The 76ers battled and scrapped until the final buzzer but ultimately came up short in a 114-112 loss to the Boston Celtics Wednesday night.
The Celtics clinched the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games, winning all three times at the TD Garden.
Philadelphia had chances to win and extend the series. It didn’t happen.
In the end, the Celtics were a better team. They executed at a higher rate. They made bigger plays down the stretch. They dug in defensively to win despite not having stars such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
The Sixers won 52 games in the regular season, ousted the Miami Heat in five games and then got stung by the hard-charging Celtics.
This much is known: the Sixers aren’t ready to win a championship with the current roster.
Now, they’re a whole lot more improved after winning a combined 75 games in the four seasons before this one. The tanking is over thankfully.
To take steps forward heading into next season, there are so many areas the team must address. Here are three things to focus on:
1) It’s time to add a big name player or two. Let’s start with the most popular name — LeBron James. Is it a longshot? Possibly. Hard to tell. If the Cavaliers go on to win a championship, maybe LeBron will opt to finish his career elsewhere. Despite some fans resisting LeBron, it would be ideal. LeBron and Ben Simmons in the same backcourt would be downright scary in a great way. LeBron has the leadership skills to go along with the skill-set on the court and he has a great relationship with Simmons. If the Sixers can sign LeBron, they should do it and not look back. If it’s not an option, signing Paul George or trading for Kawhi Leonard would be excellent choices as well. An elite player such as George or Leonard would immediately turn the Sixers into a contender in the East and potentially the whole league. The Sixers need to add a wing player. One of these three players would put them at another level.
2) Joel Embiid must take the offseason seriously and improve his overall game and conditioning. Social media excitement is nice, but now is the time to get serious and improve. He showed an incredible array of skills offensively and defensively while playing with a mask to protect his orbital bone. He also showed some immaturity like walking off the court and not shaking hands with the Celtics after Game 5. If his conditioning gets better, look out. Embiid could be on his way to many, many All-Star Games and possibly NBA Finals games as well.
3) The Sixers must decide if Markelle Fultz is part of their future. If he’s not, they need to move on quickly. Fultz’s injury/mental block became a distraction and it’s time to show why he was the No. 1 overall pick. If Fultz isn’t going to be a major part of the Sixers moving forward, it would be wise to cut him loose sooner rather than later. No one truly knows how good he can be. Bryan Colangelo will surely have some deep talks with the former University of Washington guard this offseason.