As a player, 76ers coach Doc Rivers was involved in only one Game 7 scenario.
As he prepares to guide the Sixers into Sunday’s Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Hawks, Rivers recalled his one time as a player, when he was point guard of the same Atlanta Hawks.
It was 1988 and the Hawks and Boston Celtics were tied at three in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal heading into Game 7 at the Boston Garden.
The Celtics won the game, 118-116, but Rivers had 16 points, 18 assists and just two turnovers in 39 minutes. Teammate Dominique Wilkins had 47 points, but the Celtics’ Larry Bird and Kevin McHale had 34 and 33, respectively.
“I had never watched that game because we lost, but during the [NBA] lockout, I was the coach of the Celtics and they needed programming and [then general manager] Danny Ainge came up with this brilliant idea to watch the game with him, and Tommy Heinsohn, of all people, moderated,” Rivers recalled during Saturday’s media interview. “They thought it was going to be a really great idea, but it was like getting stabbed 1,000 times watching it.”
Rivers thought he had a really bad game until Ainge, who also played in that game, scoring 13 points for the Celtics, brought the stat sheet.
“I thought I had a horrible game because, in the third quarter, Dennis Johnson stripped me and that’s all that stuck in my head,” Rivers recalled. “I had 18 points, 16 assists, five steals, something like that and I would never have known that, but we still lost the game and that is what stuck with me.”
The game taught Rivers a lesson. It was his fifth season in a 13-year playing career and he would never get back to a Game 7.
“You know, we never made it back as a team either and I tell my guys that you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you get to win it,” Rivers said, “because there’s not as many as you think.”