The Sixers’ Playoff Rise (And Fall?)

After success in their first series of the NBA Playoffs, the Sixers must defeat the top seeded Miami Heat without their star player, Joel Embiid.

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By Sophia Li

Coming into the playoffs, it seemed as though nothing could stop the Philadelphia 76ers, the fourth seed in the East. In their first game against the fifth seed Toronto Raptors, they excelled on both offense and defense, finishing Game One with a 20-point win which bolstered confidence that the team might finally find some playoff success. With star veteran players like Joel Embiid and James Harden holding their own, younger players were able to shine through—Tyrese Maxey, a 2020 pick, dropped a whopping 38 points in the first game of the Raptors series.

If the stars had aligned at the beginning of the 76ers’ playoff run, the following games saw them devolve further and further into disarray. In the second game of the series, their defensive regimen loosened a bit as the 76ers struggled to rebound and keep the Raptors away from the net. Thankfully for the Sixers, high scorers prevailed; Philadelphia put Game Two away by only a slightly smaller margin,112 - 97, with the help of Embiid and Maxey.

It was in Game Three that the 76ers came face to face with their issues—and nearly reaped the consequences of a far too inflated team ego. The Sixers came into their third match with the Raptors with some well-deserved confidence after calmly and comfortably defeating Toronto twice in prior games. In an unexpected twist, however, the Raptors began the third game with a completely renewed sense of urgency, being in control of the game until the teams entered overtime. Joel Embiid acted as Philadelphia’s saving grace with a buzzer beater, flashy enough to blind the 76ers to their lack of team chemistry that had made the contest so close.

This blatant ignorance of team shortcomings came to a head in Game Four against the Raptors, where the 76ers failed to take the series-ending win. Embiid, nursing an injured thumb, saw fruitless attempts at putting points up, while the Raptors, fearing an impending sweep, left their all on the court. In Game Five, the Sixers’ playing only became messier, causing them to lose to the Raptors 103-88. It was only when both teams returned down to the wire, with the 76ers leading the series 3-2, that Philadelphia finally re-conjured the harmony that had allowed them to play so well initially. Still, the Sixers’ uninspired playing during games four and five came at a high price: in a last-ditch attempt to finally put the series away in Game Six, star player Joel Embiid suffered a serious facial injury that consisted of a mild concussion and right orbital fracture.

With Embiid on the sidelines for at least the first two games of the 76ers’ semifinal series against the number one seed Miami Heat, the team needs to band together and find a rhythm in order to see any success. While the Sixers ultimately fell 106-92 to the Heat in Game 1, they certainly put up a fight, even ending the first half in the lead at 51-50. Despite their strong start in the first few minutes of the third quarter, the Sixers’ performance level steadily declined, allowing the Heat to step up their intensity and dominate the play for the remainder of the game.

Focusing on the stars of the game, the Heat had their sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro and star center Bam Adebayo finding incredible amounts of success in front of the basket, scoring 25 and 24 points respectively. Tobias Harris led the Sixers, lacking their star scorer, with 27 points, followed by 19 points from the young Tyrese Maxey. Miami made sure to do their best shutting down Harden to little avail, as he ended the game with 16 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.

Despite the loss, the Sixers have not lost hope, focusing on the parts of the game where they were playing at their best and finding the ability to connect with one another as well as the basket. Game One proved that this team has the chemistry and aggressiveness it takes to defeat a team like the Miami Heat, and one thing is for certain: the 76ers are not going down without a fight. If Embiid remains chained to the sidelines, grit may be what carries the Sixers to hard-earned success in this series.