Philadelphia’s defensive performance against the Celtics was phenomenal in Game Five of the 2023 series. Tobias Harris won massive praise because he was like a one-man wall against the green tide. But they went missing in Game Seven as Jayson Tatum exploded to life with a game seven record 51 points.
Philly’s defense has been brilliant over the past couple of seasons so this was hard for fans to swallow. They watched as the playoff chokers fell apart and allowed the Celtics to swarm over them. If this was a boxing match the referee would have intervened earlier because they couldn’t handle them (via NBC Sports).
A lack of leadership cost the Sixers dearly against the Celtics. Once again, Doc Rivers showed that he’s one of the worst playoff coaches ever. Meanwhile, Harden proved that nobody can depend on him to drag a team through a tough series. An injured Joel Embiid appeared to resent his team’s dependence on him.
Remember when Michael Jordan played through the flu to have one of the best games of his life? The best players grab their teammates by the scruffs of their necks and lead by example. But this team lacks leaders when the going gets tough. They’ll always be playoff chokers until the team sorts this out (via Essentially Sports).
The Celtics defeated the Sixers in the 2022 postseason so this was an opportunity for revenge. Yes, Boston had a stronger roster on paper but Philadelphia had the NBA’s reigning MVP on their books. It was an equal contest until Harden went missing and Jayson Tatum exploded for 51 points.
Many Sixers found this unforgivable because they desperately wanted to beat their New England rivals. But now Boston had bragging rights for another year while Philly became playoff chokers. It was horrendous for their fanbase because they had to deal with a lot of online abuse from the Celtics (via Sportskeeda).
There were many inexplicable decisions as emotions ran high in this crazy playoff game. But one of the most confusing moments saw Georges Niang grab Jayden Brown’s leg from the bench. Brown was running past before the reserve player put his hands on the Celtics’ star. The officials issued double technical fouls before play resumed.
Some context is important because Brown grabbed James Harden’s jersey and dragged him to the hardwood before this. This was Niang’s reaction to the previous foul. But it shows that Boston repeatedly rattled the Celtics and made them pay the price. Niang’s moment of madness didn’t help his team one bit (via Clutchpoints).
Naturally, we’ve focused heavily on Joel Embiid and James Harden because they’re Philly’s biggest stars. But other players deserve to receive their share of the blame. Let’s start with Tobias Harris because the Sixers gave him a five-year, $180 million contract. But nobody understands why he’s one of the league’s highest-paid players.
His defenders say that he’s very versatile and that’s why the team gave up a lot to keep him. They’ll point out that the Brooklyn Nets wanted him but that’s not exactly a sign of smart investment. Harris is a decent player who has excellent games. But he’s not a leader and they’re paying him far too much (via AS).
It’s incredible how passive the team was against the Celtics in Game Seven of the series. They showed no evidence of their scintillating Game Five form as they reaffirmed their status as playoff chokers. Some people call Joel Embiid the modern incarnation of Hakeem Olajuwon but he was more like a teddy bear.
Meanwhile, the less said about Harden the better because he was anonymous. It’s so frustrating because he was brilliant earlier in the series but proved his inconsistency. Nobody knows why they were so anonymous against the Celtics and Doc Rivers deserves criticism for failing to motivate them (via USA Today).
Al Horford infamously had a single season in Philadelphia before they shipped him out to Oklahoma. Eventually, the Dominican returned to his home from home; Boston. The media made him a scapegoat when the playoff chokers failed to live up to expectations in 2019. But he delivered a magnificent display in Game Seven in 2023 as he shut down Joel Embiid.
Horford explained what he was thinking as he put Embiid in his pocket. He said: “You just try to make everything as difficult as I could. “He’s the MVP of the league for a reason, and how much pressure he can put on your defense and so many things that he can do. So I was just out there trying to fight for my life and trying to make an impact (via Boston.com).”
The Sixers lacked the killer instinct to finish the job against the Celtics in 2023. This is a trend that has happened too many times in recent years with the franchise. James Harden defended the team’s crushing loss by saying that this is the first year of their project. But that’s misleading because he’s only talking about when he joined the franchise.
“I just want to have a chance to compete, I mean, we’re only one year in,” Harden said (via SBNation). “We played against the team who’s been together for quite a few years now. They were in The Finals last year, so you kind of know what it takes to get back there.” Unfortunately, fans aren’t as happy to write off the Ben Simmons years as Harden is.
Embiid won the MVP Award in 2023 after a stellar regular season. The Cameroonian fought off Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo as he won the prize for the first time. But he proved that it means nothing during the business end of the year. He had a horrible game seven against Boston and played like garbage for the playoff chokers.
Earlier in 2023, George Niang spoke about the team’s togetherness and defensive solidity. He claimed that their coaching had helped them achieve a sense of defensive solidity. This also gave them their identity as they remained resolute against tough opponents. That makes their postseason meltdown a travesty.
Niang told NBC Sports: “I think we’ve been top 10 for most of the year, right? That’s what they say; I’m not looking up defensive numbers, trust me. But I think it is a good emphasis. It helps us have an identity, that we’re not letting people go middle and we’re sending them to help, and getting in rotation after that. So I think that’s been huge for us.”
In 2019, Ben Simmons attracted negative headlines after he called the Sixers soft on two occasions. Some fans and teammates thought that he was talking garbage but maybe their former player had a point. The 76ers spent more time complaining about Marcus Smart’s dirty tactics than stamping their authority on the series.
Smart threw his body into Philly players’ legs and risked injuring them. This is unethical on the hardwood but nobody in Boston will care about it. He rattled the Sixers and they didn’t respond well. The Sixers don’t have an enforcer like Draymond Green on their roster and they paid the price (via NBC Sports).
Many fans called for Doc Rivers’ head after the game. They couldn’t understand how their team collapsed against the Celtics with everything at stake. Rivals were calling them the biggest chokers in NBA history after the embarrassing defeat. Rivers tried to explain what went wrong but he found it difficult to explain.
The head coach reflected on the defeat in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He said: “We played great all year and this loss 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.”
There were many questions about Embiid’s availability ahead of game six. He carried an LCL knee sprain through the playoffs and it appeared to inhibit him. Some people think that he shouldn’t have played but he was still the Sixers’ highest-scorer in the defeat. But the playoff chokers were overdependent on their MVP winner because they didn’t support him.
Embiid opened up after the humiliating defeat and told the world what he thought (via NESN). He said: “Can’t win alone. I can’t win alone. Me and James, we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five-on-five. So we just need everybody to keep finding ways to get better and we’ll be fine.”
Everybody knows that the City of Brotherly Love has some of the most passionate sports fans in the nation. Yes, sometimes they go too far but they care about their teams with devotion. But spare a thought for the NBA lovers because the 76ers aren’t living up to the achievements of the city’s other franchises.
The Eagles have played in three Super Bowls since the Sixers last made the Eastern Conference Finals. The Phillies had three World Series appearances while the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Meanwhile, the Union won the MLS Cup and they didn’t even exist in 2001. That’s before we even talk about Villanova and all of its success (via Philly Voice).
The Sixers are notorious playoff chokers but it doesn’t help that their coach also has a horrible record. Rivers infamously suffered a shocking Finals loss during his time in Boston. A glance at his playoff record proves that nobody can trust him to deliver when it counts because it’s not good.
Yes, he won a ring in 2008 with Boston, ironically enough, but this was an anomaly. He has blown nine playoff series leads since then as he became the butt of many jokes. The Sixers can’t rely on Rivers to get them out of their postseason malaise because he can’t do it. They’re in danger of wasting a generation of talent because of a culture problem (via Clutchpoints).