do'

Let's hope he's true to his word.

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