The Sixers looked so promising coming out of the rebuild. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid it looked like it would be easy to put a couple of players around them and take the league by storm.
After back-to-back underwhelming finishes in 2018 and 2019, the Sixers placed the blame on former coach Brett Brown for the team’s shortcomings. With Simmons and Embiid ready to hit their prime, the Sixers made a win-now move and fired Brown who was praised for his ability to develop young talent.
The Sixers scapegoated Brett Brown and brought in a big name coach in Doc Rivers who has somehow been more underwhelming than Brown.
In his first year, Rivers coached the team to first place in the Eastern Conference but still couldn’t manage to get the team out of the second round of the playoffs.
Rivers, in his 23rd year as a head coach, has a phenomenal 1018-723 record but has only one NBA Championship to show for it. Rivers has gained a reputation for being unable to win the big game and unable to close a team out. Team’s under his watch have blown multiple series leads including last season when the Sixers blew the series to the 5th seed Atlanta Hawks. The Sixers had multiple 20 point leads in the series where they just couldn’t seem to find a way to put the Hawks to sleep.
Rivers’ has the most blown leads in NBA history.
Doc Rivers has coached SIX teams that have blown 3-1 or 3-2 series leads:
2020 Round 2 vs Nuggets, 3-1 lead
2015 Round 2 vs Rockets, 3-1 lead
2012 East Finals vs Heat, 3-2 lead
2010 NBA Finals vs Lakers, 3-2 lead
2009 Round 2 vs Magic, 3-2 lead
2003 Round 1 vs Pistons, 3-1 lead
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 16, 2020
So why is it that teams just can’t win the big game under Doc Rivers’ watch?
There are a couple of theories but no certainties. He is historically a players coach, he is known to be lenient and at times known for enabling his players. This can be seen as recently as Ben Simmons. The narrative around Brett Brown was that he was too soft on Ben Simmons, but why don’t we talk about Doc Rivers last season?
Last year, Rivers said “If you guys don’t know the treasure you have by now, shame on everyone” when asked about Ben Simmons and his unwillingness to shoot. On multiple occasions, he attempted to discredit Sixers fan’s concerns about Ben Simmons instead of holding Simmons accountable.
During playoffs a year ago, team’s started the “Hack-a-Ben” strategy which exposed Simmons by putting him to the free-throw line and forcing him to beat them there. This strategy didn’t work for the Wizards but made the series a lot closer than it needed to be. Rivers left Simmons in a close game vs the Wizards when they were implementing the hack-a-Ben strategy and cost them the game. When asked about leaving Simmons when the Wizards were putting Simmons to the free-throw line, Rivers said “I have no issues. Obviously, we’d love it if he made them both, but I didn’t think that changed the game at all for us so I was fine with it. If he had missed them both, then that is something, but overall, I was fine with it. That’s what they should do and we’re fine with that.” In this situation, everyone could clearly see what the Wizards were doing and Rivers should’ve put in a player who is capable of shooting free throws, but he enabled Simmons inability.
The Hawks implemented this strategy in the following round and the rest was history. There is surely something to be said for standing by your players in the face of adversity but it’s no coincidence that teams under Rivers are known to blow leads, this was just one instance.
After the team’s most recent blown lead of 24 points to a depleted Clippers team, Doc Rivers was asked what portion of that loss he blamed on coaching? Rivers responded “Would you ask Pop that question? No, you wouldn’t. So don’t ask me that question. I’ve earned that.”
"Would you ask Pop that question? No you wouldn't.
So don't ask me that question. I've earned that."
— Logan Reever (@loganreever) January 22, 2022
Things look to be snowballing with Rivers in Philadelphia as people are finally starting to notice that the 5-year $40M contract was a mistake by the 76ers. The “fire Doc Rivers” chants are slowly becoming louder and louder.
The Sixers will never win a championship under Doc Rivers and until they realize that they will be wasting everyone’s time.
Photo via Yong Kim / Philadelphia Inquirer