When the 76ers decided to send Ben Simmons off to the Brooklyn Nets in return for James Harden, the expectations were that team could become a championship contender. The franchise has been known for not living up to high expectations during Joel Embiid era in Philly. So was yesterday’s 103-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors a sign that another monumental collapse is on the horizon? In last night’s postgame press conference, Embiid shared his thoughts on how things are going from his perspective. CBS Sports provides the details of last night’s action.
“After going up 3-0 in their first-round series against the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers have lost two straight and suddenly find themselves in a pretty nerve-wracking position. Joel Embiid has a torn thumb ligament that will require surgery in the offseason. Game 6 is at Toronto. If it gets back to Philadelphia for Game 7, which feels like a pretty decent bet, the Sixers will be playing under the added pressure of trying to avoid becoming the first team in NBA history to lose a playoff series after leading 3-0.
This could get very ugly, very quickly.
You can already sense some unraveling in Embiid’s postgame comments after Philly’s 103-88 loss on Monday, when the Sixers’ MVP candidate took a pretty clear shot at James Harden, who continues to look like a significantly diminished version of his former self as he’s become an increasingly hesitant shooter/scorer during his time with the Sixers and over the course of this series.
“I’ve been saying all season since he got here, he needs to be aggressive and he needs to be himself. That’s not really my job, that’s probably on coach to talk to him and tell him to take more shots.”
It isn’t just that Harden is only averaging 18 points on 37-percent shooting in this series, including 31 percent from 3 over the past four games, it’s that, again, he isn’t being aggressive to score, in large part because he can’t consistently beat defenders off the dribble. Even when he does get some semblance of a downhill advantage, he has zero lift at the rim and is more looking to pass, which, to be fair, he can still do at an elite level.
On Monday, as was pointed out in the questioning to Embiid, Harden only took 11 shots. Through three quarters, he had nine points on eight shots before knocking in a couple 3s in the fourth quarter to end up with 15. Harden is still managing to get a lot of open shots for his teammates, but I can assure you, 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting in what could’ve been a closeout game is not the “star” that Daryl Morey thought he was getting when he finally let loose of Ben Simmons.”
This can go away on Thursday when the Sixers travel back to Toronto to take on the Raptors. However, even if they can close out the series on Thursday, the doubts will remain on if the team can contend for a championship with the current. If the alternative happens, somebody will be out of a job, plain and simple. Despite the Raptors still having players from the 2019 squad that won a championship, they are not precisely the same team. If Toronto had a closer similar to what they had in Kawhi Leonard, the Sixers would be in trouble.