Prior to the Philadelphia 76ers Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, I wrote a piece detailing how I felt the Sixers had the necessary pieces on their roster to deal with Trae Young and the flurry of offense that he was expected to deliver all series long. Despite the opening loss (a loss that saw Young deliver 35 points and 10 assists), I still believe my initial conclusion was a correct one.
Between Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle – two of the best defenders in basketball, and Danny Green – who despite his rough Game 1 performance is still a savvy veteran with NBA Finals experience, the Sixers should be in a position to at least slow down Young from an offensive standpoint.
The only one holding them back, at least during Game 1, was Doc Rivers.
The first major cardinal sin that Rivers committed was not rotating different defenders onto Young early on. He stuck Green on him for the majority of the first half, refusing to budge off the assignment even though Trae was having a field day using his elite quickness to maneuver around the older Green. Not only was it clear that Young had Green’s number on this specific occasion, but Doc didn’t even attempt to alter Young’s comfortability on the court. He allowed Young to get into one of his marquee rhythms, a rhythm that helped carry the Hawks to a series-opening victory on the road.
Moving away from Young and how the Philadelphia 76ers opted to guard him on Saturday, we also saw the continued use of “all bench lineups.” A rotation tactic that many felt would disappear once the Sixers got out of the first round, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rivers might have zero plans of getting rid of said tactic.
One of Rivers’ biggest criticisms when coach of the Clippers and the Celtics was his almost maniacal obsession with all-bench lineups over long periods of game-time, something that he has undoubtedly brought with him to Philly. After watching his bench dig the team a 20 point hole on Saturday, maybe Rivers will finally look to mix up the rotations just a tad.
Doc Rivers deserves the most blame for the Philadelphia 76ers Game 1 loss on Saturday.
For what it’s worth, Doc and the Sixers pretty much took the Hawks’ best shot during Game 1.
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Atlanta went 20/47 from the three-point line, and missed just one free throw the entire night. It’s unlikely that they’ll shoot with such a high efficiency for the rest of the series, and the Sixers did in fact show signs of dominance as the game progressed. Philly cut the lead all the way down to three with just under a minute to spare – they probably would have won if it wasn’t for the historically bad first half.
With all of that said, shaky performances in the postseason aren’t exactly “new” for Doc Rivers. He hasn’t coached a team to the Finals since way back in 2010, and he was explicitly fired by LAC due to the “Orlando Bubble” collapse that they experienced.
There’s plenty of time for Doc to redeem himself after a poor first showing here in the second round, and I still ultimately expect the Philadelphia 76ers to pull this one out. However, the pressure on Doc is definitely beginning to mount. There’s no excuses to really lean on here if Philly ends up exiting the postseason early. Joel Embiid appears to be healthy enough, they’re the #1 seed, the rest of the roster is intact, etc.
If the Sixers lose this series due to bad bench lineups and poor defense assignments, who else would you really blame besides Doc? It’s not like last year where Simmons missed the whole series due to injury, or 2019 when Kawhi Leonard was doing his best Michael Jordan impersonation. Rivers was brought here to be a difference-maker, not a hindrance to an otherwise well-built team.