The NBA season has officially ended for the Philadelphia 76ers. Filled with emotion after a 112-88 Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they had what seemed to be all the pieces to a Finals puzzle, namely the 2022-2023 Most Valuable Player in Joel Embiid. Unfortunately for the team and their fans, not even that can secure a ticket to the Championship.
Several Pieces Short
The 76ers finished their regular season strong, particularly in their last game hosting the Celtics. Embiid dropped 52 points, sealing the win 103-101 and earning the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference for the Playoffs. This game, however, followed a very hard-hitting 129-101 loss against the Miami Heat, who came swinging for the fences toward the end of regular season and into Playoffs.
The 76ers ended the regular season with a 54-28 record, their highest win margin in over 20 years dating back to the 2000-2001 season, the last time they made the NBA Finals.
All seemed to be aligning for this team headed into the post-season. The Sixers blew past the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round, sweeping them in four games. This is where things started to break down.
In the second round the 76ers faced the Celtics in an unpredictable matchup. Each team was 2-1 on the road, winning what seemed to be crucial games and forcing a game 7, win-or-go-home scenario. As stated above, the Celtics proved the victor. After a strong first half, the Sixers scored only 10 points in the third quarter. Combined with a record setting 51-point performance from Jayson Tatum, this was a major step back from the playmaking Philadelphia regularly showcased in the regular season.
“I thought we had the right group. I really did,” Head Coach Doc Rivers said. “We played great all year and this loss absolutely diminishes what we did this year in some way. … I think this team is headed right. I thought we took another step this season. And then tonight I think we took a step backward. But that’s OK. That happens, too.”
This loss marked the fifth time in the last six seasons including a third straight second round exit.
Let’s take a look and breakdown the offense and defense as well as the players who helped and hurt the team’s chances at an NBA title.
Offense – B+
Much of this grade is with no surprise accredited to MVP Winner Embiid. His ability to move across the floor kept the 76ers in the fight and able to come back from large deficits. His dominance was clear even early in the season following a 59-point outing against the Utah Jazz coupled with 11 rebounds, seven blocks, and eight assists. Head Coach Rivers explained, “I’ve seen a guy score a lot of points. I haven’t seen a guy score a lot of points, rebound, and then the blocked shots. That was impressive. He was getting everything, I have never seen a more dominating performance when you combine defense and offense.”
Another notable player that contributed to this grade was James Harden. Although he seems far gone from the “Houston James Harden” the NBA grew to admire and expect, he turned his game around this season. Harden became a pure point guard, controlling the offense and ran plays with urgency. On the flipside, the Harden of last season still stuck out like a sore thumb, with messy and careless passes that led to turnovers and points to their opponents.
Another impressive support for the offense was Tyrese Maxey. Although he was out in the beginning of the season with a foot injury, Maxey returned and made an immediate in the game. In the first round of playoffs against the Nets, Maxey shot over 47% from the floor and 50% from deep, averaging 21.8 points. He was essential to the offense of the team during Embiid’s injury, especially when co-star James Harden didn’t bring his best to the court.
A low-point on the offense this year was Tobias Harris. The beginning half of the season, he was on his game. However, the remaining games of the season and into the playoffs, Harris put up some of this worst stats of his career, unable to make easy baskets and convert three-pointers.
Defense – B-
Again, the gleaming spot for the 76ers defense was Embiid. In a tough February matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, Embiid put up six blocks with 19 rebounds, proving he is a threat and can win games not just by putting up shots. Another key player to their defense is PJ Tucker. On paper, Tucker didn’t perform particularly strong offensively and his defensive stats were not at the top-of-the-list. However, between his hustle, locking down key offensive players, as well as helping to improve his teammates defensive play around him, Tucker is a large part of this team’s strategy.
Overall – B
The 76ers had what seemed to be a strong unit of players that could take them far in the playoffs. Unfortunately, a lack of depth on both sides of the court was shown through parts of the season, particularly in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. As I have stated in many season recaps, the success of a team cannot be left to just one or two players. This is a team game where you must rely and count on each player to perform, or to support you in their off-games.
With some changes in this off-season, players and personnel will regroup and put their best players forward in hopes of getting past the Semifinals, and to the big stage.
Another potential change to the roster could be the departure of Harden. After asking for a trade for the third time in less than three years, the All-Star could be donning yet another jersey next season, with multiple reports saying he has his eye on the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, or the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We’ve got an unfinished job. We haven’t won anything and I think we’ve got the chance to win,” said Embiid, “We’ve got what it takes to win. … But it’s going to take more than us.”
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Stacey Cumming is a contributor on Back Sports Page. A Graduate from the University of Oregon in Journalism, she has four years of sports reporting experience, including covering the Oregon Ducks, working with NFL Films, and various interview opportunities with Tyler Lockett, Kalenna Azibuike, Jordan Kent, and more. Cumming takes part in various podcasts such as OnSide Take, and Sofa Sports with her father, Roger Cumming. For more on Stacey, follow her on Twitter @StaceyKean.
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