Doc Rivers and the 76ers used boxing analogies to describe the physicality the Miami Heat brought to the table throughout their Eastern Conference semifinal series. And the Heat delivered the knockout in Game 6 on Thursday, eliminating the Sixers with a 99-90 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
“Obviously Miami took the fight to us and we didn’t fight back,” reserve forward Georges Niang said Friday afternoon from the Sixers’ practice facility. “…Someone is throwing hay, and you’re struggling to pack a punch. I’m not saying that we give up, but I think that due to lack of concentration, at certain times, you bury yourself in a hole.
“You have to be very strong mentally to get up and fight that, and I think there were points in Games 5 and 6 where we didn’t have that. And that’s what happens when a team has you on the ropes.”
Emotions were still raw for the Sixers on Friday after the season’s abrupt end. However, before and after a team meeting in Camden, players who did not speak during Thursday’s postgame news conference toured a media session to reflect and look ahead to the summer.
Reserve flanker Matisse Thybulle acknowledged earlier this week that his confidence waned during the playoffs, a product of inconsistent availability in the first round against the Toronto Raptors because he was ineligible to travel to and play in Canada because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. .
Consider it a consequence of your choice. However, Thybulle said on Friday that, even in hindsight, he would make the same decision.
“There is nothing I would change in my life,” Thybulle said. “Everything I’ve done up to this point is making me who I am. For better or worse, I’m happy with that.”
Thybulle relinquished his starting role to Danny Green, and when he did play, defenses constantly treated him as a minor factor on offense. Thybulle averaged three points on 45.8% shooting (28.6% from 3-point range), one rebound, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 15 minutes in nine games played.
Thybulle got a chance to play early in Game 6 after Green tore two ligaments in his knee. He went 1-for-4 from the floor, a 1-dunk and a free throw in the first quarter for three points and added two steals and a block.
Paul Reed, emerging as the Sixers’ backup center for MVP finalist Joel Embiid, was a surprising development in the playoffs.
The second-year big man hopes he has earned the trust of Rivers and his teammates. Reed averaged 3.7 points on 52.8% shooting and 3.8 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game during the playoffs, while unleashing his trademark high-energy style. But he focused on being more consistent in his movement on the floor and reading defenses to know when to block, when to cut and when to space the floor.
“I’m going to race anybody and I’m not afraid,” Reed said. “I am not going to back down. I’m not going to bend. I knew that about myself going in, but now I feel like the organization [knows] that of me
“They know I’m going to go out there, play hard, make plays, make things happen for my team, make winning plays. I think now the team has more confidence in me”.
Reed, however, noted the physical uptick of the playoffs. That’s why he’ll prioritize building his strength and athleticism as he trains in Atlanta this summer. He has a goal, which he considers ambitious but others may call unrealistic, of adding 10 to 15 inches to his vertical jump, “so I can jump higher, block more shots, get more rebounds. [and] shoot more people,” he said.
“If you see me next year jumping out of the gym,” Reed said, “you know why.”
Earlier this week, Niang downplayed a knee injury that kept him out of the final two games of the regular season and that Rivers recently mentioned had still been bugging the backup forward during the playoffs.
That perhaps contributed to Niang’s torrid shooting start which quickly cooled down. He made 66.7% of his 3-point attempts against the Raptors, and only 16% of his shots from beyond the arc against the Heat. That includes an 0-for-7 scrap in Game 1 and an 0-for-6 outing in Game 5 against the Heat.
Now, Niang has a chance to rest and heal that knee.
“We’ll get pictures and see what’s going on there,” Niang said. “I don’t think it’s anything serious, but it’s something I have to take care of in order to be 100 percent. It would not be fair to my colleagues if my health [wasn’t] something I take care of during the off-season to come back and be better for next year.”
Reserve flanker Furkan Korkmaz candidly reflected on his “tough” shooting season, when he made a career-low 38.7% of his shots from the field and a career-worst 28.9% of his 3-pointers.
That was a major factor in Korkmaz’s drop from the rotation during the regular season and playoffs. However, he assured that he has identified the problem with his shot and the solution, though he declined to go into detail about either.
“I don’t need to say it now, but I know what the problem is [and] I know what the answer is,” Korkmaz said. “So it’s not going to be difficult for me to find him and keep improving. … I have a lot of confidence in myself and I am not going to give up. I’m going to keep striving to be the best version of myself.”
When asked about his long-term future with the Sixers, Korkmaz noted that he has two seasons left on his contract signed last summer. He also showed this season that he could be a secondary ball handler in a pinch, when COVID-19 hit the Sixers during the winter omicron surge.
Recalling an unexpected postgame scene brought tears to Rivers’ eyes after Thursday’s game. The coach shared that veteran big man Paul Millsap got emotional in the locker room, because the Sixers’ loss to Miami could have been his last NBA game.
Millsap, 37, was a four-time All-Star with the Atlanta Hawks and a respected presence throughout his career. He came to Philly in the James Harden trade, but was miscast as a backup center and played in just nine regular-season games and one playoff game. Millsap also dealt with a family situation this season, causing her to return to his home in Atlanta when he and the Brooklyn Nets jointly decided to pursue a trade and during a brief absence from the Sixers.
“I think people, after the losses, think it’s just me or Joel [Embiid] or James [Harden] taking it to heart,” Rivers said. “I mean, I’m looking at this guy [Millsap]. He has dedicated his entire career to basketball, and he is there crying after the game. For me, that was very sad.
“A lot of these guys, they give it to the city. They give everything they’ve got and sometimes it’s just not good enough.”