In fact, no one did pick the Sixers to secure the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the 2020-21 season. They were picked to finish in the middle of the pack.
Doc said nobody expected much of the Sixers again this season. With the Bucks returning as NBA champs and with the Nets loaded with Hall of Fame talent, the Sixers were, in fact, projected to be a second-round loser again. So, in the context of expecting the Sixers to achieve more than they did, Rivers is right.
Further, had prognosticators known that Ben Simmons was going to boycott the entire NBA season, the Sixers would have been picked as first-round losers.
That’s his greater point. Rivers coached spectacularly over the first 54 games without his All-Star, first-team all-defensive point guard. They were 32-22, with Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry in the backcourt and Matisse Thybulle at small forward. Give the man some credit.
What about the playoffs?
The Sixers blew a 2-1 series lead to the Hawks last season, but that was mostly because Simmons refused to attempt a single field goal in the fourth quarters of the last four games of the series. Twist it any way you like, but no team wins when the primary ballhandler won’t shoot.
Why didn’t Doc force Ben to shoot? Because Simmons had been enabled by ownership to be insubordinate, so no, not even Doc could make him shoot.
This season, the Sixers lost to the Heat mainly because Joel Embiid got hurt. The Heat entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed. They dominated the Sixers at home. They won in six games.
Embiid didn’t play the first two games as he recovered from a concussion and an orbital bone fracture in the series finale at Toronto. You want to blame Rivers for the concussion? OK — Embiid got hurt as the Sixers held a 29-point lead with less than 4 minutes to play, and he already was playing with a torn thumb ligament — but it’s a lazy, silly argument.
Rivers’ teams are notorious for giving up leads, and Embiid’s presence secured the big lead. He scored 10 of the Sixers’ last 14 points before he got hurt. Finally, Rivers had planned to call a timeout the first chance he got in order to replace Embiid.