Sixers

Reoccurring Nightmare the Last Thing Philly Wants

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I’d love to call this a bad dream, but this is a waking nightmare.

Honestly, a bad dream undersells it to begin with. That makes it sound singular, but what we’re witnessing is frightfully recurrent. Once again, Philadelphia is on the brink of a disappointing collapse, despite having what I called a “cake walk” to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Am I to blame for Philadelphia’s situation? No, they’ve been imploding in the playoffs long before I began writing about them, but that doesn’t make this situation any less frustrating. At the time of this article, Philadelphia is tied 2-2 with the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2021 Eastern Conference playoffs. It’s not nearly the death sentence the rest of this paragraph would lead you to believe it is.

If Philly’s track record is any indication, however, it’s a bad sign.

History Repeating Itself

If 76ers fans are wondering what that faded, ominous reel is that’s playing in their heads right now, don’t worry, it’s just the tape from the 2019 Raptors series.

Now, famously, no one remembers how that series ended – at least I don’t after blocking it from my memory.

But that’s what’s eerily unfolding in front of our eyes, yet again.

If you’ll remember, Toronto, like Atlanta, won the first game of that series. Philadelphia won the next two, just as they did this year, before losing game four, like they did against Atlanta. In 2019, Toronto won Game 5, Philly won Game 6, and the Raptors closed out Game 7. Not to insinuate the sky is falling, but this Atlanta series feels like basketball PTSD. And Philadelphia’s inability to land a kill-shot when they have the advantage in a series is always their Achilles heel.

The Doc Effect

When Philadelphia got unceremoniously swept by Boston in the 2020 playoffs, fans were clamoring for change. Chief among their demands was the removal of head coach Brett Brown. He was a fitting shepherd for ‘The Process’, but a troika of playoff disappointments ultimately led to his demise. ‘

Enter Doc Rivers, the tenth-winningest coach in NBA history. For all his regular-season success, however, Doc hasn’t gotten it done in the playoffs– excluding his championship in ’08. In fact, more than a decade removed from his singular coaching title, Doc might be more known for his miscues than for his triumphs. Since 2003, Rivers has blown three 3-1 series leads in the playoffs– that’s not a distinction you want.

Obviously Philadelphia isn’t on the verge of a 3-1 collapse, but Rivers’ playoff history isn’t reassuring.

Trae Becoming Inevitable

If you watched Game 1, it was clear the Sixers had no answer for Trae Young. Young torched Philly to the tune of 35 points, and has since been averaging about 27 points per game. Game 1 set a precedent, but it was Trae Young asserting his dominance in the face of Philadelphia’s defense. It proved to be disastrous for the Sixers – not that they did themselves any favors.

I don’t mean to undercut Young here, but for whatever reason, the Sixers set him up for success.

Listen, I love Danny Green, but he’s 33 years old with a lot of miles. In a previous article I wrote about how Philadelphia’s experience should work in their favor. Green is a three-time champ, he’s a big portion of that playoff experience.

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But guess what? I don’t want a 33-year-old Danny Green chasing around Trae Young. Especially not when you have Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle to throw at him, both of whom were just named to first and second-team All-Defense, respectively. Young, while thriving, is still inexperienced– Philly can’t exploit that rawness if they don’t execute correctly. Green’s playoff experience does little to stifle Young. Let’s remember the DPOY finalist who’s spent a couple post-seasons guarding Kawhi Leonard and Jayson Tatum.

I’d use him.

Silver Linings

All is not lost for Philadelphia, though. As gut-wrenching as Game 4 was, it took Embiid going 4-for-20 for Atlanta to survive. If it takes Embiid having a statistically aberrational game for the Hawks to hold on, I’ll sleep okay.

Then again, in the playoffs a win is a win, it’s not worth undercutting victories and losses with “yeah-buts.” It’s a comforting prospect, but nothing more.

For all the Hawks’ momentum, Philly did just win back-to-back games, doing so, at home and in Atlanta. I know I just questioned my own previous experience angle, but Philly still has the edge there. Guys like Seth Curry, Dwight Howard and George Hill are playoff veterans– they can win with their backs against the wall. What’s worrisome is the track record of integral pieces like Tobias Harris, Simmons and Embiid.

They have yet to prove they can get over the hump. Fans may be reeling more than the team itself, and they have reason to. We’ve seen this movie before – and over, and over again. Here’s hoping it has a better ending this time around.

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

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About Kadin Burnett

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