Sports | April 28, 2022 11:05 am

Doc Rivers Is Already Sensitive About the 76ers Choking Against the Raptors

The Sixers were leading their first-round series 3-0 but are on the verge of being forced to a winner-take-all Game 7

Head coach Doc Rivers of the 76ers reacts in the third quarter against the Raptors. Rivers is already sensitive about choking in the NBA playoffs, even before Game 6 on April 28, 2022.
Head coach Doc Rivers of the 76ers reacts in the third quarter against the Raptors.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

When the Philadelphia 76ers take the floor tonight in Toronto, they will not have defensive stopper Matisse Thybulle as he is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and is therefore not allowed into Canada.

What the Sixers will have when they face the Raptors, however, is a lot of baggage. The emotional kind. And nearly all of it belongs to 60-year-old head coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers, who has coached in the NBA for more than two decades and won an NBA title with the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, holds the dubious distinction of losing more 3-1 series leads (three) in the best-of-seven playoffs than any other coach in league history.

There’s a chance Rivers will add to that unwanted record this season as the 76ers took a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the Raptors before losing Games 4 and 5 to set up tonight’s crucial Game 6 in Toronto. A loss this evening would lead to a winner-take-all Game 7 in Philadelphia.

That is not a scenario Philadelphia fans want to see as Rivers has lost four straight Game 7s, tied with former coach Rick Adelman for the longest losing streak in Game 7s in NBA history. Rivers has also lost nine Game 7s overall, including five at home, both of which are the most in NBA history. One of those Game 7 meltdowns came last season when the top-seeded Sixers fell at home to the underdog Atlanta Hawks (who are already eliminated from this year’s playoffs).

Well aware of his history and reputation as a choker, Rivers, who has also blown multiple 3-2 leads in his coaching career including during the NBA Finals when the Celtics lost to the Lakers in Game 7 in ’09-10 after leading the series, pushed back against it while speaking with the media earlier this week.

“Well, it’s easy to use me as an example,” Rivers said after Philadelphia finished practice on Wednesday. “But I wish y’all would tell the whole story with me. All right? 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.”

OK, Doc. Few things there. The Detroit team who knocked out his Magic after being down 3-1 did not go on to win the title. (The Pistons won the following season.) And Orlando’s dare-worthy roster that season included Hall-of-Famer Tracy McGrady, who won the scoring title that season as well as received MVP votes. Not exactly a slouch.

Anyhow, continue.

“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,” he said. “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.”

That would be best because the talk is going to be downright deafening heading into Game 7 if the 76ers lose Game 6 and Rivers’s track record demonstrates he’s never quite figured out how to drown it out and get a win.