I didn’t think I would actually have to sit down and write about DeAndre Jordan playing legitimate minutes in a Conference Semifinals matchup in 2022, but here we are.
So much of the dialogue leading up to the Sixers’ Game 1 matchup with the Miami Heat revolved around how they would be managing the center minutes with Joel Embiid out until at least Game 3. Instead of Paul Reed, who received the lion’s share of the backup minutes against the Raptors and held his own, Rivers opted to insert Jordan, who saw the court for not even a minute of game time in the first round, into the starting lineup.
It went about as well as everyone expected. In 17 minutes of action, Jordan managed just four points and two rebounds, including no offensive rebounds, and was a -22. The Sixers were outscored by 71.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, and outscored the Heat by 12.9 points per 100 without him. In a game that certainly seemed winnable at times, it’s ineptitude the Sixers simply couldn’t afford, even though Doc Rivers asserted after the game that Jordan had the support of his teammates.
“We talked to our guys,” Rivers told reporters. “They wanted a big guy, a big roller. I thought the second half that’s how he has to play every night. Those first four or five minutes were great from him, that’s what we need. We also love Paul, but we don’t need Paul in foul trouble, and that’s why you don’t want to start him.”
It goes without saying, but the Sixers were already working at a severe disadvantage without Embiid on the court. No one on the roster, much less his backups, can even come close to replicating the kind of impact and production he provides them on a game-to-game basis. It’s something that is mostly never worth harping on.
However, the Jordan minutes on Monday night were so disastrous that they are virtually impossible to ignore. As a defender, he was incapable of dissuading the Heat from attacking the paint, at times acting as no more than a bystander watching lobs and entry passes get past him. Aside from two lobs that accounted for his only made field goals, he was a non-factor on offense, oftentimes just lingering around in the dunker’s spot with no purpose.
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
And yet, Rivers doubled down after the game on keeping Jordan in the rotation, once again citing player support as a major reason why he’ll continue to stick with him.
“We like DJ, we’re going to keep starting him whether you like it or not,” Rivers said. “That’s what we’re going to do because our guys believe in him.”
Even the most casual observer, let alone a teammate of Jordan’s, can see that there are infinitely better options than Jordan for the Sixers to turn to. Just like in their opening round series, Reed was able to give them a major boost on both ends in his 13 minutes of action in Game 1. Despite racking up five fouls, he had four points and nine rebounds, once again providing defensive versatility and activity on the boards that helped the Sixers to hang around for most of the first half. Additionally, the run that ultimately saw the Sixers take a one-point lead prior to halftime featured a five-out lineup with Georges Niang at center along with four starters in Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Danny Green, and Tobias Harris.
Both of those alternatives come with obvious shortcomings. Reed is extremely chaotic, as is going to be the case with young, inexperienced players, and the small lineup has its own plethora of rebounding and defensive concerns. But would you rather live with upside they clearly provide as opposed to the net negatives that come with playing DeAndre?
Clearly Doc didn’t think so, as he stuck with Jordan to start the second half. Miami continued to attack him on offense and the game eventually became out of reach for the Sixers.
In fairness, it’s not Jordan’s fault that he has been thrust into a major role on a team with lofty playoff expectations when he clearly has nothing left in the tank. There were countless opportunities to give Reed and even Charles Bassey the reps they needed to be at least somewhat prepared for these kinds of moments. In that case, leaning on a player like Jordan wouldn’t have been necessary.
Jordan was also not the sole reason the Sixers dropped Game 1. This team is not going to win many games when they shoot 6-of-34 from deep on (mostly) good looks, get out-rebounded 47-37 (including 15-9 on offensive boards), and Harden attempts only 13 shots. The margin for error was already pretty minuscule, and it becomes just about non-existent when that many things go wrong.
But if this team wants to at least give themselves a fighter’s chance by the time Embiid is able to make his return, continuing to give Jordan consistent minutes is how they’ll end up in Cancun instead of in the middle of a competitive series.