The Philadelphia 76ers had the dunce cap on today after blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter of last night's pivotal Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks. It was worse than anything Philly could have possibly imagined. Boos rained down from their own fans as they walked off the court, suddenly down 3-2 in a series they were picked to win handily.
The day after, most of the criticism has been targeted at Ben Simmons. Simmons signed a max contract and had to sit during the most important minutes of the most important game of the season because he couldn't hit his free throws. He had more misses from the charity stripe than field goal attempts. His defense and passing was typically outstanding, but a player of his salary cannot be that limited in crunchtime of a playoff game and not get hammered by the general public.
This is not a new discussion for everybody who has watched basketball over the last four seasons. Still, it prompts talk shows like First Take to ask the big question: is Simmons holding back his team from the next level and becoming true championship contenders?
In the big picture, that is a definite "maybe." Simmons is a first-team All-Defense caliber defender and had a pretty strong case for Defensive Player of the Year this season. How much he's getting paid is more of a problem than his actual play.
It's tough to see someone like Simmons compromise the team's spacing so badly that it contributes to losses and not believe he's holding the team back. But as far as last night goes, I present this rather simple counterpoint: the only two players to score a basket in the second half for Philadelphia were Joel Embiid and Seth Curry. That is it. Nobody else, not Tobias Harris, not Shake Milton, not Furkan Korkmaz. None of them managed to score a single field goal. In 24 minutes. With the fate of their season hanging in the balance.
There are legitimate questions about Simmons' long-term fit with Embiid. I am not denying that. What I am telling all of you is that he isn't the only guy holding this team back. Harris makes nearly as much money and put up a fat donut in the field goals made column in the second half. Doc Rivers should probably be taking more heat than he is for yet another playoff meltdown, although admittedly Philadelphia fans are laying into him with a passion that makes up for the lack of national media criticism.
Simmons is the easy target because his problems are both the most glaring and easiest to spot. But if we're talking about holding the team back, the list doesn't end with Simmons and his controversial skillset.