A lot went wrong for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the second NBA playoff round. The devastating 112-88 loss against the Boston Celtics cost the Sixers the chances of making it to the conference finals and coach Doc Rivers his job.
For the fourth time in five years, the Philadelphia 76ers said goodbye after the second NBA playoff round. Even though they came closer than ever to making it through, the Sixers disappointed once again in their final moments.
Thanks to a great overall performance in the first round, Philadelphia swept the Brooklyn Nets and was ready to face the Boston Celtics who went to the games as the clear favorite.
The second round went well for the Sixers who led the series 3-2 after five games. With another win, they finally had the chance to make it to the conference finals but Boston outperformed the Sixers in Game 6 (95-86) and forced a final matchup which ended in a nightmare for Philly.
Even though the Sixers started decently and kept a close score in the first two quarters, they showed a completely different face in the second half.
Neither MVP Joel Embiid nor star player James Harden delivered. Both combined only scored 26 points and were not able to lift their team to the conference finals.
Instead, it was Jayson Tatum who shined with an impressive performance. The 25-year-old dropped 51 points and made NBA history. He broke Stephen Curry’s record and is now the player who has scored the most points ever in an NBA Game 7 playoff match.
The loss brings many uncertainties for Philadelphia’s future. Head coach Doc Rivers has already been relieved of his duties and the team is actively searching for a replacement. Harden, who was consistently the team’s second-best player since he arrived, has a player option he is expected to decline so he can test free agency.
There have been rumors dating back to Christmas in 2022 of Harden’s desire to return to the Houston Rockets, the team that originally allowed him to flourish into the MVP player he became. Some believe that the rumors are all a leverage play from Harden’s agent to attract more money from the Sixers, while others say he truly wants to return to the franchise that helped him become a superstar.
If Harden doesn’t return, Philadelphia will have to “get creative” to remain a contender, in the words of President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey. The team would still have Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris under contract, but Harden’s departure would make it much more difficult to view the team as a true finals contender.
The question many have presented since the loss is, “should the Sixers even want Harden to return?”. That is up for debate, with the guard having spectacular performances in Games 1 and 4, but being borderline unplayable in Games 3, 6, and 7. Morey stated in his end-of-season press conference that the team’s preference is to have Harden return, but acknowledged the uncertainty there. This situation is fluid and we will likely not have a clear answer until at least mid-June.
As for the head coaching search, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported the team has focused on six candidates: former Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, former Suns head coach Monty Williams, former Pacers and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, former Knicks and Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, former Hawks and Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and current Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassell.
Whoever gets the job will have the challenge of figuring out how to sustain Joel Embiid’s MVP production from the regular season into the playoffs, developing Tyrese Maxey into the All-Star many believe he can be, and finding out how to keep Harden afloat when his shots aren’t falling in the playoffs (assuming he re-signs with the Sixers in some capacity).
After another year of disappointment, there is going to be a massive change for the Sixers this offseason. Firing Rivers was a start, but prepare for an influx of new signings and trades once the team has a clear vision in mind.