76ers’ Doc Rivers did great job in 2022 NBA Playoffs vs. Toronto Raptors

The vultures were circling, hoping for their victim’s demise. But Doc Rivers wasn’t going out like that.

The press and the pundits, national and local, sharpened their knives and licked their lips as they watched Rivers’ Sixers turn a 3-0 walkover into a 3-2 pending catastrophe. After all, no NBA coach had blown more 3-1 leads than Glenn Anton Rivers, so who else would be more likely to be the first coach in NBA history to blow a 3-0 lead?

Why this ire? Maybe because, in the last two seasons, Doc, usually affable and informative, had grown weary and bitter, and he’d bitten the heads off a few reporters, myself included. That’s just not allowed with a coach of his, er, ilk.

There was no respect on his name. He’d effectively been fired and banished back to LA before the Sixers cleared customs Wednesday night — something that Doc would probably welcome, frankly. All of this hate, all of this criticism, despite ranking ninth on the all-time wins list and fourth in playoff wins.

He’s won just one title, right? Well, he had coached in the era of LeBron and Steph. And one title — well, that’s as many titles as genius Larry Brown, and it’s one more than the patron saint of Utah, Jerry Sloan. Both of them are in the Hall of Fame. Doc one day will join them. The last two weeks showed why.

Demoralized and twice defeated, the Sixers went north with their aging superstar and their injured MVP and battered the Raptors into extinction. They next play the Miami Heat, which is a bad matchup with a great coach who has home court advantage. That starts Monday.

Joel Embiid will still be injured, and James Harden will still be old, so things don’t look promising. Heat in six, max.

That’s why this is a good time to step back and take inventory of what exactly Rivers has done this year.

For the first 54 games Rivers dealt with the most bizarre distraction in the history of the NBA: Ben Simmons’ mental health boycott.

Nevertheless, he devised strategies that amplified Embiid’s incredible talents, which produced an even better season for Embiid than his 2020-21 campaign, when he should’ve been the MVP. And last year, Embiid had Simmons all season.

With Simmons out indefinitely, Doc turned Tyrese Maxey, a pure shooting guard, into a semblance of a point guard. Maxey became a star.

Doc masterfully juggled role players Andre Drummond and Seth Curry, until they were traded with Simmons on Feb. 10 for Harden.

Rivers then had to integrate Harden — an injured, aged point guard who was even more ball-dominant than Embiid. The Sixers won 14 of 21 games with Harden — remarkable, since they practiced as a full team only four times after he arrived.

They then faced a team in the playoffs that beat them three of four times in the regular season. They faced the Raptors knowing full well they would be without the services of their best perimeter defender, Matisse Thybulle (who chose to defy logic and get only one of a two-vaccine series that would have made him eligible to travel to Canada).

No problem.

Doc’s solution: lean more heavily on the defense of Tobias Harris (Tobias Harris?!) and diminish Thybulle’s role in the home games. The result: Harris played the best six games of his NBA career. Thybulle was hardly missed.

This was coaching brilliance.

The Sixers blew the Raptors away in the first two games, but Embiid tore a ligament in his thumb during the third game. It will require surgery after the playoffs. Nevertheless, Rivers devised a last-second play for Embiid that won that Game 3.

With Embiid injured and demoralized, they lost the next two games: a predictable let-down clunker in Toronto, then another in Philadelphia. In that Game 5, Rivers was out-coached by Nick Nurse, whose team denied Embiid the post and capitalized on Rivers’ reluctance to use his effective zone defense. If you want to bury Doc for one bad game, get out your shovel. You won’t use it for long.

Because then, with slings and arrows pointed directly at his heart, Rivers got a 35-point win.

Embiid was awesome. Harden, revived. Maxey, finally re-engaged. Harris was excellent, again.

Doc won it in Toronto.

He won despite giving up 15 offensive rebounds.

It wasn’t just good coaching. It was magnificent.

This has been the case most of this season.

So give Doc his due.

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