We are just one game into the NBA season and the takes are already flying. The Philadelphia 76ers did not get off to the start they expected and fell at the hands of the Celtics 126-117. It was not as close of a game as the score would indicate as Boston led by 16 points with 1:26 to go. They kept a comfortable lead throughout the second half and the Sixers were unable to find a way back in. Unsurprisingly, Doc Rivers caught a solid portion of the blame. Ben Detrick, the Host of CookiesHoops Podcast and contributor to the New York Times and the Ringer, had an especially strong take surrounding the Sixers Head Coach. As he put it on Twitter:
Criticisms of Rivers
The Sixers are coming off back-to-back seasons under Rivers in which they have failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs. The team has struggled to adapt to the physicality and toughness while the offense simply looked to be stagnant down the stretch. Despite an offseason that has drawn a ton of praise for the added toughness and athleticism that is expected to come with the new additions, the Sixers looked exactly the same to start the season.
During the loss to the Celtics, the Sixers were outscored in fastbreak points 24-2. They were outrebounded 36-31 and outscored in the paint 44-38. The Sixers’ bench produced just 11 points while Boston’s added 34. If it were not for a 35-point eruption of James Harden, this game had a chance to approach blowout territory. It also took Joel Embiid, who has a history of struggling against the Celtics, until late in the fourth quarter to truly settle in. Embiid ended with six turnovers and shot just 9-18 from the field and 1-6 on three-point attempts.
The biggest criticism of Rivers should be that the team is not practicing what has been preached all offseason. The viral clip of Rivers talking with Harden about getting on the same page with Embiid this offseason had fans hyped about the potential of the two-man duo. However, both Harden and Embiid did most of their damage in isolation and the sets called for pick-and-rolls and other two-man actions were far too uncommon. This isolation-based offense is the biggest reason for it becoming stagnant and that proved to be the case on opening night. It also is the biggest reason for the nine combined turnovers between Embiid and Harden.
The Sixers also have made it clear that they intend to be one of the best defensive teams in the league this season. They are not off to a great start considering they allowed 126 points to the Celtics who fall under the category of a defensive-minded team themselves. There were several notable miscommunications, especially in pick-and-roll coverage, which allowed Boston to get what they want on offense. Harden spaced out on several possessions and the easy fast-break layups were demoralizing.
Take a Deep Breath
Now, this is not to say the panic button should be hit on the entire season. The Sixers have only played one game and no one expected them to go 82-0. The Celtics are also one of the NBA’s best teams and are coming off an NBA Finals run just last season. The number of switchable athletes and versatile wings they possess has caused problems for the Sixers in the past and this continues to be the case. They also connected on several difficult shots with Jayson Tatum looking especially unstoppable.
But this is not a game that should just be tossed out and moved on to the next. There are some notable takeaways and tweaks that must be made if the Sixers are to grow into the contenders they hope to be. It will fall on the shoulders of Coach Rivers to make these changes and steer the team in the direction they need to be going. There is a great deal of pressure on Rivers to pull the right strings as he has a roster that should be up there with the biggest contenders in the NBA. There are still 81 regular season games for these alterations to occur before the true test of the playoffs will be taken, but the 2022-23 season is not off to the start that the Sixers have hoped.