That’s Gotta Hurt
9:01 AM EDT on May 15, 2023
Game 7s are supposed to mean something other than 112-88. They're not supposed to be over six minutes into the third quarter, and they're not supposed to have the best player on one team double the scoring of the two best players on the other, nor the two best players on the first team outscore the entire starting five of the second. Game 7s used to mean something.
Actually, that's a lie.
A Game 7 is just as likely to be an embarrassing rout as a Game 6 or 5 or 2. It's just that Game 7s come with such build-up, and when they end as they did Sunday, with the Celtics beating the Sixers into a gray gelatinous paste because the Celtics guarded Joel Embiid and the Sixers did not guard Jayson Tatum, the letdown just feels worse. And it doesn't matter what team you are invested in—you want drama, you want suspense, you want to be scared by the potential outcome. You don't want to look at your email because the game is over an hour before it's supposed to be and see that some insomniac at Bovada has already set odds on the losing coach being fired. By the way, Doc Rivers is minus-215 to get canned, in case you're hankering to get down.
Indeed, Twitter flooded itself with monuments to Philadelphia's historical playoff inertia, both individually and collectively, both in the moment and historically. Game 7s do that, too: They make a team's failure seem epochal, and a harbinger of failures to come, except in those rare cases in which a team has been so bad for so long that a 122-101 loss to the defending champion in the first round seems like the coronation tied to the state lottery. (And so ends today's Sacramento Kings Endorsement Of The Day. Light the beam.)
But we digress. We are speaking here on behalf of Comrade McQuade, who is walking into the Schuylkill in the wake of his Sixers coating themselves in a barrel of their own spittle. It's not that Tatum wasn't brilliant, or that Jaylen Brown was not brilliant in support, or that Robert Williams and Al Horford didn't put Embiid on his heels. The Celtics won Sunday with oak leaf clusters, and nobody could blame it on the ancient ghosts of Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain, or the current machinations of convenient enemy of the people Scott Foster. The better team won, by a lot. Tatum was as good Sunday as he was bad Thursday, because the Celtics have the reputation of never dying even after they die, and the Sixers have been considered perpetually second-, third-, or eighth-best since they left Syracuse.
So in the few moments allowed Sixers fans to examine how many ways they must be blown up to avenge this wrong, there will be the required cross-examination (as in examining something until you become cross) of Rivers, who hasn't won a championship in 15 years but has strewn behind him a trail of decisive losses, or James Harden, who has gone missing in each of his last three Game 7s, or Embiid, who was beloved as the most valuable player but must now be mocked for being muzzled and having to do the how-do-you-get-better perp walk. Game 7s are sometimes great, but they always bleed like hell.
And while Celtics fans chant "Beat The Heat!" in an homage to the unlikeliest of Eastern Conference Finals, Sixers fans are neck-deep in the ashes of their own hopes, because Game 7s only work if you win them. Getting kneed in the shed with everything on the line lingers awhile, so spare a thought for Comrade McQuade. He is stuck reconciling this with this and a hundred other fingers in the eye before he realizes that next year will start right on time, and that there is always good news—starting with the fact that Ben Simmons isn't coming back. Game 7s leave scars, but one thing is sure. In Philadelphia, there is an endless supply of new scars. It's the thing that binds Philadelphians most of all.