The Philadelphia 76ers will be facing elimination when they step out onto the court tomorrow night in Atlanta. Two of their “Big Three” stars (Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris) are under attack for less-than-stellar performances in Game 5 while head coach Doc Rivers gets challenged for poor adjustments.
One immediate fix might be to swap his rotations and shorten the bench. The Sixers have relied on an all-bench lineup at times, sometimes throwing Harris out there as the only starter with the second unit. Five guys saw action off the bench: Dwight Howard, Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton.
That group has watched leads evaporate — 18 points in Game 4, 26 points in Game 5 — faster than car fuel in a Lamborghini. Rivers admitted he and his coaching staff have discussed new rotations for Game 6, but he wasn’t about to reveal them.
“There’s a lot of thoughts,” Rivers said. “We probably have gone over every thought that you can probably think of. That’s what we do after every game. Whether we win or lose, that’s no different. We had Tobias [Harris] on the floor with the rest of the bench guys and we didn’t perform well so we clearly want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
The Sixers arrived in Atlanta at roughly 3 p.m. on Thursday and skipped practice for a film study session. The team has gone to war together for 82 games so far this season. Rivers didn’t feel a need to put any more unnecessary wear and tear on their tired bodies.
“I thought we needed to rest and to watch film, I think that’s more important this time of year,” Rivers said. “I don’t think one loss, one bad loss, should cause panic and we go practice for two hours. I don’t think that’s good for anyone.”
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Trying to Fix the ‘Mental Stuff’ with Simmons
The Hawks employed the loathsome “Hack-a-Ben” strategy on Wednesday night and put Simmons on the free-throw line 14 times. He missed 10 of them and has now gone 22-for-67 (32.8%) in 10 postseason games. Nobody in NBA playoff history has a lower average on that many shots.
After the game, Simmons admitted it was “definitely mental.” And Rivers relayed that the 24-year-old defensive stopper has been in the gym trying to improve.
“He’s putting in the work, that’s all you can ask him to do right now,” Rivers said. “The mental stuff is hard to get rid of that easy so he just has to keep getting up there and keep shooting ’em and we have to support him.”
Rivers referenced a similar situation he had with DeAndre Jordan when he was the head coach for the Los Angeles Clippers. They worked around it there, including forcing a Game 7 in 2015 to advance to the second round of the playoffs after losing at home in Game 5. He shared that story with a Sixers group that remains in good spirits despite being down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I believe in my team,” Rivers said. “This is a resilient group.”
Missing Danny Green’s Leadership
The cameras caught an energetic Danny Green coaching up his teammates on the bench. The Sixers made it a point to have the injured starter in the arena to serve as an extra sounding board and calming voice in times of crisis. Green put it on full display in Game 5, but it couldn’t replace all the intangibles the three-time champion brings to the court as a player.
“There’s definitely been something [missing],” Rivers said of Green. “His calmness, his leadership, his ability to hit a big shot in a moment and then his defense. To me, that’s what we miss the most and we talked about that today as a staff.
“Like you know, having two guys in the starting lineup that teams feel like they can attack now as opposed to just one where you can move around and you can feel like you can go run and hide.”
Two-Man Game with Joel Embiid, Seth Curry
The Sixers had only two players make a field goal in the second half of Game 5: Seth Curry (36 points) and Joel Embiid (37 points). That was it. Simmons attempted just four field goals (2-of-4 for eight points), all of them coming in the first half. Harris was equally bad (2-of-11 for four points).
Rivers said the two-man game of Curry and Embiid was working to perfection early in the contest so he kept “feeding the pig” — although maybe they got away too much from it down the stretch.
“I thought we should have got Seth more involved in the fourth quarter even though he was gassed,” Rivers said. “The action with him and Joel was almost unguardable. I thought the last four minutes we went away from that too much.”