Joel Embiid chose to focus on a single moment.
"I'll be honest," Embiid told reporters after his Philadelphia 76ers were bounced from the second round of the NBA playoffs with a 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night. "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."
He was referring, of course, to the crunch-time possession in which Ben Simmons spun past Danilo Gallinari in the post and gave himself a clean look at a dunk or layup that would've tied the game, but passed out to Matisse Thybulle in the opposite dunker spot when he saw Trae Young (all 6-foot-1, 180 pounds of him) sliding over to "contest." Thybulle got fouled and split the pair of free throws, and the Sixers trailed the rest of the way.
Simmons was the easiest target. His annual postseason disappearing act achieved a new level of translucency in this series, in which he used just 14.7% of his team's possessions, shot 33.3% from the free-throw line, and attempted a grand total of three fourth-quarter field goals over the entirety of the seven games. Passing out of that open shot three feet away from the basket on a monumental late-game possession was the most glaring instance, but it was just one example of many in which Simmons' passivity crippled Philadelphia's offense. This series was his moment to prove himself, and he proved to be every bit the playoff liability he's been in the past.
The truth is there were any number of moments Embiid could've pointed to in explaining why his 76ers lost Game 7 at home to a less experienced Hawks team whose star player shot 5-of-23 from the field. There were countless blown bunnies from Tobias Harris, a back-breaking three-shot foul by Thybulle, a costly Dwight Howard flagrant amid a sea of costly minutes from Philly's beleaguered bench corps, several instances in which Seth Curry proved incapable of stopping Kevin Huerter, and some questionable rotation decisions from coach Doc Rivers.
And, yes, Embiid could've also cited his own mistakes - namely his eight turnovers, capped by his sloppy drive in the final minute that ended with Gallinari picking his pocket and going the other way for a game-icing dunk. He could've pointed out that the Sixers wouldn't have been in the position they were in had he not shot 0-for-12 in the second half of Game 4 or faded down the stretch as Philly blew a 26-point lead in Game 5. But let's be real: even if it's a bad look for Embiid to throw a teammate under the bus, it would be patently insane to lay any of the blame for this latest Sixers playoff failure at his feet.