Courtside with Aaron: Sixers eliminated from championship contention in game 7 in Boston

Sixers once again fall short in the second round, resulting in the elimination of their head coach


Photo courtesy of Twitter

PJ Tucker likely considering his options for next year after the Celtics even-handedly defeated the Sixers on Sunday

Aaron Rigby, Sports Editor

Courtside with Aaron is a regular basketball column by Sports Editor Aaron Rigby

The Philadelphia 76ers got blown out in game 7 against the Boston Celtics, losing by 24 points in TD Garden on Mothers Day.

Thanks to James Harden once again disappearing in the playoffs, and this year’s MVP Joel Embiid playing horrible, the Sixers once again fall short in the second round to the team that they have not beat in a playoff series since the early 80’s.

Although the two teams have history dating back to the 50’s, it seems a little outlandish to consider it a “rivalry” anymore. The definition of a rivalry is “the competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.” Calling the Sixers and Celtics a rivalry would mean that there is competition each year, teams alternate winning each season. However, since the 2017-18 season, the teams have met in three of the last six post-seasons, with the Celtics winning all matchups.  

However, this year has been the closest, as it pertains to the amount of wins each team got. In the 2017-18 NBA season, the Celtics defeated the Sixers in five games. In the 2019-20 post-season, the Celtics swept the Sixers in the bubble. This post-season the series at least went to seven games. However, this season’s loss may be the most embarrassing out of them all. Despite dragging the series out to seven games, the Sixers had a chance to close out the series up 3-2 on their home floor in game 6. 

Heading into the third quarter of Sunday’s game, the 76ers were up by two points and had one job: to continue to contain Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford was playing awful, along with Tatum, who shot 1-14 in the first three quarters. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Tatum only had three points. With the season on the line, Tatum turned up his aggressiveness, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, outscoring the Sixers who scored 13 points as a team in the quarter. The only other players to score for the Celtics in the second quarter was Marcus Smart, who had five in the quarter, and Malcom Brogdon who had three. Outside of a last second score that did not matter, Embiid and Tyrese Maxey were the only players to score in the fourth with 11 points combined. 

Tatum’s game 6 performance literally sucked all of the energy out of the Sixers, who straight up quit in the second half of game 7. The game was close at 55-52 with the Celtics leading heading into halftime, and they never looked back. The Celtics outscored the Sixers 33-10 in the third quarter, giving them a 26 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Sixers went scoreless for six and a half minutes, allowing the Celtics to go on a 24-3 run in the third. 

In his postgame interview, now-former head coach Doc Rivers stated that he planned on being the coach for the next two seasons of his contract, “yeah you know, I gotta think I got two years left”. However, head coaches are never safe in the NBA, especially for the Philadelphia 76ers, who fired their previous head coach Brett Brown afer not getting past the second round for two consecutive seasons. 

Not long after the game, reports began to circulate that James Harden would likely not return to the team if Doc Rivers remained the head coach. Following these rumors, the Sixers quickly fired Doc, a move that Embiid was not happy about.

“They had a strong relationship” said team president Daryl Morey, “I have to make tough calls all the time.” 

Basically, the Sixers took the route of firing Doc Rivers in order to please James Harden, to encourage him to stay in Philly, despite his horrendous play in the final two games. However, Harden still decided to opt out of his player option, making him a free agent this offseason. With all of the work the Sixers did to encourage Harden to stay, he still could very well be wearing another team’s Jersey in October. 

Reports say that his likely destinations, other than Philadelphia, are the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni, Hardens’ former Rockets Head Coach, is among some of the names being considered as the next head coach of the Sixers. 

If Harden resigns with the Sixers, and Mike D’Antoni becomes the Head Coach of the team next season, Embiid is going to have to save himself and get out of Philadelphia immediately. At that point, the Sixers will just be the 2018 Houston Rockets again. 

As many predicted, including myself, Harden does great during the regular season, has a few games in the playoffs where he shows up, misleads everyone into thinking “this year could be the year”  and then folds under the pressure when it matters most.

I am not even a Sixers fan, and have never been a fan of any team Harden has ever been on, but at this point, even I am sick and tired of him. He has never shown up in the Playoffs, and he has been a player that hops onto a team that is already made, and ruins it. Apart from his time in Oklahoma City, Harden has gone to a team, gotten to the playoffs, underperformed and then jumped ship. Harden had great statistical success in Houston, winning MVP in 2018 while averaging 30.4 points per game, and then averaged 36.1 points per game the following season. The only players in NBA history to average more points in a single season are Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. 

Harden never reached the NBA finals with Houston, which led to Harden demanding a trade out of Houston. In an attempt to get Houston to trade him away, Harden made himself fat and did not play in many games, and when he did play, he looked like Charles Barkley if he suited up to play an NBA game today. After kicking and screaming his way out of Houston, Harden was a Brooklyn Net, alongside former teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. 

After once again underperforming in the 2021 playoffs with the Nets, Harden eventually requested a trade around the trade deadline the following season, which eventually landed him in Philadelphia, in a trade where many people at that time believed the Sixers may have given up a bit too much for him. However, many people believed that what the Sixers gave up for Harden was worth it, because they now had a serious chance of winning a championship in the “Proccess” era. 

But, as many predicted, including myself, Harden does great during the regular season, has a few games in the playoffs where he shows up, misleads everyone into thinking “this year could be the year”  and then folds under the pressure when it matters most. 

In my humble estimation, whether Harden stays or not, the Sixers have one more year of Embiid before he asks out for his own good. I think if next year doesn’t work out, the Sixers should move on from Embiid, trade him for great young players and assets and begin to build around Maxey, who did not underperform in this season’s playoffs. 

Another year, another let down. Maybe next season will be the Sixers year (again).