For as embarrassing as last night’s 4th quarter collapse was for Doc Rivers and his 76ers, it wasn’t the first time the head coach has been in the middle of a complete meltdown. And if history is any indication, it certainly won’t be the last time.
You don’t have to go that far back in time to find a recent Rivers’ debacle. Just last season as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Rivers’ team was on the brink of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. With a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets, losing the series — when you had easily the best player in the series in Kawhi Leonard — felt unimaginable.
But then it happened. In a blink of an eye, the team most basketball pundits called the best in the league, fell flat on their face and went home. Here’s just a quick recap of how embarrassing that collapse was:
- Clippers blew a 15-point lead in Game 5.
- The following game, they blew a 19-point lead in the second half.
- In Game 7, LA was outscored 50-33 in the second half after going into halftime with a 2-point lead.
But wait, there’s more!
Only 13 teams in NBA history have blown 3-1 leads in the playoffs. Rivers has been on the losing side of three of those series, across three separate decades. In 2003, Rivers and his Orlando Magic blew a 3-1 series lead to the Detroit Pistons. Granted, the Magic were the 8 seed heading into that postseason and the Pistons were one of the best teams in the East. He gets somewhat of a pass for that one.
Fast forward to 2015, Doc’s third season with the Clippers. After pulling off a stunning 7-game series victory over the Spurs in the first round, LA was hot heading into their second round series against the Houston Rockets. Although Chris Paul was sidelined for LA in Game 1, Rivers and company pulled off the upset to go up 1-0.
After dropping Game 2, they rattled off two straight victories to go up 3-1. They dropped Game 5, but were in prime position to win the series in Game 6 at home. LA got out to a 87-68 lead late in the second half, and entered the 4th quarter with a 92-79 lead. You already know where this is heading, right?
The Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the 4th quarter. Read that one more time. 40-15. Funny enough, in the Sixers’ Game 5 shit show, they were outscored by Atlanta 40-19 in the 4th quarter. Rockets coach Kevin McHale didn’t even play James Harden for the majority of the 4th quarter in that game. The bench lineup, led by Josh Smith and Corey Brewer paved the way and pulled off one of the craziest upsets in NBA history.
With the series now tied at 3 all, the Clippers had one more opportunity to avoid the inevitable. But they couldn’t do it. Houston went on the win Game 7 and the Clippers’ nucleus of Chris Paul and Blake Giffin never felt the same after that. They lost in the first round the following two seasons before dealing both Paul and Griffin.
Now that brings us back to the Sixers Game 5 meltdown. While last night is still fresh on our minds, the collapse that set the stage for Game 5’s happened just two days prior. Philly had a 62-49 lead heading into halftime of Game 4, only to come out play some of the sloppiest basketball you’ll ever see in the second half.
The same issues that plagued the team in Game 4 — turnovers, no offensive rhythm in the half court, inability to hit clutch shots — were all amplified in Game 5. The Sixers had an 18-point lead heading into the 4th quarter and failed to make any kind of adjustments down the stretch. Trae Young started getting into a rhythm and before you had a chance to breathe the Hawks were in the lead.
NBA teams had won 117 consecutive games when leading by at least 18 points heading into the 4th quarter before last night. In NBA history, teams who led by at least 18 points going into the final period were 618-5 before Wednesday night. The Sixers were outscored by 25 points in the second half, the first time in 52 years that’s happened to the Sixers in a postseason game.
I could go on and on with these outrageous stats. But for the sake of you and I, let’s just stop there.
We can point the finger at a number of Sixers players for what transpired in last night’s game. Joel Embiid went cold in the 4th, Ben Simmons was once again an offensive liability, and Tobias Harris scored 4 freaking points the entire game. But for all their shortcomings, Doc Rivers is the only factor here who such a long, dreadful history of postseason collapses on his resume.
Is he a bad coach? Absolutely not. He deserves a lot of credit for helping this team reach the No. 1 seed in the East.
Is he bad coach in pivotal playoff situations? Based on the history, it’s hard to deny that as a cold hard fact at this point.
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