While he won Coach of the Year this year, his second such accolade, it becomes clearer and clearer that Tom Thibodeau’s greatest accomplishment was as assistant head coach: getting those Boston Celtics teams around whatever roadblocks Doc Rivers threw in front of them to win that one championship and nearly get another. It’s the only explanation considering what we’ve seen Rivers’ teams do since.
It’s clear that Rivers is a great guy. Very thoughtful, forthright, and he has a place in the league, or around it, as long as he wants one. It’s been clear for a while though that that place shouldn’t be as a head coach. Because he’s no damn good at it. At least not when it counts, which is what you pay a coach for. They don’t give you banners for 60-win seasons, unless Nashville has an NBA team.
There’s nowhere to slide blame when you blow a 26-point lead in a pivotal playoff game at home, something we’re told you blitz through a regular season for. The Sixers scored 44 points in the second half, 19 in the fourth, and shot less than 30 percent. Tobias Harris, perhaps the one true actual killer on the Sixers, didn’t score in the 4th. He only took three shots. Ben Simmons didn’t take one shot, which might be a good thing considering the way he shoots when outside of sneezing distance. But if he’s one of your pillars, the one you developed, you’d think he’d be someone you’d turn to when things are going wrong to get you something you can be sure of, a footbhold kind of guy. As my colleague Carron Phillips likes to point out though, whenever Simmons comes up in conversation, that LSU didn’t even make the tourney when he was there. Might say more now.
That’s also the coach’s job. When a game starts to slip, he’s supposed to identify one or two plays or players that a team can count on to get them a solid look. A foundation to stem the tide. But things just happen to Rivers’ teams. And once they start happening, they keep happening. A trip down memory lane (and remember, he got that Celtics job without the Magic ever winning a playoff series under his watch):
2003 Magic: Blew a 3-1 lead to the Pistons, though to be fair this was a 1-8 matchup. Still, 3-1
2009 Celtics: Blew a 3-2 lead to the Magic
2010 Celtics: Blew a 3-2 lead to the Lakers
2012 Celtics: Blew a 3-2 lead to the Heat
2015 Clippers: Blew a 3-1 lead to the Rockets, losing the last three by no less than 12 points
2020 Clippers: Blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets, after Denver had been through a seven-game series the previous round.
So clearly there’s some precedent here. And this is as open of a road that the Sixers will see. It’s not likely that two of the three of Durant, Harden, and Irving will be hurt simultaneously next year. The Bucks might even get a coach who doesn’t fill his pants every spring. And that’s not even getting to the complete rando that will come out of the West this year which won’t be repeated again.
The book is probably out on Ben Simmons now, so whatever trade the Sixers may have considered (it was Harden not so long ago) will get them laughed off the phone. But the book is definitely out on Rivers, who sold the media and GMs on his personality and suaveness in conferences to cover up the fact that his teams can cough up a hairball the size of Missoula at a moment’s notice.