Text | From one dozen to five
Edit | Aunt Wang, Xinyu
The Eastern Conference finals grabbed seven, and the 76ers trailed by as many as 28 points 2:58 before the end of the game. The camera gave the 76ers bench, and "confusion" is the theme of the 76ers' faces.
Joel Embiid's eyes are confused, James Harden's eyes are blank, and Rivers is empty with a bit of anger and annoyance.
Embiid lost all seven or three of his career playoffs, and the curse continued. Harden scored just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting, and the spell of career-stealing inefficiency continued. Rivers lost seven away + only one win in the divisional semifinals to advance to a 10-game losing streak and was reversed to continue.
Will the 76ers have a chance to break these curses in the future? Hardly. For 76ers, summer 2023 will be a foggy summer. Whether Rivers can stay, Harden's contract extension, Tobias Harris, and reinforcements in other positions, including Embiid's own evolution, will all determine whether the 76ers can make a comeback next season.
So much production reduction of the new MVP
When we look back at what Embiid said in an interview with Charania on March 27, you will feel that the heavy punch Embiid threw at Jokic all rebounded back to Embiid himself, smashing his nose and swollen face.
"Some players have won two MVPs and won several MVPs and so far nothing has been achieved, so why should I be under pressure?" Embiid said at the time.
Now, Jokic has once again led the team to the divisional finals, and Embiid still doesn't know what it's like to make it out of the second round.
Because Embiid and Jokic have been rivals in the MVP battle for three years in a row, Embiid will inevitably be compared to Jokic. If the performance of the two in the regular season is still "each with its own merits", Embiid scored more fiercely, and Jokic won in the all-round, then Jokic's performance in the playoffs is to crush Embiid's existence.
Among the MVPs of all generations, Embiid is a strange existence, because most of the time he cuts production and reduces efficiency as soon as he reaches the playoffs.
This season, Embiid averaged 33.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, Embiid's numbers shrank to an average of 23.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. As playing time increased, Embiid's production declined and his shooting percentage plummeted to 43.1 percent, far less than the more than 54 percent during the regular season.
Embiid played six playoff games in his career, including only 2019-20 without production cuts, but Embiid played only four games that year. Looking at Jokic's massive increase in production, Embiid is only embarrassed.
Embiid can certainly use "injury" as an excuse, which is also part of the truth. Embiid was unlucky, and his playoff career was either injured to his teammates or himself. In the 2018 playoffs, Embiid played with a fractured eye socket. In 2022, Embiid came out with a fractured orbit and a torn ligament in his thumb. This year, Embiid suffered another sprained right knee in the first round.
Rivers sighed: "I wish Embiid could play a playoff game without repeated injuries. ”
But is Embiid's problem just "bad luck"? Another part of Embiid's production cuts is that there is a problem with his style of play.
For years, the Ancient Inner Line Divine Beasts have been advising Embiid to fight low, but Embiid is scoffing. On the one hand, because the times have changed, on the other hand, because Embiid has suffered multiple injuries in his lower limbs and does not dare to carry out high-intensity lower limb strength training, which limits Embiid's ability to position and attack from low positions. When encountering certain opponents and targeted strategies, Embiid's back-to-back killing power is limited.
For example, in 2019, Embiid was restricted by Marc Gasol. In 2020, Embiid was limited by the ubiquitous bag clips of the Celtics.
Embiid's way to circumvent this weakness is to learn from outside players such as Kobe Bryant and take the singles of the face basket. In 2023, Embiid's face basket singles skills have improved, and since statistics began, Embiid is the first center player to score in the top 5 in the league. With a single at the basket, Embiid can score points and has enough vision to break the bag with a pass.
But in the targeted playoffs, Embiid's style of play is not bright, how many people have you seen win the championship with individual singles? Embiid likes to hold the ball high after blocking, and the Nets' strategy is to frantically pinch, harass, and even let go of Harden. The Celtics have better defensive resources, and veteran Horford played the role of Gasol Jr.
Many times, Embiid couldn't shoot, even if he didn't shoot efficiently, and his singles in the playoffs fell from 1.07 points per round in the regular season to 0.83 points. The regular season stats also show that Embiid has improved by breaking the bags, but in the playoffs, Embiid was beaten back to square one, and he only gave 24 assists but as many as 35 turnovers, which pales in comparison to Jokic.
"I'll have to find a way to keep improving myself in the offseason." Embiid has set his mind, but can he find the right direction?
Where Harden Road is
"Apart from winning the championship, what motivates you this season?"
After the 76ers swept the Nets in the first round, a reporter asked Harden such a question.
"I said to myself, I'm just going to sacrifice this year, whether it's money or my role in the team, I don't care about anything, I'm just sacrificing, and then see what sacrifice can bring me."
The result came out, Harden's sacrifice, in exchange for the 76ers once again stopped in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This result obviously does not satisfy Harden.
In terms of attitude, Harden is beyond reproach this season. Harden sacrificed a lot of money last offseason, jumping out of his contract to re-sign the 76ers to a $33 million starting 1+1 contract, helping the 76ers make room to sign Tucker and Danielle House.
Harden sacrificed his tactical position to be a playmaker, he scored less, but he averaged assists per game to win the king. In addition, Harden is also actively transforming to fit Embiid, who has spent more than a year developing the skill of catching and shooting three-pointers, with remarkable results. In Game 4 of the series against the Celtics, Harden hit a catch-and-shoot three-point shot in overtime to complete the winning shot.
Harden's attitude is fine, but Harden, who is about to be 34 years old, is still in the key battle, and his ability is already declining. There are age and injury reasons, but there are also issues with the 76ers' style of play and space. In the series against the Celtics, Harden proved in three games won by the 76ers that as long as he is given space, he can still bring the team victory with 40+ points or assists.
The problem was that the 76ers could not provide him with stable space support. There is no need to talk about Tucker's drag on space, Harris is out of the sky in this round of the series, Melton and Maxi did not play their due role, and Embiid's center guard style of play needs the ball.
This offseason, Harden has decided again, he has a player option and needs to decide whether to execute the option to stay on the team or jump out of his contract to become a free agent again.
Harden has already made huge sacrifices in salary last year, and Harden, who is not young, must want to seize the last chance to win a long-term big contract. In retaining Harden, the 76ers actually have little advantage. Under the 38-year-old clause, the 76ers can't offer Harden a five-year contract this offseason, and the 76ers can offer a four-year, $210 million contract up to four years. A team with salary space like the Rockets can offer up to $202 million for four years, a difference of $8 million.
Don't forget that the 76ers don't have enough incentive to open Harden's top salary because of salary pressure. And the Rockets have said that they will end the swing and start fighting for the championship, and they have more incentive to offer Harden a top salary. Coupled with Houston's significance to Harden, the Rockets have no less advantage in signing Harden than the 76ers.
"I believe in the potential of this team, after all, we've only been playing together for a year." Harden's current signal is that he wants to stay with the 76ers, but what happens in the offseason is unpredictable.
Other troubles for 76ers
The 76ers aim to reach the Eastern Conference Finals first, and over the years, they have overcome difficulties and experienced countless twists and turns, and have come to the gate of the Eastern Conference Finals again and again, but each time they have fallen in the closest place to achieve their goals. The 76ers were only close to achieving their goal, but this was a heavenly interval.
Coach Rivers is certainly to blame, and aside from his reversed history, and only talking about this year's Eastern Conference semifinals, Rivers' lack of response should be criticized. In Game 6, when the Celtics made adjustments to start Robert Williams and sacrifice the twin towers, Rivers had no way to cope. In that Tucker, Rivers chose the superstitious Tucker's "hardness." As a result, the 76ers' own offense was dragged down.
In Game 7, in the first quarter, Rivers finally responded, but they had missed their best chance to finish the series.
Rivers has two years left on his contract with the 76ers, and the 76ers originally hired Rivers in the hope that he would lead the team through the bottleneck, but Rivers led the team to the Eastern Conference semifinals for three consecutive years, which could not satisfy the 76ers executive. Even Monty Williams, who previously took the Suns to the Finals, has already left class, and it would not be surprising if Rivers was fired.
In addition to deciding Rivers' whereabouts, the 76ers face several questions:
Harris enters his contract year next season and he qualifies for an early contract extension, but the 76ers certainly won't give it. The 76ers are desperate to get rid of Harris' final year contract worth $39.27 million, but it's very difficult to get rid of that contract and get back to immediate combat power.
The 76ers have to decide whether to renew Maxi early, with Maxi's ability and potential, he may not be able to get the top salary, but he is eligible for a billion-dollar contract similar to Jordan Poole and Taylor Hilo.
Counting Harden, 8 of the 76ers could become free agents. Whether the 76ers can have a mini-mid-range exception to strengthen depends on whether Harden stays on the team and whether he signs a top salary. With 76ers' salaries, it will be difficult for them to make substantial additions this offseason. If House and Harrell, who have player options but little playing time, choose to stay with the team, the 76ers have more salary pressure and no improvement in their fighting power.
People need to accept disappointment so that they can keep regrouping. The 76ers may be able to make a comeback, but on the night of the defeat, the 76ers only have a fog in front of their eyes. From Rivers to Embiid and Harden, everyone seemed to stand under the gray night sky, and no star lit the way ahead for them.