It was a tight race near the top of the Eastern Conference standings that came down to the very last day of the regular season. The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers all finished with an identical 51-31 record, just two games behind the first-place Miami Heat. With such little space separating first from fourth in the standings, it’s easy for Sixers fans to get caught up in the “what if?” game and wonder what might have been if a break or two had gone differently.
In that vein, I thought it would be (not fun exactly ...instructive? ...cathartic? ...we’ll go with interesting) interesting to take a trip down memory lane and look back at what I considered to be the most crushing losses of the 2021-22 regular season. I tried to whittle the list down to 10, but the Sixers had so many bad losses this year that I stuck with 11. If I don’t make you cringe remembering a game that you had successfully blocked out, then I haven’t done my job.
In chronological order:
October 21, 2021: Brooklyn 114, Philadelphia 109
Optimism was high for the 1-0 Sixers heading into their first major test of the season. Philadelphia jumped out to a 14-point first quarter advantage and led the entire game until Brooklyn finished on a 16-1 run. The most memorable play of those dreadful final few minutes was Doc Rivers not challenging what looked like a successful charge taken by Danny Green against Kevin Durant. Doc said his guy behind the bench gave him the thumbs down so he didn’t challenge it. Good times.
November 27, 2021: Minnesota 121, Philadelphia 120 (2OT)
The Sixers came back from a 20-point deficit to nearly win in regulation if either Joel Embiid or Tobias Harris had gone 2-of-2 from the foul line inside the final minute (they both went 1-of-2). In overtime, Andre Drummond pulled off an amazing tip-in of an intentionally missed free throw to force double overtime. In double overtime, the Sixers led by one with 10 seconds left when Tyrese Maxey made an uncharacteristic bad pass out top, leading to a Wolves game-winning transition bucket. The Sixers not winning after Drummond made that play was criminal.
an intentional missed free throw ACTUALLY WORKS FOR ONCE. Maxey with the miss, Drummond with the tip … double overtime! pic.twitter.com/aj0X82xOdB— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 28, 2021
December 1, 2021: Boston 88, Philadelphia 87
Losing to Boston is never fun, but it especially hurts when the Sixers have the ball with six seconds left and a chance for a game-winner, only for Tobias Harris to get locked down by Al Horford 30 feet from the basket, and dribble the clock out until Georges Niang’s desperation shot at the very last split second gets blocked.
December 15, 2021: Miami 101, Philadelphia 96
The Sixers were at home against a depleted Heat team where seven of their 10 available players were undrafted. Naturally, Gabe Vincent hit seven threes, including one to break a tie with 40 seconds left in the game that proved to be the game-winner.
December 23, 2021: Atlanta 98, Philadelphia 96
This was the third game against Atlanta this season. The Sixers easily won the first, then squeaked by in the second, but it was still a time to feel good about getting even more revenge on the Hawks for last season’s playoff defeat. And Trae Young wasn’t playing. Easy win then, right? Wrong. The Hawks led by 19 points in the first quarter, and while the Sixers fought back, Joel Embiid’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer was off the mark.
January 21, 2022: Los Angeles Clippers 102, Philadelphia 101
In 2021 postseason form, the Sixers blew a 24-point second-half lead to the Clippers, who to be fair, made a habit of pulling off tremendous comebacks this season. The Sixers even caught one final undeserved break when Marcus Morris Sr. missed both free throws in the final seconds, but Tyrese Maxey’s floater to win it almost got stuck in the back of the rim, before falling out. Nice for Clippers fans to be on the other end of a Doc Rivers team collapse, I suppose.
Tyrese Maxey ALMOST hit the game winner for the Sixers— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 22, 2022
Clippers crawl back from 24 down to get the win! pic.twitter.com/hcvBYscYPd
March 10, 2022: Brooklyn 129, Philadelphia 100
This is the lone game on the list that the Sixers were never in, but I had to include it because of all the hype around the game. It was the first game between these teams since the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade (should we be calling it the Harden-Andre Drummond trade?). Simmons was making his first return to the Wells Fargo Center since passing up an open dunk in Game 7 of the playoffs. The crowd was electric, that is, until, the Sixers started playing and laid an absolute egg. What a disappointment.
March 14, 2022: Denver 114, Philadelphia 110
It was the battle of top MVP candidates and Joel Embiid certainly did his part with 34 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, helping the Sixers to build a 19-point lead. The game turned around when Bones Hyland got unconsciously hot and scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone. Georges Niang’s game-tying attempt in the final seconds hit the side of the backboard, and then instead of hitting a wide-open Tyrese Maxey after grabbing the offensive rebound, he tried a floater while still down three. Denver’s win seemed to be the tipping point for Nikola Jokic in the MVP race, even though Embiid outplayed him in their time on the court together.
Maxey's reaction after Niang decided to shoot a floater down 3 with 3 seconds left instead of passing to him wide open at the 3 point line. Niang was clearly rattled by his first miss off the backboard. pic.twitter.com/8SyTxbu5aF— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) March 15, 2022
March 29, 2022: Milwaukee 118, Philadelphia 116
This game was billed as the final chance for the Sixers to secure a marquee win and help bolster Embiid’s MVP case. Joel was solid with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists, and the Sixers had a 14-point lead in the second half. But Doc Rivers opted not to match Embiid’s minutes with Giannis, who went wild against Paul Millsap in the fourth quarter with Joel and James Harden both on the bench. The Bucks also grabbed the season-series tiebreaker with this win, as Embiid’s MVP chances circled the drain.
According to https://t.co/ElSYPqQVMN’s matchup data from last night, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 points when Paul Millsap was his primary defender.— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) March 30, 2022
Millsap registered just under 2 minutes as Giannis’ primary defender.
March 31, 2022: Detroit 102, Philadelphia 94
Some things had gone wrong lately, but the Sixers just needed to take care of business down the stretch of the season and there was still a good path to the two seed, or at least the three seed. Sadly, Philadelphia showed up in Detroit with absolutely no energy, looking convinced that the Pistons would just hand them the game for stepping on the court. The Sixers still led until the Pistons outscored them, 29-15, in the fourth quarter. Watching Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey hit shot after shot as the Sixers looked on helplessly was certainly a low point, if not perhaps the low point of the season.
April 7, 2022: Toronto 119, Philadelphia 114
This game in Toronto was the final loss of the season, period, but still packed a punch. We learned Matisse Thybulle wasn’t fully vaccinated and was ineligible to play. The Sixers led by 15 points just a few minutes into the game, but that advantage quickly evaporated. By the fourth quarter, it was the Pascal Siakam show, and rather than getting the Chicago Bulls as a postseason appetizer, the Sixers looked all but assured of having to face these same Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
What do you think was the most crushing loss of the season? Was there a game you think I was crazy to leave off the list? Let us know in the comments.