Joel Embiid: Doc Rivers has done a 'fantastic job' as Sixers coach, 'should be fine'

Embiid: Rivers has done a 'fantastic job' as Sixers coach, 'should be fine' originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Before the Sixers’ Game 7 matchup Sunday with the Celtics, Doc Rivers was asked about the Suns’ decision to fire head coach Monty Williams.

“Don’t win Coach of the Year,” Rivers quipped.

Rivers said he’d talked on Saturday with Williams; the two are close friends. He declined to discuss the topic further because he wanted to focus on the contest ahead.

The game didn’t go well at all, which meant Rivers’ own job status was a valid, borderline obvious subject to wonder about following the Sixers’ blowout loss in Boston.

Asked whether he planned to be the team’s head coach next season, Rivers said, “Yeah, I think I’ve got two years left (on my contract).”

He also recognized that NBA coaches don't have complete control.

“No one’s safe in our business,” Rivers said, “and I get that.”

Over three regular seasons with Rivers, the Sixers has gone 154-82. However, the team has remained disappointing in the playoffs and fallen three straight times in the second round.

As the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, the 2020-21 Sixers lost a series to the Hawks defined by catastrophically blown leads and Ben Simmons’ offensive timidity. After evening their series against the Heat at two games apiece last season, the Sixers got smoked in Game 5 and their nine-point Game 6 margin of defeat was flattering.

This year, the Sixers’ jump shooting failed them in their opportunity to eliminate the defending Eastern Conference champions at home. And in Sunday’s third quarter, they couldn’t score, couldn’t stop Jayson Tatum on his path to a Game 7-record 51 points, and didn’t display the toughness, resilience and improved two-way, playoff-tailored mettle they believed would help finally vault MVP Joel Embiid to his first Eastern Conference Finals.

Embiid was unimpressive offensively in Game 7, posting 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting, eight rebounds, one assist and four turnovers. Yet again, he played through a significant postseason injury.

“No excuses,” Embiid said of his sprained right knee “I thought I was OK. I thought I was limited, for the most part. Not just tonight, but since I came back, which is OK. It’s normal with what I have.

“Credit to them. They made plays and took advantage of what we gave them. Like I said, no excuses. They were just better than us tonight.”

Embiid did not anticipate his knee would be problematic moving forward.

“I’ve just got to rehab and rest,” he said. “I think over time, it’s going to be fine and I’m not going to need anything else, hopefully.”

In contrast to James Harden, who’d described his relationship with Rivers as “OK” postgame and said nothing more, Embiid had extended, complimentary thoughts on his coach.

He also praised Williams, who served as a Sixers assistant for the 2018-19 season before accepting the Phoenix job, as well as Mike Budenholzer, who was fired by the Bucks two years after winning the NBA title.

“As far as my coach, I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Embiid said. “We’ve gotten better over the years. I think he’s done a great job. I don’t make the decisions. I think he should be fine. We’ve got a great relationship. You look at the way he handled the whole situation that we had a year or two ago, I thought he kept the team afloat. He’s been a great leader for all of us, a great motivator.

“But then again, you look at what’s been happening over all the league, it’s tough. I’m glad I don’t make those decisions. I think all of those guys, they deserve to have jobs. I know Coach Monty, he’s a great coach and I think he’s done a fantastic job. You look at his team, I think he’s gotten the best from all of those guys. Coach Bud from Milwaukee, winning a championship, he did the best job he could.

“But at the end of the day, maybe GMs and owners, they have a different mindset. Sometimes, change is good. Maybe that’s what they believe. But as far as us, I’m just glad I don’t make those decisions. That’s not my job. … Coach has been fantastic and he’s done a great job.”

As Rivers knows, it’s a playoff-centric league.

“We played great all year,” he said. “This loss absolutely diminishes what we did this year in some ways. It doesn’t for us. I think this team is headed right. I thought we took another mental step this season. And then tonight, I thought we took that step backwards. But that’s OK. That happens, too.”