The 76ers were gassed, and that is on Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers simultaneously complained about the players being tired at the end of Game 4 against the Boston Celtics, and was the main cause of it.
The 76ers were pounding the Celtics on Game 4 and it looked like it would be an easy Philly victory. Then, the 76ers stopped scoring in the fourth quarter, and Boston actually make up a nine-point deficit and even took a five-point lead with two minute remaining in regulation.
The Sixers, in stirring fashion, did rally for a106-105 victory to tie the series at 2-2 games apiece. Much has been written about that, but the reason there was a need for heroics at the end by P.J. Tucker, Joel Embiid and James Harden were well-articulated by coach Doc Rivers after the game (h/t Daily Six Newsletter).
“… Yes, I thought Joel was tired, and I thought we took 20 seconds to get into it. Part of that was fatigue. We gotta get into our stuff earlier,” Rivers said about the offensive struggles down the stretch. “… You get into the play with seven seconds left, it’s gonna be hard to score.”
Did fatigue affect the Sixers scoring a mere 15 points in the fourth period (and remember, that includes a rare three-point play by P.J. Tucker)? Absolutely, the eye test was enough.
When Embiid is being blocked three times by 36-year-old Al Horford, something is definitely out of sorts.
It was odd that RIvers blamed fatigue for why the Sixers looked so bad in the fourth since, the reason they were all gassed, was Doc Rivers.
A simple look at the box score showed Rivers played his bench less than Celtics’ counterpart Joe Mazzulla.
For Boston, Jayson Tatum was the only one to play more than 45 minutes, while the Sixers had three (Embiid, Harden and Tobias Harris), with Tyrese Maxey only 20 seconds away from playing 45 minutes himself.
Rivers, in a must-win situation, obviously had no faith in his bench, only three subs got in the game (including a whole six minutes for Paul Reed).
Did Doc Rivers panic when the Philadelphia 76ers benched the bench players?
While RIvers went with basically a six-man rotation (the scoreless De’Anthony Melton the only sub getting more than 19 minutes), Boston received valuable contributions from Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams and Robert Williams off the bench.
Among the Sixers subs who did not play, included Jalen McDaniels, an athletic wing who is one of the few Sixers who can hang defensively with all of the Celtics’ athletic wings, and Danuel House, another athletic wing who has seen spot duty.
The odd part it is, it was not like the Sixers were getting killed by their bench. The non-Embiid minutes can be rough a lot of the time, but Paul Reed actually had a better plus/minus than Embiid (+1 to 0).
And it was not like Tobias Harris and Maxey and were setting the world on fire and needed to stay on the floor, as they shot a combined 9-for-27.
Importantly, let’s face it, the Sixers, outside of Maxey, are an old team. Tucker turned 38-years-old on Friday, Harden will soon be 34, Harris is 30 and Embiid is coming off a knee injury which, if this is the regular season, he probably would not even be playing for a couple more weeks.
Is this the kind of players you want to run into the ground, and play a lot? Apparently Rivers does:
The Celtics, outside of Horford, are all in their 20s, yet they got more rest than the injured/over 30 Sixers in Game 3. Basically, Rivers is either in panic mode as he sees the series slip away, or admitting general manager Daryl Morey did not give him any players who can help in a tough playoff series.
(Ironically, the one substitute who had a good amount of PT, Melton, was benched by the Memphis Grizzlies last year because he was playing so badly in the playoffs.)
Running an old and hurt team into the ground does not seem to be a good strategy on the face of it. We will see if Rivers’ strategy works in the next couple of games against a younger and, apparently, deeper Celtics squad.