It didn’t take a playoff game to realize that DeAndre Jordan is no longer the All-NBA player he was five years ago. His lack of lateral quickness and inability to be a defensive force has been evident for a couple of seasons, long before he stepped on the court Monday night against the Heat.
However, Doc Rivers — he says at the urging of players in the locker room — leaned into Jordan as Joel Embiid‘s replacement for Game 1 in Miami. It didn’t go well. Bam Adebayo hit a jumper in the paint over Jordan in the first minute. Soon after, Jordan dropped a James Harden pass to him cutting out of the dunker’s spot. Then Jimmy Butler drove straight at Jordan a couple of plays later and Adebayo got a put-back. Rivers quickly called a time out.
The Heat got whatever they wanted on offense in the 4:23 Jordan played to start the game as Miami raced out to an 18-6 lead. Rivers tried again, starting Jordan in the second half and putting the veteran big man in for stretches at different points of the night, but the results were essentially the same. Jordan finished with four points, two rebounds and was a -22 in a game the Sixers lost by 14.
So Rivers is going to adjust, lean more into Paul Reed — who, of course, was limited by foul trouble — and the no-center lineups that worked, right?
No. Jordan will remain the team’s starting center, Rivers said postgame.
Doc explains why DeAndre started tonight, and what his plan at center is going forward in this series: pic.twitter.com/V6yLXQKA5N
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 3, 2022
“We just felt like … we talked to our guys. They wanted a big guy, a big roller…
“We like DJ. We’re going to keep starting him whether you like it or not. That’s what we’re going to do, because our guys believe in him. It’s funny, at halftime we asked our key guys, because we were thinking about it — because I thought Paul Millsap gave us some decent minutes. And to a man, that’s where they wanted to go.”
Coaches can be stubborn, sticking with their guy in the face of evidence it’s not working, and Rivers has a history of that.
It may only be one more game — Philadelphia is hopeful Embiid can return for Game 3 or 4 at home — but it may be too late. If the 76ers go down 0-2 and have to win four out of five against top-seeded Miami, that may be too much to ask.
Rivers doesn’t have great options, Philly is without its MVP-finalist center. Embiid is critical to this team on both ends of the court. However, in Game 1 it was pretty clear what worked and what didn’t. Rivers, however, appears to be sticking with his guy in the face of that evidence.