76ers face off-season of uncertainty after stunning Game 7 loss

Kawhi Leonard hit the game winner over Joel Embiid as the buzzer went off to give the Toronto Raptors the Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90.

TORONTO – "I don’t give a damn about the Process."

It’s been about six years since the start of the infamous "Process" years for the Philadelphia 76ers, but as Joel Embiid so eloquently put, the Process is over.

All that matters now for the Sixers are results and they didn’t get the result they were looking for Sunday in Game 7 of their second-round series, falling to the Toronto Raptors 92-90 on a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater.

It’s a tough pill to swallow to say that a season was all for naught when it ends on a miraculous shot, but that’s the margin of error Philly has now found itself in.

Like the Raptors had been doing during the early years of their own "We The North" era, the 76ers now face the weight of expectation and are stumbling because of it.

In particular, Embiid tripped in Game 7, scoring 21 points but only shooting 6-for-18 from the floor. It was a fact he appeared to be acutely aware of as he was seen getting very emotional after Leonard buried his team.

Embiid has a reputation around the league as being a bit of prankster — a guy who likes to have fun both on and off the court — and during the course of this series he was out in full force.

From his airplane celebrations, to making light of his stomach flu, it seemed clear that Embiid was out to try to have a good time during the course of this second-round matchup with the Raptors.

After Game 7, things look to have changed, though.

This was Embiid humbled and, perhaps, finally realizing you can’t just troll your way to a championship.

"It sucks," Embiid said of the Game 7 defeat. "I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It just sucks."

A rare moment of gravitas for Embiid during his young career, and one that just might be the trigger for bigger things to come.

"That it’s gonna be a life memory. That as painful as it feels now it’ll help him," 76ers coach Brett Brown said of his star centre’s emotions after the game. "It’ll help shape his career, it’ll help give him greater clarity of what this time of the year represents. All the stuff that has to accrue over many months that will one day lead to the ability to one day be a champion, it’s hard. It’s hard to be the last man standing.

"And to see him have the emotion that he has, and he’s one of many in that locker room, it is painful for all of us but, to your question with Joel, he’ll look in the rearview mirror and remember this."

This is the hope, at least, for the 76ers, but it’s not just Embiid who will need to look back and grow from this experience. Their other young star Ben Simmons will need to as well.

"It too will be a memory, I’m certain, that will help better shape his approach, his understanding of playoff basketball," said Brown of Simmons, who averaged only 11.6 points per game over the course of the series.

The 76ers needed more from Simmons, whose reticence to shoot really hurt them in this series. He and Embiid are the young cornerstones of this Philadelphia franchise moving forward and it will now be up to the former No. 1 overall pick to take the necessary steps to ensure the 76ers end up on the winning side of things the next time they find themselves in this scenario.

Because the Sixers didn’t emerge victorious, though, they now face an off-season of looming questions, none bigger than the fate of potential-unrestricted-free-agent Jimmy Butler, whom they traded a fair bit for to bring in for this season to begin with.

Butler, who finished Game 7 with 16 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, didn’t want to talk about his future after the game, but there’s no doubt that his off-season decision will impact the 76ers greatly, particularly because the team just appeared to start to gel late in the season and during the playoff run.

"I thought that at the end of the season we were playing good basketball, I thought that they came together from a chemistry standpoint," said Brown. "I think that they co-existed well, there was sacrifices made all over the place."

The sacrifices weren’t enough, though and now Brown’s club faces a dilemma.

The 76ers were a missed a shot away from heading to overtime and possibly celebrating a thrilling Game 7 win.

Instead they now face an off-season of uncertainty with just about the only positive being that their star centre may have finally learned a lesson in humility.

It’s not really fair to say, but that’s the price you pay when "The Process" is over.

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