By Connor Thomas
The Sixers won last night over the lowly Detroit Pistons, taking a home victory with a score of 110-102. The game was never truly in doubt for Joel Embiid and company, but if you went to bed with 7 minutes left in the game, you would be very surprised to hear the final tally. The Sixers were up 22 with just over 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and ended up letting the winless Pistons come all the way back to cut the lead to 5 with 30 seconds left. It was a ridiculous exhibition of closing out incompetence, but not one that is new to the Wells Fargo Center or the team that plays there. There is a preposterous trend that is showing over the Sixers past few games in South Philadelphia, and there’s only one place to point the blame: Head Coach Doc Rivers.
Take a look at the numbers from the Sixers past 4 home games: They blew a 22 point lead at home against the Pistons last night, they blew a double digit late 4th quarter lead against the Brooklyn Nets in their home opener, and the last two home games of last year? Well, they contained the infamous blown leads in games 5 and 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. This speaks to two things, both equally troubling. The first is that Doc Rivers is feeding more and more into the narrative that he just does not coach well in end game situations, leading to his tremendous amount of playoff collapses. Rivers seems to have no feel of his rotations at points, and the players seem to be ill-prepared to control the basketball and land the plane with a big lead. A huge part of that is Rivers’ in game management of momentum changing moves, like timeouts or coaches challenges, but there’s also a part of this issue that needs to be coached better in practice. The turnovers seem to grow exponentially when the Sixers have a huge 4th quarter home lead, almost like the team experiences a lack of focus. That is something that will have to be corrected soon, or else the already noticeable issue may become crippling.
That being said, though, Rivers can only work with the players that he has been provided by the Sixers front office. Right now, it appears that the bench unit that has been tasked with the mop-up role so far this season is somewhat unable to do what the coach is asking of them. Last night, Georges Niang, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Andre Drummond, and Matisse Thybulle were the main 5 players out on the court while the Pistons backups made their huge run. That’s far from the best bench unit in the NBA. Thybulle is an outstanding defender who still gives you just about nothing offensively, Drummond is prone to silly fouls and isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse in the paint, Korkmaz and Milton are streaky, and Niang is solid but limited in his athleticism. Now, should those 5 be able to handle the Pistons backups? Absolutely. But the Sixers Achilles heel from last season remains one of their biggest problems through the first 5 games of this season. The key thing to remember is that it is only 5 games, but early indications are that adjustments have not been made since the collapse against the Hawks in last year’s playoffs. Those adjustments will have to come soon, or the Sixers will find themselves stuck in the middle of a top-heavy Eastern Conference.