The Philadelphia 76ers suffered a devastating loss to start their second round playoff series against the Miami Heat when it was announced superstar center Joel Embiid would miss at least the first two games of the series with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion suffered at the end of Philly’s Game 6 win over Toronto in the first round. The hope is that Embiid — who was already playing through torn ligaments in his thumb — can return for Game 3 or Game 4 against Miami. The big question for Philly going into the series was if they can steal a game from the Heat before Embiid returns.
There is no good way to replace an MVP candidate, but the Sixers did some stuff that worked for them during Miami’s 106-92 win in the series opener. Unfortunately, head coach Doc Rivers appeared too stubborn to commit to it.
Rivers started DeAndre Jordan in place of Embiid, the veteran center who once thrived under Rivers when they were together on the Los Angeles Clippers. The problem is that Jordan has been on five different teams since those Lob City days, and is now is shell of his former self at 33 years old.
With Jordan on the floor to start the game, the Heat absolutely blitzed the Sixers.
The Sixers at the half:— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 3, 2022
-12 with DeAndre Jordan in 4 minutes
+13 without DeAndre Jordan pic.twitter.com/gZ4kmwXuDm
Despite their superstar center being out with an injury and their starting center getting attacked relentlessly, Philly actually held a one-point halftime lead in Miami for Game 1. When Jordan went to the bench, Philly went small with Georges Niang at center, or went with a younger and more athletic front court option in Paul Reed. Both lineups had their moments.
But when the Sixers came out of the locker room for a second half, Jordan was again on the floor. The Sixers stayed big with either Jordan and Reed throughout the second half, and by the time they finally went small again, the Heat had turned the game into a blowout.
For the game, Jordan was -22 in 17 minutes. Somehow he only grabbed two rebounds during that time despite being the biggest guy on the floor. It seems like limiting Jordan’s minutes or pulling him out of the rotation altogether is an obvious adjustment for the rest of the series, but Rivers doubled down on using Jordan after the game.
Doc Rivers: “We like DJ. We’re gonna keep starting him whether you like it or not.” #Sixers— Ky Carlin (@Ky_Carlin) May 3, 2022
According to Rivers, Sixers players advocated for Jordan in the halftime locker room despite obviously bad results.
Rivers on the decision to start Jordan: “We talked to our guys, they wanted a big guy, a big roller…we also love Paul, but we also don’t want him in foul trouble”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) May 3, 2022
Says they’re going to continue starting Jordan and players advocated for it more at halftime
In Rivers’ defense, replacing Embiid is basically an impossible proposition. He was a top-3 MVP candidate for a reason, and everything Philly does revolves around their star big man. Game 1 just should have proved that whatever the Sixers try next at the five shouldn’t involve Jordan.
The small ball lineup appeared to be the real winner for the Sixers. Niang finished +6 in 22 minutes despite shooting 0-for-7 from the floor in a scoreless night. The threat of his shooting opened up driving lanes for Tyrese Maxey and James Harden, which got the Sixers offense going. Whether Philly is using Niang at the five or another wing, leaning heavily into those center-less lineups feels like their best shot to sneak up on Miami and grab a game.
After the game, people couldn’t believe the Sixers doubled down on using Jordan so much.
The Heat scored 50 points in DeAndre Jordan's 17 minutes and 56 points during the 31 minutes he sat.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 3, 2022
His lack of dynamism on both ends considerably hamstrings the Sixers during his stints.
DeAndre Jordan is just doing nothing on this defensive possession.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) May 3, 2022
He doesn't cut off Bam from moving down the lane. Doesn't help contest Martin's first attempt. Doesn't box out Martin or Bam, or jump for the rebound. pic.twitter.com/qqNWQRGJkN
so, not to state the obvious, but deandre jordan really shouldn't play another minute in this series— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) May 3, 2022
it's as if Doc Rivers closes his eyes during the DeAndre Jordan minutes lol— Adam Aaronson (@SixersAdam) May 3, 2022
The Sixers were +8 in Game 1 with Jordan on the bench in Game 1, yet Rivers felt compelled to defend him after the game. Philly’s season depends on their ability to survive until Embiid returns, and it sure seems like Jordan isn’t a good option for that. It will be a fascinating subplot to monitor the rest of the series.