Ben Simmons struggled at times in the Eastern 76ers Conference Semifinal series against the Hawks, and Joel Embiid noticed it.
Embiid discussed what he believed to be the turning point for Philadelphia’s 103-96 loss in Game 7 on Sunday night. In the center’s view, it was when Simmons missed a wide-open attempt near the basket at the end of the fourth quarter.
“I mean, I’ll be honest,” Embiid said, by Rich Hofmann from The Athletic. “I thought the turn was when we – I don’t know how to put it – but I thought the turn was right we had an open shot and we took a free throw and we missed the other and then they came down and marked.
“We didn’t have a good possession on the other side and Trae (Young) came back and he did a 3 and then from there, four (45 seconds from the end), it’s me. I returned the ball and tried to shake things up from the perimeter, but I thought that was the turning point.
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Embiid may not have named Simmons, but it’s clear that was the play he was talking about.
Matisse Thyublle did one of the two after being the victim of a foul.
Simmons’ refusal to drive to the cart was a major issue in the series. It looked like he was afraid of being fouled because of his 33.3% rating from the free throw line.
This led to pieces like the one referenced by Embiid. It also led to Simmons taking just three shots in the fourth quarter in the entire series.
Simmons has averaged just 6.3 points in the last three games after averaging 12.5 points in the first four.
He can be a quality marker, especially near the hoop, so it’s easy to see why Embiid would be frustrated with the game.
And he wasn’t the only one who was frustrated; Sixers coach Doc Rivers was too.
A reporter asked Rivers after the game if Simmons could still be a point guard for a championship team. Rivers’ response was anything but resounding approval.
“I don’t know the answer to that question yet,” Rivers said.
Simmons, 24, is a top defenseman because of his length. The 6-11 Australian was part of the NBA’s first All-Defensive team this season. But if he can’t improve his confidence as a goalscorer, then his potential may be capped.
The 76ers are said to have suspended a Simmons-led pack in front of the Rockets when Houston bought James Harden, so the Sixers could explore Simmons’ commercial market again this offseason if the team no longer believes in him.
Either way, something looks likely to change in Philly after another disappointing playoff outing.