ORLANDO, Fla. — The 76ers got their commander in chief back.
Doc Rivers cleared the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols late Tuesday night and coached the Sixers in Wednesday night’s 116-106 victory against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center. The fully vaccinated Sixers coach will lead his team against the Magic after quarantining since testing positive for COVID on Thursday in New York.
“I feel great,” said Rivers, who flew to Florida Wednesday morning. “I think I had two days [of symptoms] and other than that, coaching from your living room, and you know, sweet. Kind of nice.
“I know we are doing the [load management] and stuff for players. We may have come up with something here.”
After joking around, Rivers said assistant coach Dan Burke, who served as the acting coach during his absence, was phenomenal.
The NBA tests players, coaches, and staff members daily. Asymptomatic fully vaccinated coaches and players can clear protocols after six days if COVID testing shows they’re no longer at risk of being infected.
An individual can still test out of protocols with two negative results 24 hours apart.
Being away from the team while quarantining wasn’t tough for Rivers.
“It wasn’t hard because I wasn’t there,” he said. “You know, I don’t think it was that difficult. I wanted to make sure Dan’s voice was heard and seen. That’s why when we do our defense it’s his voice that’s heard.”
Burke led the Sixers to a 2-0 record in Rivers’ absence, beating the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday and the Houston Rockets on Monday. Rivers and Burke spoke daily while the coach was in quarantine.
“The only difference was I wasn’t there,” Rivers said. “Even at halftime. So we just communicated.”
The timing of his return was good for a team decimated yet again by COVID.
The Sixers had six players and two coaches miss the Magic game. Sixers point guard Tyrese Maxey, swingman Matisse Thybulle, post player Paul Reed, and guard Jaden Springer are sidelined while in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Meanwhile, Shake Milton (back contusion) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) were also sidelined.
Assistant coaches Sam Cassell and Brian Adams were still in protocols as of Wednesday morning.
The Sixers hired Rivers before the start of last season. He has a combined 69-39 record in Philly. He is also the league’s 10th winningest coach with a record of 1,012-720 over 22-plus seasons with the Magic, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, and Sixers.
Joerger is “doing better”
Rivers gave an update on assistant coach Dave Joerger, who’s been away from the team since Nov. 14 while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment to combat a form of cancer in his head and neck.
“He’s doing better,” Rivers said. “He’s obviously not out of the woods. He’s been struggling. He really has been. The fact that he can actually talk right now, which he hasn’t been able to do for a month, so you know.
“He’s texting me. He sent me a joke yesterday, which is a sign that maybe he’s starting to come through.”
Sixers’ hearts go out to victims
Before addressing the media postgame, Rivers gave his condolences to the family remembers of the 12 people killed, including eight children, as fire tore through a rowhouse in Philly’s Fairmount neighborhood Wednesday morning.
“I want to give a heart-felt feeling about what’s going on in Philadelphia,” Rivers said. “... We are all Philadelphia. We really are. We feel it here. We feel it for the families. Guys were talking about it before the game. So really sad stuff right out of the holidays, the beginning of the year, and you lose lives in a fire.
“I just want the whole city, and especially those families to know we are thinking about them.”