Disappointment can’t begin to tell the story of the 76ers, who had a clear path to the Eastern Conference finals, but couldn’t hold serve at home.
This was supposed to be the easier path to the third round, not having to face Brooklyn or Milwaukee in the conference semifinals, but Atlanta showed tremendous resiliency in winning three games on the road, including Sunday’s clinching 103-96 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers have so many questions as their offseason has unexpectedly begun.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @Sjnard. Thank you for reading.
— Marc Narducci (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hawks toughness had to be admired
There are many reasons why the 76ers are unexpectedly out of the postseason, but the biggest is something that can’t be quantified by any statistic.
One reason the Hawks won this seven-game series was their mental and physical toughness. The Hawks had the fortitude to be able to win three of the four games in Philadelphia.
They won Game 7 when their best player, Trae Young, shot 5 for 23. Atlanta fought through a lot. The Sixers had their moments, but not as many as the Hawks, who maybe were too young to realize that, as a No. 5 seed, they weren’t supposed to be in this position.
“You got to be mentally tough, you can’t take games for granted, especially in the playoffs when every game matters, every possession matters,” beleaguered Sixers guard Ben Simmons said.
He’s right, and the Hawks showed that. Atlanta came back from an 18-point deficit to win Game 4 at home, 103-100 and then overcame a 26-point deficit on the road to win Game 5, 109-106. Then after losing Game 6 at home, 104-99, most were counting them out of the series. The Hawks then came back and grinded their way to a win in Game 7.
The Hawks were without their best defensive player, De’Andre Hunter, who missed the series with a knee injury. Dangerous wing Bogdan Bogdanovic played the last few games with sore right knee.
Yet the Hawks were able to persevere.
It must be noted that the Sixers lost Danny Green for the series in the beginning of Game 3 with a right calf strain. His loss, especially with his postseason experience that includes three NBA titles with three different teams, was bigger than many anticipated, even though he struggled in the first two games of the series.
The Sixers also had to show a degree of toughness, especially Joel Embiid, who played heroically while dealing with a meniscus tear.
With their backs to the wall, the Sixers also showed some heart by forcing a Game 7. The difference is that Sixers couldn’t match the Hawks in the toughness department throughout the series. The Hawks never let anything get them down, including playing in front of one of the more difficult crowds in the NBA at the Wells Fargo Center.
This was the first time in the postseason for many of the key Hawks, including Young, John Collins, Bogdanovic, and Kevin Huerter, who torched the Sixers for 27 points in Game 7.
Yet in the most difficult environments to compete, the Hawks were able to prosper. Atlanta not only went 3-1 in Philadelphia, but 2-1 at Madison Square Garden in ousting the New York Knicks in five games during the opening series. Young was spit on by a fan during the Knicks series and endured profanity-laced chants.
“We went to tough places to play, and it was a great environment, loved it,” Young said. “Loved the [trash] talking, loved everything about it. It’s been great.”
He also loved his team’s will to win.
“This is our first time [for many] and we’re enjoying it and we want to win,” Young said. “I love this attitude.”
It was this attitude, a true toughness about the Hawks that allowed them to persevere. So many times things didn’t go their way, but they kept fighting and as it turns out, kept winning.
David Murphy writes: Ben Simmons disappeared from Game 7 and the Sixers’ faith in him might be gone, too.
Keith Pompey has all the details on the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Hawks.
On his podcast, Keith and I dissect the Sixers series with Atlanta and look into the future of Ben Simmons and his fear to shoot and whether the Sixers will be able to trade him.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers didn’t have much of a reaction when asked about Joel Embiid being fined $35,000 for his role in the scuffle with the Hawks John Collins in Friday’s Game 6.
Doc Rivers recalled his lone Game 7 as a player, a classic between the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics in 1988.
What a Father’s Day gift
After the Hawks had won the series, Trae Young looked to the stands for one of the fans who was actually cheering for him — his father, Rayford.
The game was played on Father’s Day and so Young presented his father with the best of gifts — his jersey.
“He’s literally been traveling and coming to all my games and being there to support me since the beginning,” Young said about his father in the postgame Zoom conference.
Young then continued to reminisce about his time with his father.
“I remember going and taking those two-hour drives from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dallas just to play with my AAU team, and go to Kansas City to play with my AAU team and he was there, from all those days until now,” Young said. “We’re going to playoff games as a kid and watching them and for us to have a playoff game on Father’s Day, I wanted to make it a mission to go out and win and give him my jersey.”
Monday-Sunday: NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
Tuesday: NBA Draft Lottery, 8:30 p.m. ESPN.
Wednesday: Eastern Conference finals begin, Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m., TNT.
July 19: Deadline for an early entry player to withdraw from the NBA Draft (5 p.m.).
July 29: NBA Draft.
Aug. 2: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents (6 p.m.).
Aug. 6: Teams can begin signing free agents (12:01 p.m.).
Aug. 8-17: MGM Resorts NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
Passing the rock
Question/Comment: The Sixers gave away a golden opportunity for an NBA title this year. Number one seed playing a five seed. Brooklyn injuries and out of the playoffs. Decent potential matchup against the Bucks. Big injuries with the West teams. Three home losses are unacceptable. — @EggsFifty on Twitter
Answer: Thanks for your comment. You went over a lot and I think that is the thing that Sixers fans will cringe at this most — that they may never get a better chance to win a title. That said, even if they won against the Hawks, I think they would have had trouble with the Bucks, but as you alluded to, Milwaukee is beatable. Anyway, that is the Hawks’ problem. I agree that the Sixers blew a golden opportunity, and who knows if this same opportunity will be here next year? Then again, it’s likely this same Sixers team won’t be here. It could be an offseason of change. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey should be extremely busy trying to reshape this team.