Philadelphia 76ers: Game 6 could define Ben Simmons’ future in Philly

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

In Game 5, Trae Young put his Hawks on his back and pulled out a win over the Philadelphia 76ers like few others could… literally.

Since 1996, the Sixers have never lost a game – regular season or playoff – when they led by 25 or more points, earning a perfect 165-0 record regardless of their situation, players, or coaches.

In theory, it makes sense, right? It takes a while to rack up a 25 point lead and even longer to squander one unless you are really trying to. Teams in the lead (usually) get to dictate the pace of a game when they are on offense, and at worst, can soak up some clock on their way to a two-point drive to the basket. Why get too fancy/cute/risky when you can simply run down the clock and notch another line in the Ws column?

Young and his plucky young compatriots had other plans.

Initially down 13 with 8:55 left to play, Young took seven of the team’s final eight shots from the field and near-singlehandedly flipped the script from an eight-point deficit to a three-point victory.

And as for the 76ers? Well, their All-Star point guard took one shot from the field in the final 24 minutes of regulation – at the 1:43 point mark in the third quarter – and was limited to four assists, a block, and a rebound while going 2-6 from the free-throw line.

If that trend continues in Game 6 versus Atlanta, the Philadelphia 76ers may have some serious questions to ponder during their early offseason.

Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers are playing for their future.

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If the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks proves to be their penultimate playoff contest, their 2020-21 season will ultimately go down as a failure.

I know, what a prototypical, hypercritical Philly sports take. The team finishes out the regular season with the top seed in the Eastern Conference, under a new head coach, a new President of Basketball Operations, and a work-in-progress roster no less, and yet a second-round exit is considered a failure?

Well, yeah, when Daryl Morey himself literally came out and called the 2020-21 NBA season “Championship or Bust,” I’d say anything less falls into the latter category.

If the Sixers can’t pull this thing out and extend their playoff run to an Eastern Conference Finals clash of the titans against either the Brooklyn Nets or the Milwaukee Bucks – but probably the Brookly Nets – they are probably to evaluate everyone from the front office to the coaching staff, all the way to the players. The first player they may look to? How about a point guard who didn’t take a shot in the fourth quarter and went 4-14 from the free-throw line in a game the team lost by three?

Sidebar: Even if the Sixers make it to the ECF and lose, they’ll surely still be looking at ways to shake things up but in a less


drastic way.

To call Ben Simmons‘ efforts in Game 5 poor would be an understatement. Despite showing flashes of aggression and almost landing a beautiful dunk that would have looked wonderful in gif form, Simmons looked downright horrified to touch the ball from the end of the third quarter on, with Doc Rivers going so far as to bench him for a minute in order to thwart a “Hack-a-Ben” effort in the final minute of the third. He seldom touched the ball on the offensive end of the court in the fourth quarter, instead passing the ball off to Seth Curry more often than not once he passed half-court, and settled into the dunker spot to inevitably play little role in the game. When Simmons did receive the ball, he swiftly shuttled it elsewhere out of a seeming fear of earning his points the easy way at the line.

Sure, Simmons still contributed on the defensive end of the court as any runner up to the Defensive Player of the Year award would, but on offense, he seldom set screens, barely moved off the ball, and largely was a non-factor while his Atlanta foil turned in a performance for the ages.

Could Simmons be back in 2021-22? Most definitely, for all of the hate he rightfully receives now, Simmons is a legitimate top-20 NBA performer who is better than any player on roughly half of the NBA’s teams right now. Even if the hype around developing into the next LeBron James has thoroughly subsided, there are surely GMs league-wide who would love to craft a roster around his unique style of play a la Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

After watching Joel Embiid once again fail to close out a game all on his own with the entire City of Atlanta crashing down on him in the paint – on a bum meniscus no less – maybe it’s finally time to build a roster around a guard/big combo in the same way the Sixers attempted to do with Jimmy Butler back in 2018-19.

It worked for Shaq and Kobe, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash/Jason Kidd; maybe it really is the best course of action to go all-in on a guard like Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, or my personal favorite, Bradley Beal, to give Embiid an elite pick-and-roll partner who can torch opposing teams like few other one-two punches in the NBA right now.

Sidebar: Between you and me, a starting five of Tyrese Maxey, Bradley Beal, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid would be pretty darn sweet, especially if Morey can find a bigger rebounding power forward to pair with Shake Milton, Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard coming off the bench.

Then again, what if Simmons puts it all together in Game 6 and forces one final trip versus the Hawks back to the Wells Fargo Center? If he can turn in another 42 point performance like that infamous outing versus Utah, maybe it’ll be enough to propel the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Finals and finally afford fans a full series of the “Down Under Wonder” guarding Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, the player he was almost traded for a few months back.

Remember the Sixers literally tanked three seasons to land Simmons in the draft, and he’s earned more accolades than the three first overall picks before him and the two that proceeded him, even if his offensive limitations can put the team’s offense at a serious deficit in certain situations, he’s still one of the more valuable trade pieces in the NBA if available.

Those players don’t get moved for nothing, especially for players who are closer to 30 than 20. Routinely, they don’t get moved at all but especially not for a multiple-player package.

Next. Tobias Harris needs to channel closer Jimmy Butler. dark

If the Philadelphia 76ers come out flat in Game 6 and turn in an absolute dud, calls for Doc Rivers’ job will ring through this city like “Eagles” chants on a crisp September Sunday. If Ben Simmons closes out his fourth professional season with another sub-10 point performance, the calls to get him out of town will grow even louder. But if he can turn things around, maintain an aggressive mindset, and turn in a complete performance for the ages, it could set the Sixers up for yet another blowout contest where they don’t have to worry about things being overly competitive in the waning moments of the fourth. After suffering through a pair of tragic defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, a boring win would be much appreciated.