After blowing a 26-point second half lead en route to a Game 5 collapse, the Sixers are staring down the barrel of elimination. Down 3-2 heading to Atlanta on the heels of consecutive gut-wrenching losses, all hope seems lost.
Joel Embiid has a habit of shrinking in the 4th quarter, Ben Simmons has the yips, and Tobias Harris proved that he’s exactly who we thought he was. To varying degrees, each of these “stars” is a fraud.
If you want to defend Joel after last night’s loss the box score certainly provides cover for that—37 points on 20 shots is impressive on paper—but it’s a mirage. After starting 8/8 from the field in the first quarter Joel proceeded to shoot 4/12 the rest of the way, with 0 points on 4 missed shots over the final 7:01 of the 4th quarter. Defend that.
As far as Ben Simmons goes, the conversation starts and ends with his free throw shooting. When this season is all said and done this will be viewed as the first domino to fall in the wrong direction. After seeing his percentage drop from 67.1% pre-All Star break to 53.3% post, Simmons has outdone himself with a mark of 32.8% in these playoffs (he’s totaled 45 misses across just 10 games).
Doc having to bench Ben—the runner up DPOY—in the final moments of a lead that slipped away at the hands of an unshackled Trae Young (Matisse simply never bothered Young like Ben had in this matchup) will likely be the most indelible moment from this series in the event that the Sixers do lose. That’s the stuff legacies are made of—and not the good ones.
That brings us to Tobias Harris. The beacon of consistency and efficiency for this Sixers team seemed to have finally shook the monkey off his back and earned the status of “third star,” until he didn’t. Ultimately, how Harris played in the regular season was never going to settle our questions about him, and his 4 point performance in last night’s loss pretty much erases all that he “accomplished” throughout the year. That may seem unfair, but the playoffs are all that matter, and that’s where your story is written. This is simply the latest chapter in a book that Sixers fans should be more than willing to close at this point.
Truthfully, that point applies to each of these players. Joel, Ben, and Tobias have each proven to be too small for the moment throughout their (albeit still young) playoff careers. After the two most recent losses, this postseason is shaping up pretty much exactly how the last few did; a series of self-inflicted wounds leading to emotionally devastating elimination. In fact (and I may be a prisoner of the moment here) this pending elimination is setting up to be the most painful.
With the team still technically very much alive in these playoffs, now isn’t the time to be drawing grand conclusions about the ability and mental makeup of the team’s players (if there’s ever an appropriate time to do so). But in the aftermath of the Sixers Game 4 loss we figured that Game 5 would be as good of an opportunity as any to learn about the true mettle of Embiid and company. Would they respond with a dominating performance, or double down on the mistakes and flaws that have always characterized their playoff shortcomings? We got an answer last night.
The jury is no longer out on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris. Until they provide us with evidence to the contrary, each of them is a fraud.