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Sixers Hope to Benefit from Growing Pains

Sixers Hope to Benefit from Growing Pains
Young teams have to go through growing pains and the 76ers experienced this in their second straight Eastern Conference semifinal playoff ouster.
 
Unlike last year when they were dispatched in five games by the Boston Celtics, this one went down to the last second – literally.
 
Kawhi Leonard, an assassin all series, stuck the final dagger into the Sixers with his last-second shot in Toronto’s 92-90 victory that provided the Raptors to an Eastern Conference final meeting with the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
 
The Sixers all-stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid had uneven series. Simmons came on strong in the final two games. Embiid was dominant with 33 points and 10 rebounds in the Sixers 116-95 victory in Game 3. Yet there were long stretches when both players were not making a major impact.
 
Bothered by a sore left knee and illness throughout the playoffs, Embiid performed heroically in the final game, playing a career-high 45 minutes and 12 seconds.
 
He didn’t shoot well (6 for 18 including 1 of 6 from three-point range) but Embiid also grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots. His four assists were offset by four turnovers.
                                                        
Embiid is most effective when he is down low, but that takes a lot of work and he wasn’t in the best shape due to his illness and problems with his knee, so he drifted out near the three-point line, where he was 9 for 26 in the series.
 
What this matchup with Toronto showed is Leonard, who averaged 34.7 points in the series and scored 41 in Game 7, showed how a superstar can carry a team.
 
Embiid and Simmons still have to get to that point. Simmons may never be the type of player who carries a team, but Embiid, if healthy has that ability. For now, all he could do was admire the work of Leonard.
 
“Great player, obviously, he did his thing,” Embiid said. “Got to give him credit he made some tough shots the whole series. They leaned on him heavily… he is a great player.”
 
Leonard was also a defensive force, a rare player who can dominant on both ends of the court.
 
The Sixers have to hope that in the offseason Simmons can begin developing a jumper and improve on his free throw shooting.
 
In the last two games, Simmons was more active offensively. During the Sixers 112-101 win in Game 6, Simmons has his best game, scoring 21 points, shooting 9 for 13 from the field In Game 7 he scored 13 points while making 4 of 5 from the field and 5 of 6 from the foul line.
 
Simmons is still reluctant to shoot even from 10 feet out and that is something that will have to change if he wants to be a championship caliber point guard.
 
When Leonard came into the league, he wasn’t known for his shooting ability, but he kept working and now is a three-point threat.
 
In fact, he is among the top three players in the NBA. Embiid and Simmons will aspire for similar status which is why the offseason is key for both, one who has to work on his shooting and the other his conditioning if the Sixers have designs of taking that next step next year.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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