Doc Rivers has never been one to accept anything but the best possible effort from his players. And while some would say his Philadelphia 76ers now have a built-in excuse in the event that they lose their second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks — namely, Joel Embiid’s torn meniscus — Rivers’ goals remain the same.
Along the same vein, he’s not congratulating himself or his team for making it this far, either.
The latest Sixers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Sixers newsletter here!
Doc on the Second-Round Berth
During his most recent media availability, the 59-year-old was asked to address the Sixers’ Eastern Conference semifinal berth through a historical lens. However, he clearly wasn’t interested in hailing it as a big achievement for the franchise.
“If your goal is to get out the second round, how low are your goals?” he deadpanned, via Philly Voice’s Kyle Neubeck. “We want more, we want the entire cake, and you have to put your heart on the line to do that.”
Rivers isn’t wrong to want more. His club has established itself as one of the elite squads in the entire Association. One of just a precious few who can consider themselves legitimate championship contenders.
In addition to having the conference’s best record and No. 1 seed heading into postseason play, the Sixers arguably boasted the NBA’s best defense. They allowed just 107.0 points per 100 possessions during the regular season and led the league in steals with 9.1 per contest.
That kind of team ought to have loftier ambitions.
Still, there’s no doubting that making it to the second round was a major accomplishment for the Sixers, regardless of what Rivers says. And it was actually big for him, too.
The Second-Round Struggle
Dating back to the team’s 2001 NBA Finals appearance, the Sixers have only advanced to Round 2 five times in 20 seasons. From 2004 to 2017, they only got out of the first round once.
Some of those first-round exits were particularly demoralizing, too. None more so than last year’s sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. During that series, the Cs put up a paltry 100.5 points per contest while logging an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3.
It was an unacceptable result for a team with two young superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, as well as a borderline All-Star in Tobias Harris. And it prompted the team to bring in Rivers, as well as a new team president in Daryl Morey.
He may own a championship ring from his 2008 run with the Celtics, but Rivers has had his own struggles in getting to the second round as well. Over a coaching career spanning 22 years, he has failed to reach a conference semifinal 13 times.
When he had Tracy McGrady at the top of his game in Orlando, he never made it to the second round. Rivers experienced a similar drought over a four-year span with the Clippers from 2016 to 2019. It was during that stretch that the team opted to blow up its “Lob City” core, a unit that was expected to bring a title to Los Angeles.
So, yes, making it to the second round and calling it good should never be the objective. However, getting that far is still a major accomplishment.