Like most NBA teams, the Philadelphia 76ers had to deal with critical absences at times throughout their playoff run. In the first-round series against the Toronto Raptors, the Sixers missed their defensive ace Matisse Thybulle for three games due to his vaccination status.
Then when the second-round series against the Miami Heat came about, Philadelphia lost the MVP runner-up Joel Embiid for the first two games due to an orbital fracture and a concussion. And when Game 6 of the second round rolled around, the veteran forward Danny Green went out with a knee injury within the first three minutes.
It’s impossible to say whether the Sixers would be in better shape or not had they not lost key players throughout the run, but the 76ers’ postseason struggles down the stretch run deeper than absences. In the eyes of Tobias Harris, his team lacked mental toughness when it mattered the most.
“It’s mental toughness,” said Harris regarding the team’s shortcomings. “I think that part of it. I don’t think we have yet. Seeing the Milwaukee game [on Wednesday], that’s a team that’s been through the fire being able to fight and just keep going. I think, at times, for our group, too many things just affected us as a whole. We drop our heads too much, and our body language at times is crappy.”
In Games 5 and 6 against the Heat, the Sixers looked like a team that lacked urgency and motivation. Even though they knew they needed to steal a win on the road in Game 5, the Sixers were beaten from the start and collected a 35-point loss.
With their backs against the wall in Game 6, the Sixers should’ve looked more motivated than ever to pick up a win in front of their home crowd. Instead, the Heat looked like a team fighting for their season. And as a result, the Heat picked up a nine-point win to end the Sixers’ season.
“We needed [mental toughness] to be better throughout this series, and I think that hurt us,” Harris said. “Our mental toughness for sure hurt us versus that group. They did a lot of things to challenge that. The hustle plays, the 50-50 basketballs, everything. The physicality by them as well. We need to be better as a collective group of holding our head and just fighting and going right back at it, so I don’t think we did a great job of that.”
How do the Sixers fix their mental toughness issues? 76ers veteran and three-time NBA champion Danny Green believes that could be fixed with maturity, which is another critical factor the Sixers seemed to lack throughout their playoff run.
“I honestly think that if we were a mature team, we don’t have to go to six games with Toronto,” said Green on Friday. “Obviously, injuries hurt a lot, too. Missing Joel the first two games hurt. Last game, me not being there definitely hurt, but I think if we come in more focused and more mature, we don’t have to have these lapses or wake up call games where we get embarrassed to come in and do our jobs or be more locked into a playoff series.”
The members of the Sixers that will be around for next season have a lot to learn. And the decision-makers in the front office will more than likely prioritize bringing in prospects that will help boost Philadelphia’s maturity and mental toughness for next year.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.
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