The Sixers knew they let an opportunity get away after squandering a lead in Game 6 and then collapsing in the second half of Game 7, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. A series with multiple momentum shifts ended in a familiar way for Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, with a disappointing loss that leads to an offseason filled with questions about the future.
The Sixers seemed to seize control of the series a couple of times — first by taking Game 1 in Boston without Joel Embiid, then rallying for a Game 4 victory that was followed by a dominant road win in Game 5. A spot in the Eastern Conference Finals — which would have been the first time the franchise has advanced that far since 2001 — appeared within reach, but they couldn’t find a way to finish the series.
“Up 3-2 against the defending Eastern Conference champs,” Tyrese Maxey said. “We knew after we won Game 5 that it wasn’t going to be easy going home, that it was going to everything we had. We let that opportunity slip between our hands. … It’s really difficult to close out a series, especially when you’re playing a good team like that. A team that’s battle-tested. A team that’s been through it. A team that’s been there before. We had two opportunities to close them out. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.”
There’s more on the Sixers:
- Embiid wouldn’t confirm coach Doc Rivers‘ speculation that he tweaked his injured knee again, but he acknowledged that he was “limited” by the LCL sprain that he suffered at the end of the first-round series, Mizell adds. Doctors said the injury would typically sideline a player for four to six weeks, but Embiid came back early to try to add an NBA title to his MVP award. “It’s tough losing, especially this way,” he said. ” … You can be sad about it all you want, but you’ve always got to find ways to be better and keep improving. And that’s what I’m going to do, win or lose.”
- Speculation about the Sixers’ future started immediately, particularly regarding James Harden, who has been rumored for several months to be considering a return to Houston. Harden didn’t mention the Rockets in his post-game session with reporters, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, but he said, “I just want to have a chance to compete.” Harden has a $35.6MM player option for next season that he’s expected to decline.
- Rivers, whose future in Philadelphia is also under speculation, talked about the playoff series and the tenuous nature of coaches during an interview with Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. He defended Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who was under fire each time Boston lost. “When we were making shots and playing well, that wasn’t on Joe. It was never Joe,” Rivers said. “It’s always that you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to play well, and it’s a make-miss league. I don’t think there was an issue on either side. One team beat the other team. That’s what happens.”