Joel Embiid remains out indefinitely for the Philadelphia 76ers, so in the meantime the spotlight shines that much brighter upon two people: Doc Rivers and James Harden. Harden needs to find a previous, high-scoring version of himself to give the Sixers a chance against the Miami Heat in the second round of the postseason, and Rivers needs to manage his center rotation sans Embiid in a way that gives his team a chance to win against a superior opponent.
In Game 1, neither of those things happened. Harden managed only 16 points on 13 shots, an unfortunate but not terribly surprising outcome given his lack of burst has been apparent for months and Miami's elite defense is 100 percent keyed in on him. What is more concerning is the way Rivers simply refused to adjust his center rotation and stuck to his guns by throwing DeAndre Jordan out there while the Heat treated him like barbecue chicken.
Rivers has been a stubborn defender of Jordan all season as Embiid's backup. That has not changed now that the playoffs have arrived. Instead of giving young guns Paul Reed or Charles Bassey a chance to use their athleticism to make a difference, he gave Jordan the majority of the minutes. And it went exactly how you'd expect: Jordan played 17 minutes and posted four points, two rebounds, two blocks, two fouls, and two turnovers. The Sixers were outscored by 22 points when Jordan was on the floor.
When asked about it after his team lost by 14, Rivers gave a verbal middle finger to anybody questioning his decision-making.
In case it was not obvious, let's make it clear right now: the Sixers will lose this series badly if Jordan continues to start at center. Philly obviously has very little hope without their MVP big man and just have to pray he can come back sooner rather than later. That would be true even if Jordan was playing at a decent level. But he's not, and a smart coach is capable of mitigating the damage by using backups that complement the rest of the lineup.
Jordan complements... nobody? He doesn't have anywhere near the same verticality he did back in his heyday. One need look no further than his rebounding numbers for evidence of that. As recently as two years ago Jordan was still averaging double-digit rebounds per game in limited minutes. He had exactly two last night. That lost athleticism means Jordan is of very little use in both the pick-and-roll and defending the rim, which he was never particularly good at anyway. Even prime Jordan would struggle defending this Miami offense filled with motion and handoffs running through opposing center Bam Adebayo. This version of Jordan is an active detriment to Philly's defensive schemes attempting to stop those actions.
Yet, as you can see above, Rivers refuses to alter the gameplan. What he says to the media and what he actually does very well could be two different things; we'll know for sure come Wednesday's Game 2. But it's not the first time Rivers has snapped at reporters that he's not going to play young guys over Jordan just for the sake of it. He trusts his old center more than he does Reed or Bassey-- and it might sink his chances of keeping his job when it's all said and done.
If the Sixers lose this series because Embiid couldn't come back quick enough or couldn't do enough once he was back, that isn't really Rivers' fault. But, fair or not, he's going to take the blame for keeping Embiid in their series-clinching game against Toronto long enough to catch an untimely elbow from Pascal Siakam that caused his orbital fracture. If he continues to stick with Jordan despite clear and obvious evidence that those lineups are not working, the calls for a change will only grow louder. If he refuses to change things up and gets mad at anybody who dares suggest otherwise in press conferences after losses, Rivers is going to get himself fired.
We all know the definition of madness. Rivers appears to be willing to not only lean into that, but defend it to the grave. Unless Jordan suddenly finds a younger version of himself to tap into, the clock is ticking on Rivers' tenure in Philly.