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Joel Embiid’s struggles in the final two games of the 2021 playoffs were overshadowed by Ben Simmons’ struggles, but should that have been the case?

Nobody is saying that Simmons played better than Embiid in this series, but Simmons probably was criticized more than he should have been, as all his teammates struggled one way or another alongside him.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons is helped up by center Joel Embiid

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

The 2021 NBA playoffs for the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t talked about much. That’s because the team’s core completely fell apart in the Eastern Conference semifinals and was sent packing by an underdog Atlanta Hawks team. Ben Simmons would request a trade shortly after, and the rest is history.

Ben Simmons struggled against the Atlanta Hawks, but he wasn’t alone

Simmons’ struggles in the 76ers series against the Hawks are well documented (9.9 PPG, 8.6 APG, 6.3 RPG), and the fan reaction to his struggles probably pushed him over the ledge when it came to requesting a trade out of Philly. It came to the point where Simmons was passing up open layups, and the Hawks were fouling him to send him to the free throw line, where he shot just 33.3 percent.

Simmons was sometimes unplayable during this series, and while he’s a big reason for the 76ers collapse, he wasn’t the only one. If it weren’t for Simmons’ historically lousy performance, Philadelphia’s star center Joel Embiid would have received much more criticism for his performance over the series’ final two games.

It may seem crazy to suggest considering Embiid averaged 30.4 points per game during this series and was the primary catalyst for the Sixers’ offense. But Embiid struggled in other areas of the game, specifically with turnovers.

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Over the series’ final two games against the Hawks, Embiid had 16 total turnovers. His final one in Game 7 probably ended up putting the game to rest. Overall, Embiid averaged 4.7 turnovers per game during this series against the Hawks, showing that while he was scoring, he also gave Atlanta free points on the other end.

Did Ben Simmons deserve to get criticized as much as he did for his play against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 NBA playoffs?

The media destroyed Simmons for his play against the Hawks in the 2021 playoffs, and for good reason. And while Embiid was solid, he struggled as well. We are coming off a postseason where Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics got ripped for the number of turnovers he was committing, but strangely enough, Embiid’s turnover woes were unheard of when the world was falling apart in Philadelphia.

Now, it’s clear Embiid had a much better series than Simmons; nobody is disputing that. But was the 76ers loss to the Hawks solely Simmons’ fault? Not at all. Despite his inability to score, Simmons still served as a solid playmaker for his teammates. In fact, when the 76ers tried to have Embiid initiate offense, that’s when Atlanta forced him into most of his turnovers.

Again, this comes with caveats, as the 76ers were trying to keep the ball out of Simmons’ hands because the Hawks would simply foul him and send him to the line. But Simmons was still doing enough defensively to slow down the Hawks and as a passer on offense to justify playing time. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have been on the court.

Embiid’s turnover numbers are interesting, as it paints a different picture of Simmons’ struggles throughout that series. Yes, he was terrible, but he wasn’t alone. Had Simmons, Embiid, or anyone on the Sixers, played better, they would have beaten the Hawks. But the media harped on Simmons when they lost, and he couldn’t leave Philly fast enough.

It’s an interesting perspective, and while Simmons deserves his fair share of the blame, Philly’s loss against Atlanta in the 2021 playoffs wasn’t solely his fault, despite what 76ers fans everywhere will tell you.

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