Sixers’ Danny Green stresses ‘appropriate fear’ before Game 6 vs. Raptors

Green stresses ‘appropriate fear’ ahead of Sixers’ third close-out chance originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The concept resonated with Steve Kerr, Monty WilliamsBrett Brown, and presumably many other coaches and players who won big games under the esteemed Gregg Popovich.

Danny Green turned to it Wednesday after the Sixers’ practice and before the team’s flight to Toronto for Game 6 of its first-round playoff series.

“You’ve got to have the appropriate fear regardless of who you’re playing or how far you’re up,” Green said. “It’s human nature, when you go up big, you kind of get relaxed and comfortable. In no way, shape or form in any situation you should be comfortable or relaxed. So we’ve got to come in a lot more focused for 48 minutes. We’ve got to be a lot more sharply offensively and defensively.

“We can’t expect things to just happen and be given to us, especially going into their building. We want to get it done, which we’re capable of doing; we know what we’re capable of. We’ve got to play better.”

Of course, “appropriate fear” isn’t equivalent to a debilitating awareness of all that might go wrong.

At this stage, though, it would be fair for the Sixers to understand similar performances to Games 4 and 5 may very well lead to identical outcomes. They have good evidence now that a 3-0 series lead isn’t automatically secure.

“First of all is just the competitiveness, the intensity — being intense in everything we can,” Green said. “Being sharp, being focused. I think we were very lackadaisical in a lot of things that we did the last two, three games, and just expected to turn it on. You can’t just wait to turn it on in the third, fourth quarter. We’ve got to have it on from start to finish. And obviously just communicating defensively and offensively — getting into our sets, getting in our spots, and making sure we have guys where we need them to be.”

No NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 lead, a fact that will stated far more than it already has if a Game 7 on Saturday night is necessary.

Doc Rivers on Wednesday pushed back when he started to hear a question about his personal history with 3-1 leads. The Sixers head coach went through the three instances in which his teams have lost series from that position — the 2003 Magic, 2015 Clippers and 2020 Clippers. Details and framing aside, the end of his answer was an uncontroversial summation of the present situation.

“This one, let’s win it,” Rivers said, “and we don’t have to talk about it.”

Tactically, we’ll see whether Rivers has any significant changes in the store. After Game 5, he said, “Every single guy, I felt like tonight, had an advantage taking us off the dribble.” Perhaps he’ll implement greater defensive variety, including heavier doses of zone.

Though the Raptors were 51.2 percent from the floor in Game 5, they only shot 8 for 31 from three-point range. The Sixers need to limit Toronto’s interior success after a game in which the Raptors scored 20 more points in the paint (56-36). All-Star guard Fred VanVleet was listed as doubtful with the left hip flexor strain that sidelined him for Game 5.

On the other end of the ball, it’s long been obvious that the Sixers hope to see an aggressive, efficient James Harden. That player would be especially valuable with Joel Embiid playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb and facing constant double teams.

“Yeah, we need James,” Rivers said. “But it’s not just scoring for us with James. We showed him, he had the ball a ton, the most … of anyone on our team by a long shot. But we’ve got to be better at doing something with that — being more organized, having better space. With James, you’ve got to move into (the right) spacing every play, just so he can have driving lanes.”

If the Sixers want to add shooting around Harden and Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz is a bench player who could theoretically provide it. Korkmaz’s regular-season play did not merit a spot in the Sixers’ postseason rotation, but Rivers has noted a few times that the 24-year-old wing is still on his radar.

With Matisse Thybulle ineligible to play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated, Rivers used an eight-man rotation for Games 3 and 4. After a poor Game 5 showing, Thybulle will again spectate Thursday.

“You have your whole roster available,” Rivers said, “and there’s going to be nights where you feel good about expanding it. … It’s not like we don’t sit in the office with the coaches and go over all this. We do. And we’ll make that decision in the game. Right now, we practiced with Furk on the floor, just like we did (before) last game. That doesn’t mean that when we get to the game, that’s going to happen.”

Korkmaz started four games last postseason after Green suffered a right calf strain during the Sixers’ second-round series loss to the Hawks. The team’s memories from those games are largely negative, although the Sixers did win Game 6 in Atlanta.

Green is available for this Game 6, and “appropriate fear” feels especially pertinent.

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