Instant Observations: Embiid, Harden Crumble in Sixers’ Game 7 Blowout Loss to Celtics

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) sits on the bench during the final moments of their loss to the Boston Celtics in game seven of the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another disappointing second-round exit. The Philadelphia 76ers were pummeled by the Boston Celtics in Game 7, falling 112-88 on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.

Jayson Tatum had an electric performance for the Celtics. He finished with 51 points on 17-of-28 shooting to go with 13 rebounds. Jaylen Brown added in 25 points and six rebounds.

Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers, scoring 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Tobias Harris finished with 19 points and five rebounds. Joel Embiid had 15 points (5-of-18 shooting), eight rebounds and four turnovers. James Harden finished with nine points, six rebounds, seven assists and five turnovers.

The Sixers’ season is now over, with an offseason full of major questions looming. Here are some instant observations from the loss:

– With their season on the line, the Sixers’ star duo choked and came up small. Embiid and Harden combined to shoot 8-of-29 while committing nine turnovers.

Embiid never managed to get it going. Right from the opening tip, he played with an unusual hesitancy while going away from what made him the league’s leading scorer this season. He repeatedly drove at Al Horford instead of going to his face-up game in the mid-range area. There were a few times he drew fouls, but for the most part this strategy resulted in poor possessions for the Sixers. Both his decision making and speed in getting into his moves were also slow. This resulted in multiple turnovers as Boston completely stonewalled him defensively. Embiid looked rattled when he had the ball, second-guessing shots he normally would knock down with ease.

While he had a fantastic series defensively, Embiid got attacked and picked apart by the Celtics in this game. He came into the game seemingly lacking the necessary defensive intensity that he had brought throughout the series. Things only got worse in the second half. Tatum was on fire all game long, but he unleashed things in the second half. The Celtics used the pick-and-roll to draw Embiid up to the perimeter and matched up on Tatum. Boston got multiple 3-pointers off that action in the second half. While Embiid’s defense was not bad on some of those shots, Tatum was on such a heater it did not matter what level of defense he went up against. Powered by Tatum’s hot shooting, the Celtics outscored the Sixers 33-10 in the third quarter.

Embiid’s performance was brutal. However, he was not to be outdone by how bad his co-star played in this crucial Game 7. Harden’s performance was a far cry from the two games he carried the Sixers’ offense in Games 1 and 4. He reverted back to the cautious, unaggressive version the Sixers received multiple times already earlier in the series. Too many times he would drive the basket and never really look to shoot the ball. In a Game 7, it is inexcusable to spend his entire performance looking to foul-bait rather than actually attempting to score. Having his season, one in which he averaged 20-plus points while leading the league in assists, end in this manner is disappointing to say the least.

The Sixers’ star duo’s failure to show up in the biggest moment of the season, unfortunately, is not shocking to see. Both players have a history of poor performances in the postseason. This despicable showing will likely be a stain on both their legacies. More time will be spent on this throughout the offseason, but at this point it is fair to question if an Embiid-led team is ever going to be able to make a deep playoff run. After having yet another season end in a second round exit, the Sixers have a ton of questions heading into this offseason. What to do with Harden’s future in Philadelphia is at the center of those important questions that need to be answered.

– One of the key things to watch in this game was how the Sixers fared against Boston’s two-bigs lineup. In Game 6, P.J. Tucker failed to make them pay for having Robert Williams III roam the paint while leaving Tucker open in the corner. Game 7, at least in the early going, was a completely different story. Tucker helped the Sixers respond to Boston’s 8-2 run to begin the game. He knocked down a pair of open 3-pointers from the corner. He led the Sixers with 11 points, including shooting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, in the first quarter. Tucker’s strong 3-point shooting was one of the lone reasons why the Sixers were able to keep it close in the first half.

De’Anthony Melton provided some solid bench minutes for the Sixers. He brought his usual effort both defensively and on the glass. There was a good sequence in the first half where he combined with Embiid to block a shot, sparking a fast break that ended with an Embiid and-one layup. He finished with seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.

– Maxey had the best performance of the game for anyone in a Sixers uniform. He was one of their only players who did not look intimidated by the moment, which is shocking considering he is just 22 years old. Maxey knocked down a couple 3-pointers and was one of the lone players who resembled his usual self. He played with confidence and played a mostly mistake-free brand of basketball. The Sixers should have made the adjustment, especially in the second half, to run the offense more through Maxey. Harden was tripping over himself and producing nothing positive. It would not have affected the overall outcome, but at least the Sixers’ offense would have been a bit easier to watch.

– Head coach Doc Rivers is likely going to lose his job in part because of the Sixers’ abysmal showing in this game. He has done a far from perfect job coaching the Sixers. However, he should be at the bottom of the list of people at fault for this Game 7 drubbing. Both Embiid and Harden simply failed to show up when it mattered, and Rivers is not to blame for that.

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