Lack of effort. Mental toughness. Those were the two two biggest things missing from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And maybe for the entire year to hear Tobias Harris tell the tale.
Harris started his post-game press conference after being eliminated in Game 6 by expressing frustration over the Sixers’ inability to win 50-50 basketballs, not chasing loose balls, and looking overmatched on hustle plays. More importantly, Philadelphia couldn’t match the Miami Heat’s physicality. Now Harris (14 points) and his teammates are going home following a 99-90 defeat.
“We drop our heads too much, our body language at times was crappy and we needed that to be better throughout this series, and I think that hurt us in this series – our mental toughness for sure hurt us versus that group,” Harris told reporters. “And they did a lot of things to kind of challenge that, like hustle plays 50-50 basketballs like everything – the physicality by them as well. We needed to be better as a collective group of holding our head and just fighting and going right back at it, and I don’t think we did a great job of that.”
That’s not something to simply brush off when evaluating a professional basketball team. Inner strength isn’t a coaching issue; that’s something players are usually born with. The Sixers didn’t have it.
“Truthfully, just lack of effort on our part,” Harris said. “Turning the ball over, didn’t get the type of looks or shots we would have wanted. That was kind of the flow all throughout the second half was the looks that we were getting weren’t what we needed to win a playoff game.”
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Heat ‘Tough Guys’ Overmatched Sixers Everywhere
The Miami Heat have a culture built on toughness and fundamentals. It starts at the top with Hall of Fame president Pat Riley and trickles down the flow chart to head coach Erik Spoelstra and fiery leader Jimmy Butler. Their intense conditioning program is the stuff of legends. So, it was no shock to hear Sixers players talk about being overmatched physically.
“But I think the mental toughness could be a part of it but definitely the physicality,” Joel Embiid said. “It all goes back to ourselves. It goes back to myself, I got to be better.”
The Heat put it all on display in Game 6. Points in the paint favored the Heat 62-48 while Miami dominated the rebounding battle: 13-6 on the offensive glass, 36-29 on the defensive glass. They trapped and swarmed all night, throwing two and three guys at Embiid and James Harden every time they touched the ball, and dictated tempo. Their largest lead was 20 points.
“When I say lack of effort they beat us on the glass,” Harris said. “They beat us on 50-50 basketballs, hustle plays, all around. And that’s not how we wanted to lose the game for sure.”
Sixers Had Enough Talent to Win a Championship
The Sixers battled through so much adversity during the 2021-22 campaign, stemming largely from the off-the-court drama involving Ben Simmons. They also endured a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined star players like Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green, and Tobias Harris. They still went 51-31 and ranked No. 4 in the Eastern Conference.
Looking back at everything the team went through this year, Harris believed they had enough “talent and firepower” to win a championship. That won’t happen as the Sixers head home early for the fifth straight postseason.
“Truth be told, every team goes through some sort of adversity, and honestly, everything we went through, we still had enough talent and enough firepower to fight for a championship,” Harris said after Game 6. “And we weren’t able to do that to the best of our ability. That sucks, and it’s disappointing. Everything that happened prior really doesn’t truly affect the present moment right now. We still had a golden opportunity to take advantage of this series and see where that led us, and we didn’t do it.”