There’s no doubting that a lot of things went right for the Philadelphia 76ers this season. Injuries and bouts with COVID-19 notwithstanding, the team stuck together through adversity, its star trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris reached new heights as a collective and, defensively, Philly was arguably the best of the best.
It was an incredible turn of events for a team that had underachieved throughout 2019-20 and gotten itself swept in the first round of the playoffs. And, clearly, Doc Rivers’ efforts on the sidelines and behind the scenes played a big-time role in the turnaround.
Sure, there’s a lot of credit to be doled out for all that the Sixers accomplished during the ’20-21 regular season. A myriad of players stepped up along the way and Daryl Morey’s incremental roster upgrades paid dividends throughout the campaign as well.
But it was Rivers’ ability to implement a system, a mindset and a winning culture, his ability to manage personalities that some said the team should have broken up, that made the most difference.
Nevertheless, when the league’s Coach of the Year winner and the award’s voting results were revealed on Monday, Rivers ultimately fell well short of capturing the trophy.
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New York Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau Is the COY
When he took the job in the Big Apple, the 63-year-old inherited a roster that went just 21-45 in a pandemic-shortened ’19-20 season. In spite of the low expectations for the Knicks heading into this season, Thibodeau proceeded to lead the club to a 41-31 mark and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoff table.
The Knicks’ 11-4 record in April, which was key in capturing home-court advantage for Round 1, was their winningest month since March of 2014.
Thibodeau’s team also finished fourth league-wide in defensive rating at 107.8 after having finished 23rd the previous season. Moreover, big man Julius Randle had a career season and second-year man R.J. Barrett reminded the world why New York selected him No. 3 overall in 2019.
This marks the second time that Thibodeau has been honored as Coach of the Year. He was previously honored in 2011 after directing the Chicago Bulls to a league-best 62-20 record.
Doc a Non-Factor in the COY Vote
Thibodeau only narrowly won the award, accruing 351 points through the vote against the 340 netted by Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams. Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who led his team to the best mark in the league this season, was third with 161 points.
Rivers meanwhile, was fourth in the voting. The Sixers’ headman did receive a pair of first-place votes and a pair of second-place votes, in addition to eight third-place votes. However, he finished well outside of the top three with just 24 points.
Although he wasn’t a top pick this season, Rivers already has one COY trophy on the mantle. In his first year at the helm of an NBA team with the Orlando Magic (1999-00), he was honored after leading the team to a surprising 41-41 mark.