The Ben Simmons bashing began long before Game 7 on Sunday.
But it took on a frenetic Philadelphia fandom fevered pitch after the Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs in a 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in the finale of the Eastern Conference semifinals series.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Sixers failed to reach the conference finals, losing in the conference semifinals in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and falling in the first round last season.
The long offseason of the Sixers’ discontent started before the team even left the arena, and while there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Sixers not only squandering a 2-1 series lead but blowing 18- and 26-point leads in Games 4 and 5, Simmons is the focal point of that blame.
Asked if Simmons can be a point guard for a championship team, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.”
Against Atlanta, Simmons averaged 9.9 points, 8.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds and shot 60% from the field and an unacceptable 33% (15-for-45) from the foul line.
“Obviously, he struggled from the free-throw line, and that became a factor in the series, there’s no doubt about that,” Rivers said.
The foul shooting has been a problem his whole career. But, it seemed it had a devastating impact on his confidence and ability to be a quality playmaker against Atlanta.
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Within those stats were multiple issues. Simmons attempted just 6.4 shots per game, and in the fourth quarter of the Atlanta series, Simmons attempted just three shots in seven games and not one fourth-quarter shot attempt in the final three games of the series.
A defining moment of the game for Simmons came with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter and the Hawks up 88-86. Simmons spun free from Danilo Gallinari along the baseline and had what looked like a free dunk with Trae Young not willing or able to make a play on the ball. Instead of an easy two points, Simmons passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.
“I’ll be honest,” Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid said. “I thought the turning point was when we – I don’t know how to say it – is when we had an open shot and made one free throw.”
In real time, Embiid was stunned Simmons passed.
Now, was that the turning point? Probably not. The Hawks led 93-92 with 1:12 left. Philadelphia had other opportunities. But Embiid made it a point to single out that play.
To avoid cherry-picking Rivers’ comments, he said he still believes in Simmons, adding, “but we have work to do. We’re going to have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in and go forward.”
The Sixers have a decision to make. Do they want Simmons to be the point guard, and if not, what can they get for him in a trade? That’s up to Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, who isn’t afraid to make bold roster moves.
Simmons, who has four seasons and $146.6 million left on his contract, said he wanted to remain with Philadelphia and acknowledged he had a poor series.
“I love being in Philly,” Simmons said. “I love this organization. The fans are great, great people. I had a bad series. … I didn’t shoot well from the line this series. Offensively, I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my team. There’s a lot of things I need to work on.”
Simmons is an effective player when he is aggressive and attacking the basket. It’s why he averaged 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists during the regular season and made the All-Star team for the third time in 2021.
But the playoffs were a different story in seven-game series in which the opponent game-planned for Simmons and rendered him ineffective. As good a defender and passer as Simmons is, his passive offense and lack of scoring made it difficult for the Sixers.
There were other issues. Embiid had eight turnovers, and Rivers lamented how the team strayed from its offensive principles.
“I don’t think we trusted our passing tonight,” Rivers said. “I think it’s a great lesson for us, but not the lesson we want to learn in a Game 7.”
Where the Sixers go from here depends on Simmons and whether he’s with the team at the start of next season.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ben Simmons, Sixers now face long NBA offseason of discontent