When the lights shined the brightest, the Philadelphia 76ers shriveled into an uptight, scared basketball team. Last night, was one of, if not the worst performance I have ever witnessed as a Philadelphia sports fan. Yes, as a Philadelphia sports fan, last night's Game 7 is on the top of the list as the worst Philly sports performance ever. That's saying something. Did the 76ers underestimate the Atlanta Hawks? I don’t believe so. The Hawks were the inferior basketball team. The Sixers just failed to show up late in games, time and time again.
Last night, the Sixers had 17 turnovers. Tobias Harris went 8-24 from the floor. Doc Rivers stuck with a 10-man rotation in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. The laundry list of issues are glaring.
If the camera cut to Doc Rivers slumping on the sidelines, with a look of defeat and disgust one more time during the game, I would have jumped out of my third-story apartment window. For a Sixers team that is so mentally weak and lacks confidence, the body language from your coaching staff was awful. The Sixers took the court like lambs to the slaughter in a Game 7 playoff game. It was pathetic to watch and far from the first time that Doc Rivers endured this type of performance with the season on the line. Doc Rivers has lost nine Game 7s in his career, the most in NBA history.
The rotations were unbearable. A 10-man rotation in a Game 7 elimination game? Really Doc? After watching the Bucks and Nets finish Game 7 in an absolute dog fight where Kevin Durant didn't leave the court, to watch a hard-nosed Doc Rivers stick with bench rotations and then starting the fourth quarter with Shake Milton who had yet to see the floor up until that point was infuriating.
Doc Rivers 2021 playoff exit:
- Game Four: Blew 18-point lead
- Game Five: Blew 26-point lead at home
- Game Seven: Trae Young shot 5-for-23 and the Sixers lost.
Then, of course, you have Ben Simmons. I have long been a strong supporter of Ben Simmons. No matter how bad he has looked at certain points throughout the last four seasons with the 76ers, I stood in his corner. Ben Simmons is one of the most gifted basketball players on planet earth. The sad truth of the matter is he is damaged mentally.
With three minutes and thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter last night, Ben Simmons had the ball in the post. The Sixers were losing 88-86 and desperately needed a spark to ignite the sold out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in the final minutes of the game.
Simmons spun around Danilo Gallinari and made his way towards a wide-open basket. The post-move was a thing of beauty. The only Hawks player even close to him was Trae Young, who was defending Matisse Thybulle on the other side of the basket. Instead of dunking the basketball with a clear path under the net, Simmons froze and passed it to a covered Matisse Thybulle, who was immediately collapsed upon and fouled. Thybulle would only make one of two foul shots.
Instead of Ben Simmons dunking the basketball to tie the game, with the possibility of posterizing Trae Young under the basket, he passed the ball. It was one of the most confusing plays in basketball I have ever witnessed. Where is the mental awareness, Ben? How could you possibly fail to realize the implications of a game-tying dunk with under four minutes in the game? Are you not aware that you dunking the ball on Trae Young would have sent the sold-out Wells Fargo Crowd into an absolute frenzy? The team needed you. The city needed you. You froze.
The only logical explanation for Ben Simmons not dunking the basketball is that he is terrified of going to the free-throw line. Even more so, when those free throws come in the closing minutes of a Game 7 playoff game.
THE BEN SIMMONS BLOOD PACT
For Ben Simmons supporters like myself, we operate on a simple agreement. Our blood pact with Ben Simmons is that his flaws can be diminished as long as he is playing aggressive, violent, basketball and attacking the rim.
Simmons failed to live up to his end of the agreement. It got so bad last night that at some points, he was dribbling the ball up the court and immediately looking for a pass rather than being the typical run-and-gun point guard we have come to know at certain points throughout his entire career. The second he passed the ball to his 7-foot center before half-court last night instead of bulldozing his way to the basket, you knew mentally, Ben Simmons was essentially unavailable offensively for the remainder of the game.
THE REGRESSION OF BEN SIMMONS
- Ben Simmons can’t shoot threes.
- Ben Simmons can’t shoot a mid-range jumper.
- Ben Simmons can’t hit free throws.
- Ben Simmons refuses to attempt a shot from anywhere on the basketball court.
How Simmons can just disappear completely at times on the offensive side of the ball while his teammates struggle to get anything going is ridiculous. If you’re going to fall down to the “dunker” spot every time down the court, then at the very least, put a body on someone. Maybe set a pick, move around to create spacing, look for an easy layup or dunk. He didn’t do any of that in the last few games of the series against the Hawks.
ACCOUNTABILITY FROM JOEL EMBIID
After the game, Joel Embiid identified that play with Ben Simmons as the turning point in the game. Social media immediately responded with “yikes” as Joel Embiid described Simmons in the post, Thybulle’s foul shots, and the Hawks getting three on the other end of the court.
Even though the full quote wasn't initially presented to a blood-thirsty Twitter audience, Joel Embiid was absolutely correct. Credit to Embiid for FINALLY holding his teammates, and more specifically, Ben Simmons, accountable. It’s something the Sixers have lacked, and honestly, have avoided over the past four seasons. The closest player to provide some accountability for anyone on the Sixers was Jimmy Butler. When he did speak out, he was promptly shipped out of town in favor of Brett Brown and Ben Simmons.
I don’t know what it is with Ben Simmons and that might be the most frustrating part of it all. You look at a player that has all the tools to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time but is a complete mess mentally on the basketball court. How can anyone fix that? You literally have a point guard that is afraid to shoot the basketball. His brain literally won’t allow him to shoot the basketball, which is a lot harder to fix than a fundamental flaw.
We have all witnessed how great Ben Simmons can be. The 42 point performance against the Utah Jazz obviously stands out as a game that Ben Simmons was at his best. You really don’t even have to go back that far to find games in which Ben Simmons lived up to expectations. Simmons had a 19 point triple-double in Game 5 against the Washington Wizards.
In Game 1 against the Hawks, he had 17 points, four rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, and a block. After a bad Game 2, he bounced back in Game 3 with 18 points, four rebounds, and seven assists while shooting an acceptable 4-8 from the foul line. The fourth quarter of games, where you need your star players the most, especially in the playoffs, were horrendous for Ben Simmons.
BEN SIMMONS IN THE 4TH QUARTER
- Game 1: 2-2 FG
- Game 2: 0-0 FG
- Game 3: 1-1 FG
- Game 4: 0-0 FG
- Game 5: 0-0 FG
- Game 6: 0-0 FG
- Game 7: 0-0 FG
I’m not sure what you do with Ben Simmons this offseason. You have a “point guard” that is mentally broken on the offensive side of the court. I’m not sure how you rebuild a player like Simmons. Even the strong supporters of Ben have now left his corner. Is he better off as a point forward? Possibly. But that would require a vast improvement from the foul line, something that ruined him throughout the playoffs this year.
One thing is for sure, we have to get rid of the “you don’t know ball” if you “don’t realize how important Ben Simmons is to the 76ers” narrative. Mind you, this was a narrative I was once a part of. But we just can’t do it anymore. No more camera's in the gym and enough with the photoshoots. Ben Simmons needs to be held accountable moving forward.
Get him to a therapist. Put him in a gym and literally force him to shoot a basketball. We have reached the point where Ben Simmons needs to adapt to the game of basketball that is being played. Not the other way around. The fact that Ben Simmons is still 24 years old and hasn't even scratched his potential will always pull me back to holding onto him rather than trading him for lesser value. At the same time, there's no possible way the Sixers can go into next season with the same type of uncertainties. Time is of the utmost importance.
Although it's not what I believe the Sixers should do, trading Ben Simmons seems like the most probable option. Where ever the offseason takes us, big changes need to be made. Appreciate everyone reading and listening to me ramble on about the Sixers all season, we'll all recover eventually.
I'll be switching over to our beloved baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies.