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The Philadelphia 76ers’ championship-or-bust season came to an abrupt end Thursday with a 99-90 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series, but head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t expect drastic changes ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
“We’re not going to tear it apart,” he told reporters.
Frankly, it isn’t a significant stretch to suggest things could have easily unfolded differently for this 76ers team.
Joel Embiid missed the first two games of the series against the Heat because of a concussion and orbital fracture. Philadelphia dropped both of those and was fighting an uphill battle against the top seed the rest of the way.
Even when he was on the floor, the MVP runner-up was playing through a torn thumb ligament and with a mask because of the orbital fracture. He looked far less than 100 percent, especially as the physical series entered Games 5 and 6.
Philadelphia also lost Danny Green to a knee injury in the first quarter of Thursday’s game, giving it even less depth to work with around an injured Embiid.
On paper, that seems like an ideal time for James Harden to respond like a 10-time All-Star with a league MVP on his resume. Instead, he attempted a mere two shots in the entire second half and looked disinterested for extended stretches, which surely frustrated 76ers fans.
Harden will be 33 years old for the 2022-23 campaign and seems to be missing the explosiveness he played with in his prime. Moving on from him would represent a drastic change, but the 76ers only have so much control when it comes to the guard considering he has a $47.4 million player option for next season.
Rivers’ comments indicate the same core will be back, and a run to the NBA Finals isn’t out of the question if Embiid can remain healthy and Harden is better.
But the guard’s effort in Thursday’s elimination game won’t be enough next season either.