Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid offered what appeared to be, at least in part, a critique of teammate Ben Simmons following Sunday's 103-96 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks.
"I'll be honest," he told reporters. "I thought the turning point was when we—I don't know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw and we missed the other and then they came down and scored.
"We didn't get a good possession on the other end and Trae came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it's on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point."
The Sixers trailed by two points with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter when Simmons turned down a scoring opportunity inside and passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle was fouled and made one of his two free throws.
Embiid didn't make it explicitly clear that's the moment he was referencing, but that's likely what many will infer from his comments.
A clear sign of how bad things might get for the Sixers, he wasn't even the only member of the team to offer a less than ringing endorsement of Simmons. Asked whether the 6'11" playmaker can be the point guard for a championship team, head coach Doc Rivers didn't have an answer.
Whether fair or not, the dunk-that-wasn't and pass off to Thybulle reinforced what Simmons' critics have been saying for a long time.
For whatever reason, the 24-year-old seems unwilling or unable to be more of a scorer. Thirty-one points is his career high in a playoff game and he has eclipsed 20 points just four times. He's not going to take things over in the way a lot of the top stars can in crunch time.
Perhaps that wouldn't be as much of an issue if he didn't play on a team where the No. 1 scoring option is at his best when operating inside. The questions about the Embiid/Simmons partnership have lingered for years.
Emotions are understandably high after a defeat like this, yet one has to wonder whether the Sixers have crossed the Rubicon. There might not be a way to come back from this.
Sopan Deb @SopanDeb
it’s one thing for fans to throw ben simmons under the bus. fans are fickle, irrational, reactionary and other things. and he deserves criticism!<br><br>it’s weird to see his coach and top teammate do so. you never lose a series because of one player. that’s not how team sports work.
Simmons is already getting questions related to his future in Philadelphia, and the offseason hasn't even really started.
President of basketball operations Daryl Morey opted against doing anything drastic in the wake of the franchise's first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics last year. This time around, it appears he'll have to make some tough decisions.