Joel Embiid caused a minor stir after Game 5 when he suggested James Harden needed to be more aggressive. It wasn’t up to the Sixers’ big man to let Harden know, though. Embiid thought any kind of constructive criticism like that shouldn’t come from him. No, that stuff starts and ends with the head coach.
On Wednesday, Doc Rivers commented on Harden’s aggressiveness and his feelings on the subject. He stopped short of challenging the 10-time All-Star, although he agreed that the Sixers need Harden to go into attack mode in Game 6. They watched tape from Monday night’s loss and put a plan in place.
“No, we need James. It’s not just scoring for us with James, it’s just playing,” Rivers told reporters. “We showed him [the tape]. He had the ball a ton, the most minutes in possession of anyone on our team by a long shot, but we got to be better at doing stuff like that. And being more organized, having better spacing — with James you got to work on spacing every day, just so he can have the driving lanes, and all that.”
When asked to elaborate on why Harden hasn’t taken the initiative, Rivers attempted to put his new role in perspective. Harden hasn’t had this many good players around him in previous stops, specifically during his time in Houston when he was the primary scoring option. Now he is usually asked to defer to Embiid and sometimes Tyrese Maxey.
“It’s easy to say he used to be because he’s playing with better players,” Rivers said. “James doesn’t have the ball in his hands every time like he would in Houston because he was the guy [there]. Joel’s the guy [here], so that takes the ball out of James’ hands at times. James when he has it [in his hands] is still looking for Joel at times, so that’s the, you know, the misleading part … like whenever you get a team that’s better than the team you’re coming from, you’re not going to get as many shots as you had, you understand that. I don’t get lost in that, but I do say we got to get James to be more aggressive. And we got to put him in the spots for him to do that.”
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Rivers Looking to Expand Sixers’ Rotation?
The Sixers have been using a relatively small eight-man rotation against Toronto: Joel Embiid, James Harden, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Paul Reed, Georges Niang. That’s it, aside from Matisse Thybulle during home games since he’s ineligible to play in Toronto. With their series lead down to 3-2 — and momentum seemingly shifting to the Raptors — maybe it’s time to throw Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe some playoff minutes.
Both guys are professional shooters who could knock down open shots, right? Rivers isn’t opposed to the idea, but the Sixers’ coaching staff makes those decisions on a game-by-game basis, mostly by a gut feeling in the moment.
“You have your whole roster available and there’s going to be nights where you feel good about expanding it and there’s going to be nights where you use your gut,” Rivers said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s not like we don’t sit in the office with all the coaches and we go over all this, we do — and we’ll make that decision in the game. Like right now we practiced with Furk [Korkmaz] on the floor, just like we did last game. That doesn’t mean when we get to the game that’s going to happen, we just don’t know yet.”
Heat, Celtics Advance in Eastern Conference
While the Sixers have gone 0-for-2 in closeout games this postseason, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics took care of business and advanced. The Heat beat the Atlanta Hawks 97-94 — minus Jimmy Butler — in Game 5 on Tuesday night to move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Miami gets the winner of the Raptors-Sixers series.
Meanwhile, Boston defeated the Brooklyn Nets 116-112 in Game 4 on Monday night to complete the sweep. Philadelphia needs to finish the job against Toronto in Game 6 on Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Sixers need to match the Raptor’s intensity in that one.
“They clearly played with more energy, more urgency than we did,” Rivers said of Game 6. Why did that happen? “If I could answer that question, I could double my salary,” Rivers said.