May 08, 2019
There have not been many times in the recent history of Philadelphia sports when the reputation of a coach, star players and an entire organization have been placed on the line for one game.
The Philadelphia 76ers will arrive at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night facing elimination against the Toronto Raptors, but the real opponent will be found in a mirror. From coach Brett Brown, to star Joel Embiid, to Ben Simmons, the Sixers have to face their own issues.
Two of the worst things you can say about talented teams in any sport is that it is soft or stocked with front runners. Well, so far the Sixers looked like both in this series. They put up little competition in a crucial game and now face elimination in a series they led two games to one.
For many fans, the evening began with a televised clip of Embiid arriving at the venue in what appeared to be a slow walk to disaster. With a hood pulled over his head, the body language was the picture of a player walking toward certain defeat.
It is always dangerous to read too much into body language, and Philadelphia fans made a game of it in the days of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. However, Embiid has put himself in that very position when he announced that he was at his best when he is having fun and playing with a smile.
Everybody remembers THAT Embiid, the big man tormenting the Nets and then the Raptors early in the series. Well, the guy doing the airplane on Tuesday night in Toronto was the rapper Drake who was leading the crowd in mocking the Sixers and especially Embiid.
It was only fitting.
Embiid craves the spotlight, and when the team is up and running on full octane he is at his preening best. He plays with high energy, and he takes great joy in announcing his status as one of the game’s most overwhelming talents. After a huge win, he not only praises his side of the equation, but he can be dismissive of an opponent.
The story line on Embiid has been one of great talent, coupled with injury and illness. This time, following a stomach ailment, he is attempting to play through an upper respiratory issue.
In his post-game remarks coach Brown went out of his way to question any criticism of Embiid, suggesting that he should be praised for trying to play though the malady.
Sorry, that dog don’t hunt.
If a player is healthy enough to play in a game that player is held to an expectation of top effort. Embiid arrived with what appeared to be a near empty gas tank, and then the entire team tanked.
If nothing else, if Embiid is on the court, he owes his teammates a period of time where his health issues take a back seat to their needs. No question Embiid was sick – just as there is no question that Embiid played like he was sick. He did not raise his game in a huge game.
Embiid’s health issues have always put the organization in a bind, but coach Brown really should have considered sitting his star for a game. There is a point where a player can hurt his team by being a reminder that he is hurting.
In the case of Embiid, the hurting appeared to invade the entire roster, except for Jimmy Butler. Once again, Butler had Embiid’s back after the game, trying to show support for his ailing teammate.
The problem is that Embiid doesn’t need somebody to have his back – both he and Simmons need somebody to get in their face. The entire organization has coddled its star players and the time has come to demand better effort, both on and off the court.
Although it is funny to hear people talk and joke about Embiid’s diet of soft drinks and fast food, it is no small matter. Embiid owes it to the organization to take better care of himself, and Brown needs to make it a priority.
Brown and the Sixers also need to demand that Simmons change his approach to the game. It's no secret that Simmons still needs to develop his shot and he needs to developer a killer approach in drives to the hoop in big games.
This series with the Raptors is not yet over, and the Sixers still have a chance to change their fortunes with a victory Thursday night here in Philadelphia.
It is a huge game for the coach, the stars and the franchise.
There is no more time for excuses, no more time for a process, no more time to get new players acclimated to the system. All of that has to be behind them, and the demand now is to come out with optimum effort.
The fans have every hope that the Sixers win, but they will have every demand that if they lose they go out kicking and screaming, and not using excuses for the exit.