Joel Embiid was out (sore ankle) and the Atlanta Hawks feasted in the paint Friday night.
The Hawks scored 62 points in the paint, 10 more than their season average, outrebounded the 76ers 44-30, and when Atlanta needed a game winner they could post up John Collins without fear and he knocked down the shot. Philadelphia could have sent the game to overtime, they had two tries at a tip-in off a missed free throw as time expired, but both bounced off the rim.
“I think we were just too soft,” Simmons said. “I think defensively, we are not taking it personal enough when guys score on us. It should be a pride thing. When someone scores on you, you should be frustrated every time. I think that comes with age. We have a lot of young guys, but at the same time, we have to expect more from each other to get that and to get to the next level so then once playoff time comes, it’s another level.”
Jimmy Butler wouldn’t go so far as to use the word soft — he whistled when told what Simmons said — and he said that this team had time to fix its fit issues before the playoffs start.
“Ain’t nobody pointing fingers at anybody,” Butler said. “We got plenty of games left, we just got to fix it. I think we’re going to be fine. All I know is, everybody’s in there. We’re in it together, we’re not going separate ways. Stay as a whole, win and lose as a team.”
Philadelphia made a bold — and smart — move to trade for Butler, but having three stars alone is not enough. The Sixers need to have the right role players and some depth around that core, and right now the team is lacking in that. For example, they need a backup big who can get boards and do the dirty work when Embiid is out. They also need shooting on the wings. Sources around the league say Philly general manager Elton Brand is active on the trade market trying to add depth before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
The other thing the Sixers need is for some sacrifice among their stars to make this all fit. Jimmy Butler wants to be the ball handler in more pick-and-rolls, Joel Embiid doesn’t like being on the perimeter as much as he is now, but who is willing to make the sacrifices. Look at recent champions and you see sacrifice — Chris Bosh in Miami, Kevin Love in Cleveland, San Antonio is all about sacrifice, and in Golden State everyone gives, Klay Thompson most of all. Who is going to give in Philly?