Last year, Bill Simmons, who I like as much as every other Boston fan, wrote a “Doc Rivers has been fired!” column a few days before a date that he projected the C’s would fire him. I was on the bandwagon as well. I also thought Doc had lost the team and mismanaged some of the younger players.
It’s one year later and as you know Danny Ainge re-made the team – led of course by the new Big Three, second-year point guard Rajon Rondo at the point, an adequate center, and what was deemed a very questionable bench. Really, everything was different in Boston, with the exception of Doc.
And here’s the thing: We were wrong about Doc. I was wrong. Simmons was wrong, most of the fans were wrong (don’t think the “FIRE DOC” chants have been completely forgotten), and the list goes on. Everyone not named “Bob Ryan” was wrong (Ryan came to Doc’s defense after the Simmons article). I know the Celtics talent and experience level is exponentially greater than last year’s team. In fact, there is really no comparison between the two squads. The coaching staff has also been significantly bolstered by the addition of defensive wizard Tom Thibodeau, (hired by Doc). All that being said, Rivers has coached a brilliant first half of the season.
Yes, brilliant. The past two Celtics games, one loss and one win, have been microcosms of what an outstanding job Doc has done with the team throughout the entire season. Doc’s offensive play calling has been spot on and his development of young players, and most importantly the bench, have been an investment that has already started to pay dividends and will be even more apparent come playoffs. Yes, the Celtics couldn’t get it done at the end of the game against the Cavs, but Doc’s two plays out of timeouts at the end of the game both worked to perfection. I was watching on League Pass, and the Cleveland broadcasting team had someone in the Cavs’ huddle. With the Celtics down two, the Cavs’ coach who had scouted the Celtics drew up the play he expected Boston to run. The expected play was to get Pierce the ball at the top of the key, spread the floor, and Pierce would go one-on-one. Doc, was ready for it. Boston gave Pierce the rock at the top of the key and spread the floor. Pierce took about three steps towards the left side of the court, like he was going to start breaking down the defense. At the same time, he slightly drew over Ray’s man. Ray quickly popped out and Pierce kicked it to him for a wide-open three that went in and out. Perfectly executed with the exception of the ball going down. 100% the play was designed for Ray to get that exact shot. The C’s got a second chance with an in bounds play under their hoop. Again, a perfectly executed play that got Pierce the ball driving to the hoop for an open lay up that he missed. These things happen, but Doc not only called the right plays at the right time, but the plays were also perfectly executed.
Nothing has been more impressive though than Doc’s development of his young players and his bench. After watching the Celtics in the summer league, I was ready to bang the gong on the Rondo experiment. He looked lost, his confidence already shot, and I saw no way that he was going to be able to run this team. In the first month of the season, Rondo scored in single digits nine times. In the past month, he has scored in single digits only four times. He has scored double digits in seven out of his last eight and is a significant presence on the court, defensively and offensively, at all times. Doc has Rondo believing that he not only belongs but has the ability to be an elite point guard in this league. He is getting the absolute most out Rondo’s talent night in and night out.
Doc’s ability to instill confidence in players and get the most out of his players is no more apparent than with the bench. Every player on the Celtics with the exception of Gabe Pruitt and Scot Pollard is averaging at least 10 minutes per game. The bench believes they can contribute. Last night against the Clippers, Doc left Ray, Pierce, and Rondo (KG is still hurt) on the bench for the final stretch drive. The lineup consisted of Tony Allen, Eddie House, James Posey, Big Baby and Leon Powe. That squad closed the deal for Boston. It wasn’t a blow out. Doc put his faith in his bench because he knew they would each individually be needed in a key situation this season. Doc clearly left them in the game so they would start believing that they not only belong in the League, but also belong in the game in the 4th quarter. He’s getting tremendous production from two undersized young players in Leon Powe and Big Baby. He’s getting above average bench point guard play from Eddie House. He’s getting outstanding defense from James Posey (see: Dallas and his D on Dirk). And his patience with and confidence in Tony Allen was driving me insane… until the past few games when I’ve noticed a first step from Allen that hasn’t been there since last season. If you missed it last night, Allen had a sick move to the hole that ended with an emphatic dunk that I honestly didn’t know Allen was still capable of pulling off.
Ray’s been hurt. Rondo’s been hurt. Now KG’s hurt. It doesn’t matter. Doc Rivers has the Celtics playing like a team and trusting each other as a team. People outside of Boston and people who aren’t watching the Celtics games will look at Boston’s record and attribute their dominance to KG, Ray, and Pierce. Of course those three are the core, but the Boston inner circle of educated sports fans know that Doc has coached to his max ability every day and has been every bit the reason for the C’s first half success as his stars. I can admit I was wrong about Doc. Anyone else?