The Philadelphia 76ers and head coach Doc Rivers share several narratives, most of which aren’t positive. Philadelphia blew a 26-point lead to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which gave Trae Young’s team a 3-2 series lead. The historic collapse is the latest chapter in a lengthy record of shortcomings by Rivers’ teams and the 76ers.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Philadelphia’s blown lead was the third-largest in a playoff game over the past 25 years. The 76ers are the only team with back-to-back 18-point blown leads in the past 25 postseasons. ESPN Stats & Info claims Rivers’ team had a 95.5% chance of winning Game 4 and a 99.7% chance of winning Game 5 after building large leads. Philadelphia lost both games by three points.
“I thought it started in the beginning of the second half,” Rivers said of Philadelphia’s collapse. “Even though we kept the lead, I think we had six turnovers in our first ten possessions to start the third quarter. That’s why I called the early timeout. You could see we kind of exhaled, relaxed.”
Joel Embiid missing consecutive free throws with 10.9 seconds left after starting the game 11-11 from the line was the most memorable moment of the 76ers bowing to Atlanta in Game 5. However, Embiid only ended up at the line because Philadelphia’s inbounds play failed to provide an open three-point shot.
Embiid did everything he could to keep the 76ers above water in Game 5. The superstar made 60.0% of his shots, scored 37 points, hauled in 13 rebounds, assisted on five buckets, and rejected four Hawks attempts. Unfortunately, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons couldn’t deliver.
Harris and Simmons, who made $64.9 million collectively this year, combined to go 4-15 for 12 points. Simmons only attempted four shots all game and went 4-14 from the free throw line. If the Australian point guard made half of his free throws, the game would’ve gone to overtime. Harris’ four points were his fewest in a game since the 2019 playoffs.
“We just gave it to them,” Simmons said. “We got too comfortable and didn’t play the way we should be playing. Didn’t move the ball as much in the second half. Didn’t get as many easy shots. And defensively, there were too many lapses where we didn’t communicate.”
Harris couldn’t provide an answer when asked about Philadelphia’s recent history of losing leads late in games.
“It’s a great question,” he said. “You know it’s … I don’t know.”
Even Embiid isn’t entirely clear of blame. This season’s runner-up for MVP looked gassed at the end of Philadelphia’s losing effort. While Embiid deserves credit for battling through a partially torn meniscus, his health and conditioning remain annual concerns for the 76ers in the playoffs. At some point, he must buck the trend and come through clutch for Philadelphia.
The players aren’t the only individuals responsible for Philadelphia falling behind in their series. Per ESPN’s Paul Hembekides, Rivers has suffered a playoff elimination an NBA record ten times after holding a series lead. The 59-year-old coach hasn’t made a Conference Finals since the 2012 playoffs with Boston. Since then, he’s lost in the conference semifinals three times.
“Listen, we scored 19 points and gave up 40,” Rivers said of the fourth quarter. “So it’s on us. It’s on all of us. It’s on me. It’s on the players. And we have to figure out how to get back up, which we will, and bring this game back here for Game 7.”
Rivers coached the 76ers to the Eastern Conference’s best record this season, but the former Coach of the Year can’t shake his postseason failures. It doesn’t help that he leads an organization that suffered one of the most crushing playoff losses in league history two years ago against Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors.
The 76ers are a historic franchise, but they continue finding bizarre ways to lose games. Last night, Seth Curry and Embiid were the only 76ers to make field goals in the second half. Philadelphia’s bench finished the game with 13 points. In comparison, two players coming off the bench for Atlanta scored 15 or more points.
“Tomorrow we have to put it behind us, find a way to get better,” Harris said. “Go to Atlanta and get a win. I mean, our backs are against the wall right now and we have to play like it.”