Marcus Hayes: Fire Doc Rivers? Don't be ridiculous. He was, in fact, terrific for the Sixers.

Marcus Hayes, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

Besides, Embiid didn’t aggravate his thumb injury. He got fouled in the face with a random, reckless elbow.

At any rate, Embiid wasn’t available the first two games in Miami, he wasn’t very good the next four games, and the Sixers lost to a top-seeded team that might have beaten them even if Embiid had been completely healthy.

So, there are the results: unfortunate in circumstance, disappointing in outcome, but completely explainable.

Now, let’s address motivation.

Paid to win

They didn’t play hard when the game got hard.

This was the most damning shortcoming laid at the Sixers’ feet after the Heat series. Tobias Harris said it first and best. Embiid and Maxey co-signed.

This never is the fault of an NBA coach.

Players either want to win, or they don’t, and they almost always have to be elite players. Just twice in the last 41 years has the NBA champion not contained a player who’d won or who would win an MVP award. Titles go to one-name players: Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Kawhi, Duncan, Isiah, Steph, Kobe, Shaq, Garnett, Giannis, and, of course, LeBron.

Nobody ever had to inspire that legion of legends. They inspired themselves.

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and James Harden inspire no one, themselves included. That’s not Doc’s job.


His job is to make them better players. He’s done that particularly well.

First, teach

Under Doc, Embiid became an MVP candidate. He was better in 2020-21 than he was in 2020, and he was the best player in the NBA this season. His conditioning improved, his diet improved, his game improved: he made his first all-defensive team last season (second team), then led the NBA in scoring this season. He also abandoned his petty social media feuds and provocations.

Under Doc, Maxey, a 21st overall pick in his second NBA season, grew from a backup rookie shooting guard to a passable starting point guard to a lethal wing weapon.

Under Doc, Thybulle, a 20th overall pick in 2020, was a second-team all-defensive pick last season, and his defense made him a starter this season.

Under Doc, Harris, who averaged 19.2 points before a deadline deal landed Harden, remade his game in the middle of his 11th season and became the Sixers’ best player in the playoffs.

Harden? Well, he arrived injured and never got healthy, and the Sixers still went 21-10 in games in which both he and Embiid played, including the playoffs.

Rivers admitted that he needed more time to incorporate Harden. But considering that Rivers had just four practices with Harden between the trade and the end of the season, then had just five more practices with Harden before the playoffs started, that .677 win percentage was impressive.

In fact, it was 30 points better than the Heat managed in the regular season to secure that No. 1 seed.

Terrific job, Doc.

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