Last Thursday, Devon Givens got an opportunity to sit down with Doc Rivers for a 1-on-1 conversation about the 76ers’ time off between playoff rounds, the evolution of Joel Embiid, this team, and the general NBA postseason landscape.
Article has been edited for brevity and clarity. Full conversation is linked below.
Here’s the full Q&A.
Devon Givens: Thanks for the time. Well, you have a lot of time.
Doc Rivers: I have too much time. I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my playoff life as a player or a coach, but it actually is a lot of time and that’s a major concern.
Devon Givens: When you talk about the major concern, the obvious part of that is just having too much time off, and that can backfire on you a little bit. What does that mean? When you are now preparing for that, versus what you were already trying to do?
Doc Rivers: Rust, we had a great rhythm, you know, right after Game 4, and then you have to shut that down. Playing against each other in practice is a whole different beast than playing in the playoffs against an opponent that is really trying to beat you. You do lose some of that competitiveness. You lose your rhythm, your timing, and you lose conditioning. That’s why when you walked in today, you saw all of our guys running and we got to keep running, but it’s still not NBA game running. So that’s a concern. I do think at the end of the day, where we think we’re gonna go, this rest will come in handy. I just don’t know if it is right now
Devon Givens: Right. So how do you simulate (NBA gameplay) as best as you possibly can?
Doc Rivers: We try to create game scenarios. Yesterday, in practice, we’re doing (a scenario where we are) down three with 45 seconds left, down five or up five, with two minutes left. You just do those over and over and over again, to get our guys thinking like it’s a game. And unfortunately for the guys, I’m the ref. So I decide who is going to win that game a lot of times, and the players hate that, but that’s just the way it is.
Devon Givens: When you talk about the first round matchup, though you were pleased with everything, you had to go through some different things, some different ways of having the offense play. What were some of the things that really stood out to you that you were happy with, with the growth of your team as you started off (in) round one?
Doc Rivers: I thought our patience (stood out). Brooklyn decided they were just going to throw the kitchen sink, they were going to zone, trap, trap on the catch, trap on movement, double team on the ball, (double team) away from the ball. Instead of panicking, we just kept playing and read it great, (and) took advantage of it, almost. By Game 3, because that was the last Joel (Embiid) game, we were literally inviting (the trapping defense). Come on, bring it here, and we’ll pick you apart. That’s a great thing of maturity and patience. And I thought we did that throughout (the series).
Devon Givens: I’m gonna follow up on that because I remember the beginning of the year, you and I talked briefly, when we all got together. You mentioned Joel (Embiid), his development and his growth. I asked you ‘What does that look like?’ You felt it was a good question at the time. Do you have your answer now?
Doc Rivers: Yes, passing. That’s what we talked about that day, being more dominant on the glass, being more dominant defensively in the paint, you know, and I thought he did all those things. I think the reason (Embiid) is going to be the MVP this year, in my opinion, is because he passed the ball more. It’s funny, he led the league in scoring, but his passing is what allowed him to lead the league in scoring. It got to a point, you know, even Brooklyn after the series their players, we talked, (they) were like ‘You trap them, they score. If you don’t trap him, he scores you. We didn’t know which one to do.’ That wasn’t has never been said about (Embiid) and he should be very proud of that.
Devon Givens: One of the things that he did say was after the game where he scored 14 points. And he said, ‘Listen, I’m not worried about leading the league in scoring like I did and having 30 every night. I liked winning this way.’ and I don’t think many of us ever heard him say that.
Doc Rivers: Yes. We talk about it all the time with all our players. With Tyrese (Maxey), James (Harden), Tobias (Harris) and Joel (Embiid) in particular, winning has to be more important than scoring, individual scoring. Like, if all you want to do is individual score and that takes the place of winning, you’ll never be a winner. Winning has to take precedence over everything and our guys are buying into that.
Devon Givens: You mentioned (Joel Embiid) as the MVP. Big storyline, around the league, but also here locally, where Sixers fans have been backing him for the last three years. Wanting him to win as if they were all winning the award and feel that way (about the MVP). Why is he (the MVP) this year?
Doc Rivers: Because he’s done everything. I mean, there’s so many criterias to winning the MVP, they say. I don’t know who they are, but one (condition) of it is, it’s got to be multiple years (of domination). (Embiid) could have won last year, I thought. He did it again, but he upped it. He got better each year. It’s amazing that you can be second in MVP (voting) two years in a row and each year you get better, and he made a big jump this year. So our record speaks for itself. (Embiid) speaks for (himself). It’s time.
Devon Givens: Following up on that, the big story, waiting to find out how available (Embiid will) be. What can you tell us at this time?
Doc Rivers: Not a lot. I’m worried. I’m not gonna lie there. It sucks that Joel’s in this position that he didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just sometimes this happens. This has happened, unfortunately for him, four years in a row now, right? I do think the team is better equipped to handle it, though. Let’s say we get (Embiid) but we don’t get all of (Embiid). You know, last year we had (Embiid) back, but we didn’t have (the best version of Embiid).
Devon Givens: Miami?
Doc Rivers: Yeah. My first year here, the Atlanta one. Once he went down in Washington with that knee, (Embiid) was not even close to the same. We were not equipped to do anything about that. Now, we get him back, not 100%, we can still win. And that’s the difference in this team.
Devon Givens: As you say that, why is it? Multiple reasons? Depth, experience now?
Doc Rivers: Yeah, toughness, toughness. We liked it, we have it. Not only just from the new guys, the guys that have been here have seen what toughness looks like now and they’re starting to be that as well. So, team toughness is crucial moving forward.
Devon Givens: We keep hearing different, and I’ve heard you say ‘different’ about this (team). Obviously the toughness part, the experience of it all and Embiid playing the Embiid way. What is it that’s different?
Doc Rivers: You can feel that with this team. There’s teams that are really good. I’ve had really talented teams, but they weren’t ready to win. All the clutter was still amongst them, who’s getting the most shots, all that stuff. You can’t win with that. You got to be ready as a whole group, every single guy. I think this team is ready to win. No one’s worried about themselves and all the crap, these guys they’re worried about winning.
Devon Givens: That’s obviously a good thing. Now that we’re here waiting to find out about the opponent. By time we air this, the opponent will be set. You see the things that have happened around the league with New York taking down the four seed in Cleveland, the eighth seed Miami Heat knocking off the Milwaukee Bucks and things happening in the West as well and you’re still keeping your team engaged and prepared. The number one seed that you had in 2021 with the Atlanta series. Last year, things happened in the way they did, there were more injuries. Now seeing how these things happen, how much do you talk about that, not only with your coaches, but also your players?
Doc Rivers: We talk (more about) the opponent. We have our goals, alright? So let’s put that to the side right now. We gotta go play somebody, and that’s gonna be our single focus is that team, not our goal, like you got to go through that process. Whoever’s in front of us is part of our process. We got to have a focus, if we just zero in on that team, that they are our enemy. That’s how we have to look at it, they’re in our way. That’s how we have to look at it.
Devon Givens: One thing I know about you is you love this job. What’s about the playoffs that makes it stand out even more to coach?
Doc Rivers: This. This becomes a battle. It’s single minded focus now, like this is the team. We know who we have. And we have over and over again. I love it.
Devon Givens: Thanks, as always, good luck the rest of the way. And we’ll talk to you hopefully as we keep going.
Doc Rivers: Let’s keep talking for another couple months.
Devon Givens: I’ll take that. If this keeps working, we’ll keep doing it.
Doc Rivers: I love it. Thanks.