Joel Embiid, Embattled Sixers Looking for Another Chance at ‘Unfinished Job’

Joel Embiid of the Sixers during the Game 7 loss to the Celtics.

Getty Joel Embiid of the Sixers during the Game 7 loss to the Celtics.

BOSTON — The Sixers were all too willing to offer praise to the Celtics after what they’d just done. Maybe it deflects a bit of the abuse.

Probably not.

They had just collapsed in Game 7 of this conference semifinal series, falling behind by as many as 30 on the way to a 112-88 conclusion.

Newly crowned NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid had 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting. James Harden went 3-for-11 from the floor for 9 points. The former committed four turnovers, the latter five.

The Celtics got 51 from Jayson Tatum, but at times he was looking like a Globetrotter going against the Washington Generals.

“That’s the best team in the league,” Embiid said later after the Sixers had finished off squandering a 3-2 series lead.

“Credit to them,” he added. “They did a fantastic job. Like I said, I think they’re the best team in the league, and they’ve got a huge opportunity in front of them. They’re deep, they’ve got a lot of talent.”

‘We Never Played Right Again’

But it wasn’t enough early against Philly, which was leading by eight with 8:26 to go in the second quarter when Harden had the ball slip from his left hand on a drive, while catching Jaylen Brown across the kisser with his right. Harden was called for a flagrant foul, Brown made the two free throws and Robert Williams jammed a lob from Tatum when the Celts retained possession.

“After that, we never played right again,” said coach Doc Rivers. “Give Boston credit. They played hard. They played great D overall.”

The 76ers were awful, leaving an ugly last impression as the team heads into summer. Decisions must be made on the roster makeup, and Harden has to decide whether to stay for the final year of his contract (he has an opt-out), sign an extension in Philly (if the club is willing) or seek employment elsewhere.

Embiid wants to keep the band together — though he seemed more focused on a certain duo. He was asked about helping Harden stay.

“We’ve got an unfinished job,” he said. “We haven’t won anything, and I think we’ve got the chance to win. Obviously going to seven games and having the chance to close it out at home, which we didn’t do, I still believe we’ve got the chance to win. We’ve got what it takes to win. Obviously I don’t know what’s going on, and I know he has a player option, so they can extend him. But that’s all (on) those guys here. I stay out of it. But I still believe that me and him, we’ve got the chance to win.

“But it’s going to take more than us. We all got to look at ourselves. I gotta be better, and I will be better. That’s what I’m focused on. All of us, we’ve got to come back and find ways to just keep improving and help the team. We can’t win alone. I can’t win alone. Me and James, we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five-on-five. So we just need everybody to just try to keep finding ways to get better, and we’ll be fine.”

Will the Sixers Stay Together?

They were far from fine under the bright lights of Game 7 Sunday.

“We played great all year, and this loss absolutely diminishes that — what we did this year — in some ways,” said Rivers. “I think this team is headed right. I thought we took another mental step this season, and then tonight I thought we took that step backwards.

“I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed. I thought we had the right group. I really did.”

A group that should get another shot?

“Yeah, I believe that wholeheartedly, but that’s not up to me. It’s up to our owners and Daryl (Morey, head of basketball ops). I think they like what they saw overall, but, you know, I don’t know.”