By DAN GELSTON (Associated Press)
PHILADELPHIA — Doc Rivers’ penchant for playoff collapses and second-round exits cost him his coaching job with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers fired Rivers on Tuesday following a third straight exit in the second round of the playoffs, and the second time over that span he lost a series lead and a Game 7.
Rivers led the 76ers to their second straight 50-win season behind NBA MVP Joel Embiid but again failed to lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. The Sixers have not won an NBA championship since 1983.
“We’re grateful for all he did in his three seasons here and thank him for the important impact he made on our franchise,” team president Daryl Morey said in a statement. “After having the chance to reflect upon our season, we decided that certain changes are necessary to further our goals of competing for a championship.”
Morey was scheduled to address the decision at a news conference Wednesday.
The 76ers held a 3-2 semifinals series lead against Boston before dropping Game 6 at home and were crushed in Game 7 on the road.
Rivers fell to 6-10 in Game 7s. The 10 defeats are five more than any other NBA coach.
Rivers and the 76ers also lost a decisive Game 7 at home in the second round to Atlanta in 2021 as a No. 1 seed. Embiid endorsed Rivers’ return following Sunday’s loss but James Harden was noncommittal about wanting Rivers back.
Rivers had two years left on his contract and was 154-82 in three years with the Sixers. He won the 2008 NBA title as coach of the Boston Celtics.
Asked after the 112-88 thumping in Boston if he expected to be back next year, Rivers said: “Yeah. I think I got two years left. No one is safe in our business and I get that.”
He’s just the latest big name coach fired already during the postseason and the 76ers are sure to have their pick among the best in the game. Nick Nurse (Toronto) and Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee) have been fired after both won championships since 2019 and former Sixers assistant Monty Williams (who coached Phoenix in the 2021 NBA Finals) also is available.
Rivers took over ahead of the 2020-21 season for Brett Brown, who was fired after the 76ers were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Rivers himself had just been fired about two weeks after the Los Angeles Clippers wasted a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
He expected to coach a team seemingly on the brink of winning a title. Instead, he was on the bench for one of the worst losses in team history, a franchise-shifting loss to Atlanta in Game 7 that came on the heels of Ben Simmons failing to dunk an uncontested shot, which spiraled into a loss and the end of the All-Star guard’s tenure in Philly. Simmons never played for the 76ers again after Rivers and Embiid failed to publicly back the star following the loss, and the relationship soured from there.
Simmons was traded a year later for Harden, who was expected to serve as the missing piece that could get Embiid a championship. Or least into the conference final.
Asked after the Game 7 loss on Boston to describe his relationship with Rivers and if he’d like his coach to return for a fourth season, Harden said “our relationship is OK” and didn’t answer the second part of the question.
Now, it doesn’t matter.
“I thought we had the right group. I really did,” Rivers said.
But one other intriguing potential candidate to keep an eye on is former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni coached Harden for four seasons in Houston and they both thrived there working under Morey. Morey has been a staunch Harden defender and worked hard to bring him to the 76ers. With Rivers gone, another reunion could be on the horizon.
Harden, who played the last few months with nagging left Achilles soreness, has a player option of $35.6 million. He was vague on what he might do this summer. But perhaps a reunion with D’Antoni — or, at the very least a coach who knows how to pair Harden-Embiid to their strengths — can entice The Beard to stay. The 76ers are eligible to sign Harden to a $210 million, four-year deal while other teams can’t offer more than $202 million over the same contract length.
Rivers also coached the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers and is 1,097-763 over a career that dates to the 1999-2000 season.
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