Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey have the NBA’s Hydra. Cut off one head, two more grow back. If the Sixers are the beasts of the East, then their monstrous origin is Greek.
Starting small forward Danny Green will miss at least two weeks with a right calf strain, which he suffered in the first quarter Friday night in Game 3 of the Sixers’ Eastern Conference semifinal at Atlanta. This is not good news ... but, considering the Sixers’ depth and talent, it isn’t a catastrophe, either.
Who will replace Green in Game 4 on Monday? Could first-year Sixers coach Doc Rivers opt for gunner Furkan Korkmaz? Could he lean on defensive savant Matisse Thybulle? Could he insert incandescent scorer Shake Milton? Could he drop veteran George Hill into the mix?
The answer: Yes.
Doc won’t say, but that doesn’t really matter. The Sixers’ bench is deep and versatile enough to get contributions from any -- or, more likely, from all. The others will simply adjust and contribute, as they have done all season, and all through the playoffs.
At a time of the year when coaches’ rotations, among other things, get tight, Rivers is coaching with abandon. He’ll use any of six bench rats -- the aforementioned four, as well as rookie point guard Tyrese Maxey and Dwight Howard, Joel Embiid’s rugged understudy. While other teams max out at eight or nine, Doc’s got 11 players ready to roll.
“It’s one of the deepest teams I’ve been on,” said Hill, who is making his 12th playoff run with his sixth NBA team. “Normally, in playoffs, coaches shrink the roster, but it’s hard to shrink the roster when you’ve got so many guys who can contribute.”
This was the plan all along.
Rivers was hired Oct. 1, almost a month before Morey came aboard as president. As such, Rivers had an inkling about what Embiid and Ben Simmons needed to best complement their abilities. Morey listened, and the Sixers wound up finishing with the No. 1 overall seed in the East.
That mostly happened due to Embiid’s MVP-caliber season, but the condensed schedule and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic often left Embiid wondering who he’d be playing with from night to night. It usually didn’t matter.
Simmons missed 10 meaningful games after the first 30% of the season was played -- or, 22 games, enough time to give the rebuilt roster time to gel. The Sixers, deep and versatile, went 6-4 without their All Star guard, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. One of those four losses coincided with an absence by Embiid, who should have won the league’s MVP Award, and two came without the presence of Tobias Harris, and one came without both Harris and Seth Curry.
Harris, the Sixers’ All-Star snub, missed six games after the first 30% of the season. The Sixers went 3-3, but, of course, Simmons didn’t play in two of them.
Curry, the team’s best three-point shooter, missed seven meaningful games after the first 30% of the season. The Sixers went 6-1, and the one loss coincided with a missed game by Simmons and Harris.
Green missed two games after the first 30% of the season. The Sixers won both. Best-case, he misses two weeks; more likely case, say team sources, at soon-to-be age of 34, he misses at least 5 weeks, which would mean a return in the middle of the NBA Finals ... so, Green probably will miss the rest of the Sixers’ games this season. They can handle it.
“That’s an unintended consequence,” said Rivers -- but not an unanticipated situation. “This is the reason you play [as many players] as long as you can. You’re going to need someone at some point to come in, whether because someone’s not playing well, or because of injury.”
That’s what’s happened all season, and ever since these playoffs began.
Next man up
When Simmons, Curry. and Embiid missed the March 20 win over Sacramento, Milton scored 28 points. More recently, Milton scored 14 points in a 7-minute stretch when the Sixers evened the series with a Game 2 win over the Hawks on Tuesday.
When Curry and Harris missed the May 8 win over the Pistons, Maxey dropped 22. Maxey scored 28 points in 48 minutes in Games 4 and 5 in the Sixers’ first-round series win over the Wizards.
When Harris and Curry missed the April 16 win over the Clippers, three-point specialist Korkmaz hit 5-of-12 threes and scored 18 points. After Green limped off Friday, Korkmaz scored 14 point and hit 3 of 6 threes.
“We’ve just got to keep relying on them,” Rivers said, “and keep letting them know that we trust them.”
Trust: It’s all part of the process.