Sixers vs. Celtics Game 6: Sixers Squander Opportunity to Advance
A great chance is wasted.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
Rarely will a team get a chance this good -- after a dominant Game 5 win in Boston, the Sixers returned to their arena with a chance to close out the team that has owned them for nearly a decade. They were welcomed by the best crowd the Wells Fargo Center has seen in many, many years. The Celtics’ superstar, Jayson Tatum, could not make a shot to save his life. Boston’s desperation was obvious.
With 5:57 left on the clock, the Sixers led, 83-81. They had the Celtics on the ropes. But instead of landing a knockout punch, they let Boston continue to keep themselves alive. And when the knockout punch finally connected, it was the Sixers who found themselves on the canvas.
The Sixers fell to the Celtics, 95-86, evening the series at 3-3. The teams will play a Game 7 in Boston on Sunday. The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and attain home-court advantage for the remainder of the NBA playoffs. The other will grapple with a devastating and disappointing end to their season.
The Sixers’ Game 5 win was a “team win,” as just about everybody stepped up and did their jobs. Tonight’s game was a team loss. Nearly every rotation player underperformed -- sometimes it is truly that simple.
In the final six minutes or so, the Sixers scored one point before pulling their starters -- a free throw from Tyrese Maxey. In the game’s biggest moments, they came up small. Meanwhile, Tatum recovered from his brutal slump and put together a heater for the ages, knocking down four threes in about three minutes. Just like that, the Sixers went from being on the verge of pulling off the series win to facing a Game 7 on the road.
The common sentiment across Sixers postgame media availabilities was that the NBA is, if you have not heard, “a make or miss league.” Tyrese Maxey, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Doc Rivers all made a point to say it, and it is worth acknowledging -- the Sixers made just eight of 34 three-point tries -- 23.5 percent -- while the Celtics went 15-35 from beyond the arc -- 42.9 percent.
Georges Niang knocked down a pair of momentum-shifting threes on three tries. Danuel House Jr. made one of his two triples. The rest of the team made five of 29 threes -- good for a 17.2 three-point percentage. The most obvious guys who struggled were Harden, who missed all six of his tries from deep, and De’Anthony Melton, who missed all four of his attempts -- three of which were as wide open as it gets.
Maxey played well on the whole but missed six of his nine tries from deep. PJ Tucker shot seven threes -- the most he has ever taken in a game as a Sixer -- but only made two. Embiid missed both of his threes and Tobias Harris missed his lone attempt.
Some of this loss can be pinned on poor shooting from deep, and that is fair. You also have to tip your cap to Tatum for hitting some massive shots down the stretch despite his enormous struggles early. But the Sixers inflicted much of this on themselves, beyond missing open shots.
Harris, a player who has been known as a scorer for his entire career, scored two points in 42 minutes. He shot 1-7 from the field, including two missed layups. Harris’ defense was very good tonight, but that level of incompetence on offense is just not acceptable from him. He failed to capitalize on mismatches, missed good looks and stalled the offense with the exact ball-stopping, methodical playstyle the Sixers have spent years trying to get him to ditch.
Rivers said about a half-dozen times postgame that the team’s ball movement was insufficient. He also said the team failed to play with the requisite level of trust. Embiid echoed those thoughts moments later.
Embiid also lamented the fact that he barely touched the ball down the stretch. Embiid made a point to hold himself responsible for that -- as he was not aggressive enough in establishing positioning down low -- and not blame teammates for not getting him the ball.
In the next 72 hours or so, the Sixers have to digest what happened, figure out fixes, and then completely erase the disappointment from their minds. They are one loss away from being sent home in the second round yet again.
The Sixers have shown that they have it in them to beat this team. But until they prove otherwise, they deserve to be subjected to the level of skepticism that has plagued them for more than a half-decade just because they are the Sixers, and disappointment is their specialty.
Are Embiid and the Sixers going to finally get past the moment which has stymied them time and time again, or are they going to just be the Same Old Sixers?
The answer to that question will decide which organization experiences complete anguish and embarrassment. It will permanently alter reputations, dictate potential firings, and make or tarnish legacies.
Sunday is going to be a monumental date in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers. Will it be the day things finally change for the better, or the day everything comes crashing down?