After Game 5 embarrassment, just how much do Sixers have to adjust?


The gear-shifting Sixers never got moving in Tuesday’s Game 5 loss to the Heat, a 35-point defeat that means there’s no more room for anything resembling that performance.

Head coach Doc Rivers said that night his team wasn’t ready to play. Ahead of Game 6, did he plan on adjusting his messaging?

“I always change,” Rivers said Wednesday afternoon. “Every game you change as far as messaging and what you see game to game. But it’s not a drastic message change. Listen, if you watch that tape, there shouldn’t have to be a message from a coach. It was visual. And so we have to play better. I have to get them in better spots and coaches always have to do things better, as well.

“But we have to play with a sense of urgency every night. This game reminds me of the Game 5 we had against Toronto. It was a carbon copy — just came out and played and got our butts kicked. And now we have to go into Game 6 and win.”

Sixers coaches reviewed the unpleasant tape Wednesday, but the team did not have a practice after a wee-hours arrival back in Philadelphia.

The Sixers held their usual gameday shootaround Thursday morning. Nothing looked especially new during the short period open to reporters, though Rivers did briefly interrupt Tyrese Maxey’s customary post-shootaround free throws. He talked for a few moments with Maxey and Spencer Rivers, a Sixers skill development coach who’s worked closely with Maxey and is the head coach’s son.

Maxey had his first single-figure scoring performance of this postseason in Game 5, posting nine points on 2-for-10 shooting. The Sixers’ coaching staff has thrown constant feedback at Maxey during his second season, so it never seems he’s left wondering what the team wants from him.

“Same things,” Maxey said. “Just go out there and be aggressive. Be that same spirited guy that we need, bring positive energy. Fly around offensively and defensively. And at the end of the day, try to help us get the W.”

Maxey saw a lot of Jimmy Butler in Game 5 as Miami moved to a significantly less switch-heavy approach.

P.J. Tucker on James Harden, Butler on Maxey, Max Strus on Tobias Harris, and Bam Adebayo on Joel Embiid were the four matchups that featured heaviest among both teams, per Maxey recorded two points, two turnovers and no assists with Butler guarding him.

We’ll see whether the Sixers try any half-court tweaks to create more defensive discomfort (and less desirable matchups) for the Heat. Of course, accelerated pace always plays to Maxey’s strengths. He’s 2-0 in career Game 6s and impressed in each of them. The 21-year-old keyed the Sixers’ huge third quarter in their series-clinching win over Toronto last round, scoring 25 points on the night and making five three-pointers.

While loads of dramatic tactical changes might not make sense for a team that was so poor at the fundamentals last time out, Butler has averaged 29.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.0 turnovers since a 15-point Game 1. Rivers on Tuesday mentioned “adjustments we can make (on Butler) — some we don’t really want to have to make, but we may have to.”

He was asked Wednesday what factors into whether he ultimately chooses that route, which would presumably include greater planned pressure on Butler through blitzing ball screens, double teaming post-ups, or other schemes that put multiple defenders on the ball.

“We would love us to run our defense the right way first,” he said. “That always helps in coaching. You’re watching the tape and it’s like man, if we had executed this, maybe we would’ve guarded it better. It’s hard to make a change when you’re not doing the original way right first. And so we have to fix that first, and then we’ll be ready for the second part.”

Though it doesn’t remove all responsibility from Rivers, who would inevitably face intense criticism if the Sixers fail to clear the second-round hurdle for the first time since 2001, it’s true that much of the Game 5 embarrassment couldn’t have been erased by X’s and O’s magic.

“We’ve got to be pulled in together, tied together and stepping in the right direction as one,” Maxey said. “I think that’s probably one of the main things that we took away from the last game.”

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