PHILADELPHIA — While the 76ers’ hiring of Doc Rivers as the team’s new head coach appears to be a universally popular move, and experts including ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson feel he is a Hall of Fame coach, there are some noted blemishes on his postseason resume.
There are also some strong showings, none more so than winning an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and almost doing so again in 2010, losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA finals.
Winning a championship is difficult. And although Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen led the way in Boston, Rivers had to blend the All-Stars together.
Molding stars to play well together, something Rivers has done well in his career, is a big part of coaching in the NBA. Rivers will obviously have that task with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
In that 2008 championship run, the Celtics had to show grit by winning two seven-game series in the opening two rounds against Atlanta and Cleveland. That NBA title was the obvious pinnacle of his coaching career.
However, there have been some postseason lows for Rivers, who qualified for the playoffs in six of his seven seasons coaching the Clippers.
If one looks at the most frustrating series defeats in Rivers’ career, one can point to shooting percentage as being the reason behind his team’s losses. The top players, or the team collectively, usually has to shoot at a decent level no matter who’s coaching.
In that 2010 championship series with the Lakers, Boston led 3-2 before its offense went south. The Celtics lost, 89-67, in Game 6 and then 83-79 in Game 7. In Game 6, Celtics reserves shot just 4 for 26 (15.1 %), including 2 of 12 from 3-point range. In Game 7, Ray Allen shot 3 of 14 from the field, including 2 of 7 from three-point range.
In NBA history, 13 teams have squandered 3-1 leads according to NBA.com, and Rivers has been the coach on the short end in three of those series.
— During the 2003 playoffs, Rivers’ Magic team led 3-1 over the Pistons, who were favored in the first-round Eastern Conference series. The Pistons then won three in a row to send Tracy McGrady and the Magic home.
— In 2015, the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to Houston in the second round of the Western Conference after overcoming a 3-2 deficit in the previous series to beat San Antonio in seven games.
— This year marked the third time, with the Clippers up 3-1 before the Nuggets won the final three games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Bad shooting, not surprisingly, played a key role in these collapses. During this season’s 104-89 loss in Game 7 to Denver, the Clippers’ two biggest stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, shot a combined 10 for 38 (26.3%), including 0 for 11 in the fourth quarter when L.A. was outscored, 22-15.
(Sixers fans are wondering where was Leonard’s poor late-game shooting was in last year’s Game 7. Leonard shot 6 for 9 in the fourth quarter in Toronto’s deciding 92-90 win, including his four-bouncer at the buzzer that ended the series.)
In 2003, during Orlando’s 108-93 loss in Game 7 to Detroit, McGrady shot 7 for 24, including 2 of 6 from beyond the arc. During those final three losses, he was 4 for 17 (23.5%) from 3-point range.
In the 2015 series with Houston, the Clippers shot 7 for 28 (25%) from 3 in the 113-100 loss in Game 7, while the Rockets were 12 for 30 (40%).
The moral of the story is that if a team doesn’t shoot well, they likely aren’t going to win.
Coaches often receive their share of blame for postseason struggles, regardless how their team shoots, and on the other side, credit for winning. It comes with the job.
Rivers is 943-681 (.581) in the regular season and 91-89 (.506) in the playoffs. He is 41st all-time in playoff winning percentage, according to basketball-reference.com.
There are several accomplished coaches who are below him in playoff winning percentage, such as Jerry Sloan (.485), Rick Carlisle (.476), Don Nelson (.452), Lenny Wilkens (.449) and Jack Ramsay (.431), demonstrating how difficult it is to win in the postseason.
Coaches in any sport are eventually judged on how their team performs in the playoffs, and that is how Rivers’ tenure with the Sixers will be graded, regardless of how the team shoots.
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