The Philadelphia 76ers had December 3 circled on the calendar for nearly six months. Players and coaches desperately wanted to sweeten the bitter taste left by last year’s playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks.
That brutal Game 7 loss was marred by Ben Simmons’ reluctance to flush an easy dunk. Instead, the Sixers point guard passed up the open look and tossed it to Matisse Thybulle. After the game, head coach Doc Rivers and center Joel Embiid took subtle shots at Simmons.
The aftermath has been a turbulent offseason in Philly where Simmons has requested a trade. He still hasn’t shown up for work and Embiid made sure to bring his absence up during a post-game interview on Friday night.
“I’m still pissed off about what happened last year. [To win] means a lot to me,” Embiid told reporters, via Rich Hofmann. “In our situation, we got about $400 million worth of contracts not playing. Any time you can get a win undermanned, missing two or three players, it’s great confidence for our guys.”
Embiid was referring to Simmons and Tobias Harris both missing the rematch versus Atlanta. Simmons was out due to what the team is calling “personal reasons” as his side claims he is mentally ill. Harris sat out with the flu after battling a hip injury and COVID-19 in recent weeks.
To be clear: Embiid’s issue is with Simmons, not Harris. The big man’s math was slightly off, too. The $400 million he referenced was in regard to the combined contracts of Simmons ($170 million) and Harris ($180 million).
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Sixers Get Revenge, Beat Hawks 98-96
A regular-season win isn’t going to make up for last year’s postseason meltdown. Remember, the Sixers were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Still, the team needed to get back in the win column after dropping nine of their last 13 contests. And doing it against the Atlanta Hawks was satisfying.
“Just a tough, gut-it-out win,” Seth Curry said, via The Associated Press. “We got down and nobody gave in, and made some big stops.”
It wasn’t always pretty, but a win is a win is a win. Embiid scored 28 points and grabbed 12 boards in 36 minutes, including the go-ahead jumper with 42.8 seconds left. Curry had 18 points (7-of-14) and Georges Niang (5-of-8) dropped 13 points. Philadelphia outscored Atlanta 20-9 in the fourth quarter and watched a potential game-winning triple from Danilo Gallinari rim out as time expired.
Doc Rivers Updates Harris’ Health
Rivers was getting emotional talking about Harris who caught the flu bug right before shootaround. The 29-year-old forward has had a tough go of it lately between battling COVID-19 and a nagging hip injury. The head coach gave him a nice pep talk to hopefully raise his spirits.
“He’s struggling. The flu hit him really hard, but he’s down about it because he just feels like he can’t get a break,” Rivers said, via Sixers Wire. “I told him the same thing, like, it’s gonna all work out at some point.”