The 76ers, a team had the 5th best odds at winning the Championship at the beginning of this year according to Vegas, were an absolute mess and disappointment this year.
The horrible year finished as bad as anyone could have imagined. They lost every single game in the first round of the playoffs against their biggest rival, the Boston Celtics.
How did a team with so much hope at the start of the season end up like this?
No Stopping the Trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown
The 76ers had absolutely no answer for these three, but especially Jayson Tatum. Tatum averaged 27 ppg and on ridiculous shooting percentages of 48.7% FG and an unheard of 45.2% 3PT. He was shooting a high volume of threes too, making 3.5 a game. Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown had great performances of their own, Walker averaging 24.3 ppg and Brown averaging 21.5 ppg. The Celtics are the only team in the playoffs to have a trio of 20+ ppg scorers. Which gets even worse when you consider the fact that the 76ers/Celtics series is the 2nd lowest scoring series of the playoffs, behind only the Heat/Pacers.
The Celtics deserve their props, they definitely earned a lot of those points. But there was just bad defense being played by the Sixers. When playing the Celtics, you have to know where those three are at all times when on defense. The amount of wide open threes they were given was absolutely unacceptable, and the fact that it kept happening after they would take advantage and make three pointer after three pointer is extremely disappointing.
And the Sixers were given a hard reality check with Matisse Thybulle. This is in no way calling him out at all, but he was the primary defender on Tatum throughout the series. Thybulle was by far the best option on him, yet he still torched the Sixers. It is not a reality check that Thybulle is a bad defender, he is a great defender. The reality check is that Philadelphia was relying on a rookie to defend an All-Star in the playoffs.
Little to No Production Outside of Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid was not a reason in the slightest that the 76ers got swept. Embiid had the best playoff performance of his career and it was totally wasted. Joel put up numbers of 30 ppg (6th best in the playoffs), 12.2 rpg (3rd best in playoffs), 1.5 spg (9th best in playoffs), and 1.2 bpg (10th best in playoffs). That puts Joel in the top ten for four of the five main stat categories in the playoffs. He also shot 45.9% from the field and 81.4% from the line. The only places you can look at Joel for weaknesses was his low assists, 1.3 a game, high turnovers, 3.8 a game, and poor three point shooting, 25% from three. The only place Joel doesn’t really have an excuse is his poor 3-point shooting. His assist numbers and turnovers are directly related to the poor play of his teammates. Joel was getting double teamed all game every game and yet his teammates still could not help him out by hitting shots when he passed to them or getting open for him while he was double teamed.
Enough about Joel though, where were his teammates? The 76ers wound up dead last in field goal percentage for the playoffs at an appalling 39.6% from the field. They were also by far the worst three-point shooting team in the playoffs at an even more disturbing 26.4% from three. The next worst 3-point shooting team is not even close to as bad as the Sixers, it’s the Lakers at 33.1% from downtown. Almost a full 9% better than Philly.
For reference, the average team is shooting 45.8% from the field in playoffs and 37.3% from three. Only three sixers shot average or above average from the field, Al Horford, Shake Milton and as previously stated Joel Embiid. Only two 76ers shot average or above average from three, Raul Neto and Shake Milton. Milton was the only Sixer to shoot above average in both categories, so shout out to Shake for being quite possibly the only other Sixer to step up to the task this playoffs. Neto and Horford’s percentages are not even impressive when considering Neto only took 5 threes the entire series, making two of them, and Horford only took 25 shots total, 6th highest on the team and 19 less than the next highest shot taker Shake Milton who took 44 shots.
Josh Richardson was very consistent, just in a bad way as he managed to shoot 35.7% from both the field and from three. As a three point percentage it is totally respectable, only 1.6% below average, but as a field goal percentage it is terrible, as it is an entire 10.1% below average. Richardson by the way the team’s second highest scorer, averaging 16.8 ppg. Alec Burks was flat out awful, shooting 32.7% from the field and 18.8% from three. I really wish that was a typo, but it sadly is not.
The most disappointing was from Tobias Harris. Harris, who is was just re-signed to the 76ers for 5 years and $180 million, was the 18th highest paid player in the league this season, and is 3rd in the league in terms of guaranteed money throughout his current contract with his $180 million fully guaranteed contract. With all that money, he was only able to put up 15.8 ppg on 38.3% from the field and 13.3% from three. Tobias took 15 shots a game and 3.8 threes per game. Only 28 players have taken 15 or more shots a game this playoffs, 2 have worse percentages than Harris, and both of which are within less than 1% of his percentage. Those two are Paul George and Caris Levert. Levert is quite literally playing with Jarrett Allen and a bunch of G-Leaguers, and George has played so bad that he has been nicknamed “Pandemic P” (a clever play-on words of his other nickname “Playoff P”). When it comes to three-point shooting, out of the 111 players who have attempted 2.1 or more threes a game, Harris is tied last with Marcus Smart for 3pt%.
Also what happened to the young guys Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz? Thybulle took just SEVEN shots the ENTIRE SERIES. We know Thybulle is not on the floor because of his offensive ability but that sounds like Thybulle was either too scared to shoot, or told he was not allowed to. Furkan also only took seven shots the whole series and missed EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. This is the same guy who averaged 21.7 mpg during the regular season and was Philly’s top bench scorer until they traded for Alec Burks at the trade deadline. He averaged 9.8 ppg in the regular season yet did not even attempt 9 shots the whole series.
Brad Stevens Out Coaching Brett Brown…Again
Back in the 2018 playoffs the Celtics and Brad Stevens embarrassed the 76ers and Brett Brown. Winning in 5 games in the second round. Philadelphia managed to somehow do worse than last time. Stevens was able to make Ben Simmons useless at times throughout the series two years ago. While Simmons did not play this series, Stevens instead managed to make every 76er not named Joel Embiid look useless. While we have to give props to Stevens, as he has proven time and time again he is one of the best coaches in the NBA, Brett Brown was as big of a culprit as Stevens was to the Sixers’ issues. The series was the final straw in Brett Brown’s demise, as he was fired shortly after the Sixers had been swept.
The Philly offense had less ball movement than a team of 12-year-olds playing a pickup game. It seemed like there was no other game plan than all four other players standing around as they try to give Joel Embiid the ball. So many possessions were pointless and led to nothing. I mean there was not just simple stuff, like pick and rolls, screens, quick ball movement. There was no flow to the offense and it looked like nobody knew what they were supposed to do out there. It got so bad at points that players would stare at Embiid being double in the post, pickup their dribble, watch him for five seconds and then throw the pass to him. Everyone and their Grandma knew the ball was going to be passed to Embiid and the Celtics took full advantage of that, as they got lots of points off of turnovers throughout the series.
Speaking of double teams, the Sixers used absolutely none on the defensive end. Even when Tatum was clearly on fire and amount of Matisse Thybulle one on one defense was going to stop him, Brown refused to try to double Tatum to try to get the ball out of his hands. Brown also made the head scratching decision of putting big man Al Horford on Jaylen Brown defensively. Horford is 34 years old, and slow, Brown is 23 years old and one of the most athletic young players in the league. It was not even really Horford’s fault he kept getting scored on by Brown, he just had no chance, yet Brown continued to match Horford onto Brown throughout the series.
Also the Sixers would go under every screen and they would get punished every time after the Celtics would use the screen to create space for a three-pointer and make it. The rule of thumb is that if the player who has the ball is a threat to drive, you go under the screen, if they are a threat to shoot, you go over the screen. Now to the Celtics’ credit, Tatum, Brown and Walker are all threats to do both, but Brown still never changed his stance on that and players continued to go under screens. It makes it that much more frustrating when you realize the Sixers have annual DPOY candidate Joel Embiid to protect the rim incase the player gets by his defender.
No Ben Simmons
If you ever were a doubter of Ben Simmons’ ability, watch the 76ers play with Simmons, and then watch how they played against Boston this series. His importance to this team was shown to be even more vital than most thought. The offense was a complete mess without him. It seemed like nobody knew how to dribble, which led to a lot of turnovers and bad shots. His absence also clearly affected almost every Sixers’ offensive game, as no one but Embiid was able to get in any sort of offensive rhythm without Simmons there to orchestrate the offense.
His defensive ability was missed just as much as his offensive ability. Simmons ended up in 4th place in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, and it sure could have helped the 76ers. His defense on Tatum instead of Thybulle’s would have most likely been better, and that would allow for either Matisse to guard one of Walker and Brown, or for Matisse to go to the bench and the Sixers not to have to suffer offensively due to Matisse’s lack of offense.
You would think the Sixers would shoot better from three with the absence of the infamous Simmons’ lack of a jumper. But ironically Simmons is behind only LeBron James in assists that led to a three-pointer this season with 230, only 3 behind LeBron. That is absurd considering Simmons played 10 games less than LeBron this season. So while Simmons does not take or make long ranged shots, he certainly produces them for Philadelphia when he plays, and that was clearly evident throughout the painful series against Boston.
The Sixers got completely demolished by Boston. Let’s hope that they can use this anger as fuel for next season. Of course, we said the very same thing about last year, when they lost a heartbreaking series to Toronto.
Perhaps things will be different next year, the Sixers have already said goodbye to Brett Brown and I would be shocked if there were not more changes coming this offseason, to both the roster and the front office.
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