Asked to use one word to describe the 76ers’ play this season, coach Doc Rivers initially went with “good.”
“You know, we have been .. we’ve been very good all year,” Rivers said before Sunday’s 128-117 season-finale victory over the Orlando Magic. “That’s why we’re the number one seed, you know? So we’ve been good.”
Asked what stood out to make the Sixers good, the coach said “everything.”
He noted they are a consistent offensive team and a consistent defensive team. He also talked about how they play with pace.
“We hit the open guy,” Rivers said. “We’re executing better than we have [earlier], you know? ... I guess the one word with me is we’re solid. We’re a solid basketball team.”
Being a solid basketball team enabled Philly to finish with the Eastern Conference’s top seed for the third time in 44 years. The other times came in 1983 and 2001. The Sixers advanced to the NBA Finals at the conclusion of both of those previous seasons. They swept the Los Angeles Lakers in four games to win the 1983 title and lost to the Lakers in five games to finish as league runner-up in 2001.
Time will tell how far the Sixers (49-23) will go during this postseason. They’ll open the first round on Saturday against a to-be-determined opponent.
But their regular season enabled them to rest a who’s who of players in a meaningless season finale against the Magic (21-51). This game actually had its share of no shows on both sides.
The Sixers played without their entire starting lineup of Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Ben Simmons, in addition to standout reserve Matisse Thybulle. This was the fourth straight game Thybulle missed with a bruised left hand.
Green (left hip recovery), Harris (right knee recovery), Embiid (non-COVID-19 illness), Curry (right hip recovery), and Simmons (back stiffness) each had listed reasons for not playing. However, their absences were more about precaution and rest during a season-ending game with no implications.
Meanwhile, former Sixers Michael Carter-Williams (out since April 14; left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (out since Jan. 8; torn ACL left knee), and James Ennis III (hasn’t played since April 30; sore right calf) are among the sidelined Orlando players. Jonathan Isaac (out all season; left knee recovery), Chuma Okeke (hasn’t played since April 28; left ankle sprain), Otto Porter Jr. (out since April 1; left foot pain), Terrence Ross (last played April 16; back spasms) and Wendell Carter Jr. (left eye abrasion) were the others.
Embiid was the easiest player to spot from both benches. A lot of that had to do with him rocking the team’s Big Energy Chain. The chain is huge with a Sixers medallion the size of a hubcap. It depicts a muscle-bound man flexing his muscles with a Sixers logo on his chest and the words “BIG ENERGY” underneath.
You become the caretaker of the chain by being a “positively infectious person who allows their teammates to get better because of the energy that they’re putting out” during postgame parties in the weight room, Sixers head strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Kenyon told Sixers.com.
On the floor, this game was a showcase for two rookie point guards.
Orlando’s Cole Anthony finished with 37 points, eight rebounds, and two assists. The Sixers ' Tyrese Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. He made 3 of 4 three-pointers. Maxey became the 11th Sixer with multiple 30-point games as a rookie. He had a career-high 39 points against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9.
In high school, Anthony and Maxey were two of the nation’s top point guards in the Class of 2019.
“We’ve been playing against each other since I think the seventh grade maybe, seventh or sixth grade. Somewhere around there,” Maxey said. “I’m glad that he made it. His [21st] birthday was yesterday.
“You know, I’m happy for people who put in the work and they finally make their dream. To be here and be successful on the highest level of basketball is a great feeling.”
Maxey has been one of the steals of the NBA draft with the Sixers selecting him 21st overall. He scored in double digits in 10 of his last 14 appearances.
“Tyrese’s performance tonight was amazing,” rookie Paul Reed said about Maxey, who made 11 of 19 shots overall. “To come in as a rookie and score the ball as he scores it is just not normal. That’s like stuff that a No. 1 pick would do. ... He’s balling like he’s a No. 1 pick.
“You know, he surprised everyone with how good he is. He definitely surprised me. He’s a super-tatented scorer.”
On Sunday, Maxey got the start alongside George Hill, Furkan Korkmaz, Dwight Howard, and Shake Milton.
Ten different Sixers saw action in the first half.
Reed finished with career highs of 17 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists.
A scary moment came in the second quarter when Rayjon Tucker was going after a loose ball. The Sixers’ two-way player dived out of bounds and landed on a female fan, seated courtside across from the visitors’ bench. Tucker knocked the seat over. He helped the lady back up and into her seat. She appeared to be fine.
Orlando guard Sindarius Thornwell was ejected with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter for a Flagrant 2 foul on Reed. Thornwell threw an elbow and then shoved Reed after grabbing a rebound underneath the Sixers basket.
But this game was nothing more than entertainment and an opportunity for young guys to get playing experience. Late in the game, assistant coach Dave Joerger was drawing up the plays during timeouts while Rivers relaxed.
Their quest to win an NBA title begins this weekend.
They’ll find out who they’ll face on Thursday, when the league will conduct the Eastern Conference’s second-round, play-in tournament game to determine the eighth seed.
The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards are the conference’s play-in participants.
The Celtics finished seventh in the conference. On Tuesday, they’ll entertain the eighth-place Wizards in a play-in game. The winner will earn the conference playoffs’ seventh seed. The other two teams, the ninth-place Pacers and 10th-place Hornets, will also play Tuesday with the winner advancing to the second round to face the loser of the 7-8 game.
The second-round winner will claim the eighth seed, drawing a first-round matchup against the Sixers.
When Rivers was hired in October, he knew the Sixers were a good defensive team.
“I just thought there was another level to us, and we’ve gotten there,” he said of defense being the Sixers’ calling card this season.
Rivers also knew that Simmons and Embiid could play together. That was something people questioned in seasons’ past.
“You know everything I heard coming in here is they couldn’t,” he said. “I can’t understand that. Why would people think that?
“So I don’t think it’s a surprise. It’s what we saw coming in. I just think they’re doing what we asked them to do.”