The Complicated Legacy Of Doc Rivers

When there’s smoke, there’s fire, and Doc Rivers can’t put it out.

The fire burned all night in Philadelphia after the Sixers lost Game 5 to the Atlanta Hawks, 109-106. At one point, the Sixers led by 26 (!!!) points, but the Hawks finished the game on a 40-19 run to take control of the series at three games to two.

This marks two-straight games where the Sixers led by more than double digits in the second half. The Sixers blew an 18-point lead in Game 4 to lose 103-100.

What went wrong? Joel Embiid had a monster night of 37 points and 13 rebounds, but he continues to run out of gas in the fourth quarter due to an injured knee. Ben Simmons has been getting dragged for almost 24 hours after shooting 4-14 from the free-throw line. Simmons took zero (0) shots in the fourth quarter. Simmons is a liability at the end of games because he can’t shoot. It’s that simple.

I didn’t forget about Tobias Harris, the $180 million dollar man who scored 4 points total in Game 5. Besides Embiid, only Seth Curry, who scored 36 points, realized that it was Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, not Game 3 of the regular season.

A lot, and I mean a lot, of things went wrong on the court. However, there’s one man who’s grown accustomed to losing big leads. There’s one man who is the only coach in NBA history to blow three 3-1 series leads.

The man I’m referring to is Doc Rivers.

There’s no denying Rivers’ success and likability in the NBA. Rivers will most likely end his career with a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Maybe that doesn’t mean as much since the Hall is letting anyone with a pulse enter, but it’s still an accomplishment.

Rivers won the NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and won Coach of the Year with the Orlando Magic in 2000. Rivers led four separate teams to the playoffs and he’s 10th on the all-time coaching wins list. To quote Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, “You’re a Hall of Famer in my book.”

Unfortunately, Rivers’ shortcomings in the playoffs have become an all-too-common occurrence. If Rivers coaches a team, blown leads will follow. Whether that’s fair or foul doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s the truth.

The noteworthy collapses are the aformentioned 3-1 series leads. Of the 13 times a team recovered from a 3-1 series deficit to win the series, Rivers has been on the losing end for three of those 13 instances.

  • 2003 Orlando Magic – In the opening round, the No. 8 seed Magic were up 3-1 in the series before being blown out in three straight games to lose the series to the No. 1 seed Pistons.
  • 2015 Los Angeles Clippers – In the conference semifinals, the No. 3 seed Clippers took a 3-1 lead over the No. 2 seed Rockets. After losing Game 5, the Clippers were up 87-68 in the second half. Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, and Terrence Jones combined for 54 points as the Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter to win the game. The Rockets came back while James Harden sat on the bench. The Clippers then lost Game 7.
  • 2020 Clippers – Do I really need to talk about Pandemic P and the Bubble Clippers?

If those were Rivers’ only blemishes, then so be it. However, bad losses have followed Rivers throughout his coaching career. Deep Sran captured Rivers’ notable losses since 2009.

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern. What’s the saying for over ten times? 11 times means it’s inevitable?

It’s not all Doc’s fault. He can’t teach Simmons how to shoot free throws mid-game or improve Embiid’s conditioning this late in the series. But blowing this many games is ridiculous.

I respect Doc for calling out the effort of his players after Game 4, but maybe it’s time to call yourself out for blowing double-digit leads on your own court and losing multiple Game 7s at home. The endings to Games 4 and 5 were almost identical. Doc’s lack of adjustments in the fourth quarter and his team’s inability to finish games is unacceptable.

Can the Sixers still win this series? Of course, they can, but the Sixers and more importantly, Doc, need to learn how to finish games or their season will end in disappointment.

Is Doc Rivers to blame for Philly’s collapse? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Damian Lillard: To Trade Or Not To Trade

The future of the Portland Trail Blazers is in Damian Lillard’s hands.

The biggest question of the offseason revolves around Lillard and his status as a member of the Blazers. The Blazers are coming off a first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, marking the fourth time in five years Portland failed to reach the second round.

Something needs to change in Portland. The first step happened last week when Terry Stotts was relieved of his head coaching duties. Stotts made the playoffs in eight straight seasons, but only accumulated one Conference Finals appearance. Stotts may not have been the biggest problem in Portland, but it’s clear he wasn’t the solution.

The next step towards change involves the roster, which needs to be revamped immediately. On paper, the Blazers have sufficient firepower on offense thanks to Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Norman Powell, and Carmelo Anthony. That being said, the Blazers had the 29th out of 30 defensive rating. In other words, the Blazers were allergic to defense.

When Lillard needed his teammates the most, the supporting cast was nowhere to be found. Look no further than Game 5 between the Blazers and the Nuggets. Lillard was unstoppable, scoring 55 points on 17-24 shooting including an incredible 12-17 from behind the arc. What about the rest of his teammates? They managed to make one (!!!) shot when the game mattered the most.

Now comes the all important question. What should the Blazers do with Lillard?

The Blazers should do everything in their power to keep Lillard. Lillard is one of the three best guards in the game and the true definition of a franchise player. Dame is an All-NBA superstar who’s averaged over 25 points per game for six straight seasons. Lillard is in the middle of his prime and signed through 2025 so there’s no reason to get rid of him. Dame is one of the ten best players in the NBA, and Portland will continue to make the playoffs if he’s in the lineup.

The Blazers are better in the short term with Lillard, but trading the cornerstone of the franchise for an unprecedented haul may be in their best interest. Don’t listen to Blazers GM Neil Oshey, who said the first-round loss was not a product of the roster. The roster is exactly why the Blazers lost to the Nuggets and it’s why they’ve reached the Conference Finals only once during Dame’s tenure in Portland.

If the Blazers take the “our core will get better and our role players will step up” approach this offseason, you might as well pencil in another first-round loss next season. With the Lakers, Suns, Clippers, Mavericks, and Nuggets all on the upswing, the Blazers need a roster makeover.

The easier move for Portland would be to trade CJ McCollum, who has been in trade rumors for what seems like his entire career. CJ may not be a superstar, but he’s a very good scoring option that any contender would love to have. Perhaps the Bucks, Mavericks, or Sixers would consider trading for McCollum to shake up their rosters.

As good as CJ is, Lillard is the crown jewel. If a team were to acquire Lillard in a trade, they would instantly become a threat to make the NBA Finals. If the Blazers fully commit to a rebuild, then they could receive a king’s ransom for Lillard, similar to one the Thunder received in the Paul George trade. Five first-round picks, two pick swaps, and a player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was amazing compensation for George. Lillard is even better than George so the Blazers could potentially receive even more assets than the Thunder did for George.

Think about all the teams with young players, picks, and cap space. The Knicks have two firsts this year, all of their first in the next five years, 70 million in cap space, and a young core of players highlighted by RJ Barrett. The Celtics could trade Jaylen Brown and multiple picks for Lillard, according to Chris Mannix. The Heat and Clippers could also provide packages that could entice the Blazers to trade their superstar guard.

If Lillard wants to be traded, he can march right into Oshey’s office and ask out of Portland. It’s important to remember that this is Lillard we’re talking about, one of the most loyal players in the NBA. It’s not in his DNA to ask for a trade. However, things can change if Dame exhausts all of his options in Portland.

There is no ending in sight to the Lillard dilemma for Portland. It’s only just begin.

Should the Blazers trade Damian Lillard? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet us @danny_giro.