Kawhi Leonard’s baseline moonshot Game 7 buzzer-beater was the death blow to an exciting series and a very promising Sixers playoff run.
It was terrible.
It also may end up being a great thing for the team that lost the game and the series.
While the Game 7 loss to the Raptors left the Sixers reeling (and their big man bawling), it could be the inspiration the team needs to use as a springboard to deeper playoff runs in the future.
Getting bounced from the playoffs can cause teams to go in one of two directions: infighting and divisiveness, or introspective and galvanizing. This team looks poised for the latter.
Ben Simmons, the incredibly talented but similarly maddening point guard who took exactly zero shots from more than 12 feet from the basket during the postseason, said this week he believes it’s “very important” to work on a mid-range game this offseason. Sixers fans and coaches alike are hoping that Simmons holds true to his word.
The crown jewel of the franchise, Joel Embiid, dealt with knee soreness, gastroenteritis and an upper respiratory infection in the postseason, causing him to sit out one game and play at about half-speed for several others. At his exit interview, he spoke of working hard this offseason to improve his game and said, “If there was someone to blame, put it all on me.”
Job one for Embiid this summer will be to improve his overall health. The old saying goes, the biggest ability is availability. Increasing his game fitness is paramount. A team can’t be expected to perform at its peak when its best player is a game-time decision every night.
Brett Brown can certainly help on this front as well. Embiid played in 54 of the first 58 games of the season, many of those through knee tendinitis. He played in 10 of the final 24 games, a span in which his on-court availability could have meant more continuity with the additions to the team’s rotation.
A team that colloquialized the term “load management” can do a much better job on scaling back Embiid’s workload in November through February, so that he can be his best in April, May and, hopefully, June.
Leonard’s shot put to bed the Sixers’ 2018-19 season. But it could be the wake-up call the team – and its coach – needs to make a title run in the future.
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