While it’s no surprise that Glenn “Doc” Rivers lost his job after Game 7 of the Boston Celtics series, it’s not going to solve the Sixers’ problems. Not by a long shot.
ABOVE PHOTO: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS COACH DOC RIVERS calls to players during the first half of Game 5 of the team’s NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston. The 76ers fired Rivers on Tuesday following a third straight exit in the second round of the playoffs (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN
As soon as time ran out in the Philadelphia 76ers 112-88 blowout loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference second-round series, you knew that now former Sixers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers was going to be on the chopping block.
The Sixers gave Rivers his walking papers on Tuesday despite his compiling a 154-82 record during his tenure as the teams’ coach. While there have been times when fans could blame Rivers for some of his questionable coaching strategies, can any of you in good conscience really say it was all his fault for the team’s latest playoff exit?
Never mind that Rivers is now 6-10 as a playoff head coach in Game 7s or the fact that his teams including the 76ers have had a penchant for losing playoff elimination games. If we are honest with ourselves, Rivers really can’t be blamed for the Sixers’ latest debacle in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Doc was kicked to the curb by the Sixers because his superstars–current NBA MVP Joel Embiid and James Harden, the NBA’s leader in assists — did not show up when it mattered the most. It was not just Game 7, but also in Game 6 when the Sixers had the Celtics on the ropes. Embiid is 0-5 in conference semifinals and 0-3 in Game 7s.
Rivers could have devised a basketball strategy conceived by the basketball gods on Mount Olympus, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Fuji, but when your superstars don’t show up in the big games of a series, X and Os don’t mean a damn thing. In the words of boxing great Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
In game 7, Jayson Tatum smacked the Sixers around the way Iron Mike smacked around his opponents early in his career. The former Duke star scored 51 points, the most ever in an NBA Game 7. The Sixers had no answer for him defensively and Embiid and Harden simply couldn’t keep up.
It was an absolutely disgraceful performance by the Sixers superstars. Embiid who spent most of the game hanging around the foul-line and the three-point line instead of attacking the basket, scored just 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
Meanwhile, Harden, after two 40-point games, reverted back to “Playoff James,” who comes up short in the postseason and scored just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. In Game 6, he was 3-of-14 from the field with just 16 points.
As much as people want to beat up on Rivers and question his coaching ability, Xs and O’s don’t matter because he can’t go out and play the game for his superstars. In the playoffs, strategy in a Game 7 where the two teams are as familiar with each other as Boston and the Sixers are gets thrown out the window.
It comes down to the players. Tatum came up with huge and put his team in a position to defend their Eastern Conference title. Embiid came up short and was last seen in the media room talking about how he and Harden can’t do it alone.
A couple of days later, Rivers is out of a job because his players didn’t get it done on the court.
If Rivers could have gotten the kind of effort that Phillies manager Rob Thomson got out of Bryce Harper during his team’s run to the World Series and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni got out of Jalen Hurts in the Eagles journey to the Super Bowl, the Sixers would have been hosting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
As I’ve said this many times on my radio show on WURD, the next step in the evolution of Embiid’s career as an NBA superstar is to learn how to carry his team in clutch playoff situations. He must take his game to the next level.
No matter who the Sixers sign as their new head coach, Embiid has to be the driving force of the Sixers run to the NBA title.
That’s going to take some heart. And you can’t coach that.
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