The Philadelphia 76ers are up 3-2 against the Toronto Raptors in their best-of-seven series and will try for the third time to close the series after going up 3-0. 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was asked on Wednesday about his poor record in closeout games, and that he is the only head coach in NBA history to blow 3-1 leads on three separate occasions. Rivers provided context for those losses, and he isn’t wrong per se.
“Well, it’s easy to use me as an example,” Rivers said after the team finished practice. “But I wish y’all would tell the whole story with me. All right?”
Doc Rivers got a little defensive when discussing his past teams' collapses 👀 pic.twitter.com/88PqjDDUZa
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 27, 2022
Rivers has a 15-31 record in closeout games and in the playoffs there are circumstances like injury that can change the entire tenor of the series. Rivers went through each of the blown leads, starting with his time coaching the Orlando Magic in 2003.
“My Orlando team [in 2003] was the eighth seed. No one gives me credit for getting up against the [Detroit] Pistons, who won the title. That was an eighth seed. I want you to go back and look at that roster. I dare you to go back and look at that roster. And you would say, ‘What a hell of a coaching job.’ Really.”
His next two blown 3-1 series leads came as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I mean, the Clipper team [in 2015] that we lost 3-1, Chris Paul didn’t play the first two games, and was playing on one leg, and we didn’t have home court. And then the last one [when the Clippers lost to the Denver Nuggets in 2020], to me, is the one we blew. That’s the one I took. We blew that. And that was in the bubble. And anything can happen in the bubble. There’s no home court. Game 7 would have been in L.A.
“But, it just happens. So I would say with me, some of them is … I gotta do better always. I always take my own responsibility. And then some of it is, circumstances happen. This one, let’s win it, and we don’t have to talk about it.”
The 2020 loss in the bubble was bad, and Rivers kind of pushed it off on the environment of the COVID-19 playoffs. The Clippers had Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the latter a Finals MVP. They should’ve won that one.
But this season with the 76ers after all the Ben Simmons drama, the acquisition of James Harden and Joel Embiid’s MVP level play, if Rivers blows this 3-0 lead, expect heads to roll.
“Being up 3-0, especially 3-0, I would say that [teams feel differently],” Rivers said. “A lot of teams don’t win those games. The Celtics are the only one that won that game [in the first round of this year’s playoffs]. Everyone else lost that game.
“From a coaching standpoint, you hate that, because you feel like, ‘Let’s just take care of it.’ Then you get to Game 5 the other night and they played better. We didn’t play well. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. So clearly now, I think both teams have kind of served notice and both teams have the other team’s attention.
“If you don’t have that, then we’re all in trouble.”
There will be no excuses this time around. Simmons isn’t here to blame. Harden is the guy that president of basketball operations Daryl Morey wanted, and Rivers is a championship-winning coach.
Game 6 in Toronto on Thursday is a must win, because if they head back to Philadelphia for a Game 7 the weight of the world will be on everyone within that organization.