The Philadelphia 76ers’ season ended on a disappointing note, losing 112-88 to the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This marks the franchise’s fifth second-round elimination in the past six seasons.
After going into halftime three points behind, the 76ers fell apart in the third quarter as the Celtics outplayed them 33-10, opening the game completely and earning their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
On a night when Celtics star Jayson Tatum posted a Game 7 record with 51 points and Jaylen Brown added 25, Philly’s star duo James Harden and Joel Embiid failed to score on an 8-for-29 shooting together 24 points.
Of course, frustration was high among the Sixers, but things may not be as bad as they’re being portrayed.
MORE: NBA Twitter reacts to Tatum’s Game 7 exploits, 76ers collapse
Embiid wants to hit back with Harden
In the loss, Embiid scored just 15 points on 5 of 18 shots while Harden scored just 9 points on 3 of 11 shots from the field.
When asked about the future of his pairing with Harden, Embiid told reporters after the game that the duo had an “unfinished job” and expressed his desire to undo it.
“We didn’t win anything and I think we have a chance to win,” Embiid said. “Obviously I still believe we have a chance to win after we played seven games and had a chance to finish the game at home which we didn’t manage to do. We have what it takes to win.”
“I still believe in me and him, we had a chance to win.”
“Me and James, we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five against five.”
Joel Embiid after losing Game 7 pic.twitter.com/Rrku0qwQnU
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 14, 2023
After several playoff disappointments for Embiid, this season seemed to be the turning point after he was named MVP for the 2022-23 season.
Once again, the Sixers missed a golden opportunity to lead the series 3-2 and have a chance to end the game at home. Disappointment at yet another playoff failure spurred Embiid and his teammates to improve next season.
MORE: Jayson Tatum rewrites the NBA playoff record books with his Game 7 performance
“It will take more than us. We all have to look after ourselves,” Embiid added. “I have to get better and I will be better. That’s what I’ll focus on. We all have to come back and find ways to keep improving and help the team,” Embiid said.
“You can’t win alone. I can’t win alone. Me and James.” [Harden], we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five against five. We just need everyone to keep trying to find ways to get better and then we’ll be fine.”
Embiid’s statement prompted many to highlight the specific part of the quote where he states that he and his star teammate cannot win alone, which would be an odd choice given their performance in Game 7.
Even Damian Lillard noticed.
Expand the lens to include the full context of Embiid’s quote and you’ll see that he was the first to take responsibility for falling short before realizing how the entire team could become better.
Harden’s future in Philly must be decided
Harden, who is heavily linked with a return to the Houston Rockets, has a player option for next season and could potentially opt out to become a full free agent.
When asked by reporters after the game what he wanted from his next chance, the former MVP said, “I just want a chance to play.”
MORE: Doc Rivers adds to Game 7 ugly history with epic loss to Celtics
After Game 7, Harden seemed frustrated and was asked about his relationship with head coach Doc Rivers. He added, “Our relationship is fine.”
James Harden on his relationship with Doc Rivers. After a brutal loss in Game 7, this isn’t the strongest confirmation.
The 76ers’ front office has some decisions to make during the offseason, with limited salary cap flexibility available to them as they try to continue to maximize Embiid’s best years.
Embiid is suspended until 2026 with a player option for the 2026–27 season, while Rivers is under contract until 2025.