The Philadelphia 76ers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention after falling to the Atlanta Hawks 103-96 in Sunday’s game 7 clash. The loss slams the door shut for this year’s top seed in the Eastern Conference, a squad that certainly had their sights set on a championship. While the Sixers’ organization will look ahead to the offseason, the Atlanta Hawks will advance to the Eastern Conference finals to do battle with the Milwaukee Bucks.
This loss is especially startling given just how poorly Trae Young shot the ball. He was an abysmal 5-23 from the field (2-11 3PT) and never found a consistent shooting rhythm. However, he continued to play with his characteristic swagger and found ways to both get to the free throw line (9-11 FT) and set his teammates up for easy baskets (10 assists). The hero of game 7 for the Hawks was fellow guard Kevin Huerter, who continually sought out isolation matchups against the smaller Seth Curry and took full advantage with 27 points to lead the Hawks in scoring.
Joel Embiid played 41 minutes in this game, pacing the Sixers with 31 points and 11 rebounds for yet another double-double. However, his 8 turnovers proved costly for the Sixers, particularly on a possession near the game’s end when he was cleverly stripped by Danilo Gallinari and the Hawks easily went on to score in transition. Coach Rivers expressed his desire to strategically rest Embiid earlier in the contest so the big man would be in top form for the game’s closing minutes. This tactic appeared to work as Embiid did play very strongly in the fourth quarter, but ultimately couldn’t push the Sixers past the Hawks this year.
Ben Simmons will deservedly shoulder a lot of the blame for his virtual nonexistence as a scorer against the Hawks. Having an equal amount of points and fouls at halftime became a literal pattern for Simmons this series and he looked absolutely terrified of the moment in game 7. While he did have a game high 13 assists, he repeatedly didn’t take smaller defenders to the rim as a result of a fear of the foul line. The defining play of his series, and one that Philly fans won’t forget soon, is his decision to pass the ball off to Thybulle for a contested layup instead of dunking the ball himself during an incredibly tight fourth quarter.
It remains to be seen whether the Sixers will continue to “trust the process” in regards to the pairing of Embiid and Simmons. Since they just lost on their home floor as a 1 seed, the prospect of this team winning a championship with that duo as their key pieces seems unlikely. The Atlanta Hawks aren’t exactly a juggernaut of a team so this defeat is extremely disappointing for a Sixers squad that had monumental hopes this year.