No “Final Four” For Sixers, Again

How fitting that this item ran on MSN's website on the same day that the Sixers once again came up short — really, really short — in their bid to make it to the Eastern Conference finals.

At the risk of committing a civil tort against the NCAA (to wit, trademark infringement), the Sixers will not go to the NBA's version of the "final four" for the 22nd consecutive year, after getting thoroughly outclassed 112-88 by the Celtics in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday in Boston.

The blowout loss made it five times in the last six seasons that Philadelphia has exited from the postseason in the conference semifinals — and this year the Sixers blew a 3-2 series lead, having had a chance to close out the series in Game 6, but losing 95-86 at the Wells Fargo Center (these arena name changes can be so hard to keep up with!) on Thursday.

About the only thing they salvaged out of this season was that center Joel Embiid finally broke through and not only won the NBA Most Valuable Player award after back-to-back runner-up finished behind Denver's Nikola Jokic, but also repeated as NBA scoring champion.

And if ever there was a strong case for re-seeding in the NBA, the fate of this year's Sixers is it: had there been re-seeding, the Sixers would have played the Knicks in one East semifinal, while the Celtics would have played the Heat in the other — and the Sixers would have had home-court advantage.

Then we almost certainly would have gotten to the see the Celtics-Sixers matchup in the conference finals instead of the semifinals — and Philadelphia's 22-year drought of not reaching the conference finals would have finally been broken regardless of what they then did against Boston.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns wasted no time in firing their head coach, Monty Williams, after the fourth-seeded Suns lost to top-seeded Denver in the Western Conference semifinals. Here, too, re-seeding would have been an issue, because the Nuggets and the Suns were the two highest-seeded first-round winners, and the sixth-seeded Warriors and the seventh-seeded Lakers were the two lowest-seeded first-round winners (the Lakers defeated the Warriors in six games in that series).

And what possible reason could there be not to re-seed? The NFL has been doing it since 1990 — with no complaints from anyone. And so what if the Finals do not end until a day or two later than they end now, due to travel considerations? Was that an issue when the NBA wisely added the play-in games during the pandemic — games that have every promise of being a permanent fixture of the NBA's postseason schedule?

The Sixers are following the same path they traversed 40 years ago when Billy Cunningham became their head coach and their nucleus was led by Julius Erving, Darryl Dawkins, and Maurice Cheeks: Over a six-year period starting in 1977, they lost in the NBA Finals three times — once to the Traiblazers (who were making their first playoff appearance in franchise history, in the seventh season of their existence) in six after winning the first two games, and twice to the Lakers — and in the Eastern Conference finals twice, including blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Celtics in 1981. Only the arrival of center Moses Malone in the summer of 1982 enabled Philadelphia to get off the schneid and win an NBA championship for the first time since when Wilt Chamberlain was there.

Since Williams is already gone from Phoenix, and Sixers fans are probably setting up a GoFundMe page on facebook to defray the cost of a one-way ticket out of Philadelphia for Doc Rivers as this is being written, a "trade" of head coaches between the two teams couldn't possibly make more sense.

But Williams did lead the Suns to a runner-up finish in the pandemic-pockmarked 2020-21 season, losing in six games to the Bucks for the NBA championship, and followed that up with a runaway league-best 64-18 regular-season record last season.

And Rivers would give anything to be off the East Coast.

Editor's Note: Shortly after this item was published, the 76ers announced the firing of Doc Rivers.

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