When the Philadelphia 76ers lost their second straight playoff game to the Toronto Raptors to just a one-game lead over their 3-2 opponent, all eyes were on Doc Rivers. The former Boston Celtics head coach has been named one of the league players by the NBA The 15 best coaches of all time earlier this year, but Rivers has a reputation for coaching teams that blow playoff leads.
On three separate occasions, a team coached by Doc Rivers has gambled away a 3-1 lead during his coaching tenure.
– The Orlando Magic 2002-03 (lost to the Detroit Pistons)
-The Los Angeles Clippers 2014-15 (lost to the Houston Rockets)
-The Los Angeles Clippers 2019-20 (lost to the Denver Nuggets)
So after the Sixers lost their second game in a row – forcing them to return to Toronto for Game 6 – many have begun to speculate that history is repeating itself again, only at its worst. No team in NBA history has ever squandered a 3-0 lead, but with Rivers having squandered multiple 3-1 playoff leads, it’s not hard to see him pull off the impossible here.
Rivers was asked his previous coaching mistakes during a press conference that Rivers definitely had something to say about.
While Rivers does take some responsibility for his previous teams not getting over the hump, it’s hard not to hear that and think he’s getting a little defensive here.
When stats like these are brought up, context matters, and in this case, that definitely applies to Doc Rivers. It’s impressive that he was almost upset when the Orlando Magic almost beat the Detroit Pistons in 2002-03 because we hardly ever see a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed. Add to that the fact that Orlando might have had a much higher playoff seed if the often-injured Grant Hill had played 29+ total games this season. Injuries are part of the game for everyone, but they shouldn’t lose sight of that when such issues are raised. Much like Rivers did when he brought up Chris Paul’s injury in 2015.
Celtics fans should know this firsthand when Rivers coached the team. Though they never gambled away a 3-1 lead during his coaching tenure, they blew away multiple 3-2 leads during his coaching tenure — 2009, 2010, 2012 — but anyone who watched back then knew injuries had something to do with it had.
While no one can say for sure what would have happened had they stayed healthy, it’s not too far from saying the team probably would have done better if Kevin Garnett hadn’t injured his knee mid-season in 2009, Kendrick Perkins didn’t tear his ACL during the 2010 NBA Finals, and Avery Bradley didn’t separate his shoulders during the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Rivers has his weaknesses, but he shouldn’t take the lion’s share of the blame for his playoff failures.
Losing two games in a row after winning your first three is not a good position for Rivers and the rest of the 76ers roster. Going to Toronto to take down the Raptors will be a difficult task, especially with Joel Embiid playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb. However, it seems the Raptors will be a bit shorthanded for Game 6.
Raptors all-star point guard Fred VanVleet was listed as doubtful for game 6 with a left hip flexor load. His potential absence could be of great use to the 76ers as they make their third attempt to eliminate the Raptors.