|With the Bulls’ Taj Gibson (right) lurking around, Celtic captain Paul Pierce stretches to keep the ball out of harm’s during a second-half drive. (John Gress/Reuters)|
Painful slice of experience
Rivers knows perils in ‘meaningless’ games
CHICAGO — Every so often, the scar that runs down Doc Rivers’s right thumb reminds him about the importance of games at the end of the season.
He got the wound on the last day of the 1992-93 season, in a game that was more or less meaningless aside from the fact that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference — his Knicks and Michael Jordan’s Bulls — were playing on national TV.
The Knicks had wrapped up home-court advantage in the playoffs and were sitting on 59 wins. It wasn’t getting to 60 as much as league pressure that led coach Pat Riley to play his regular rotation.
“They basically threatened that back then you had to play,’’ Rivers said. “Everybody had to play. Jordan had to play in the game that was completely meaningless.’’
They obliged, reluctantly. Patrick Ewing played 40 minutes, and the Knicks won a battle, 89-84, but the price was John Starks dislocating his left middle finger and Rivers tearing a ligament in his thumb.
“I remember Riley saying, ‘That will never, ever happen again,’ ’’ said Rivers.
To an extent, the Celtics coach has adopted that stance. His team still had something to play for entering last night’s game against the Bulls, but it didn’t make him any less cautious.
“You’ve got to play somebody,’’ Rivers said, “but that will always have an affect on me. If we had everything clinched, after what I went through and other guys on our team getting injured, there’s no way I would play guys. I wouldn’t take the chance.’’
The Celtics lost their chance at the third seed with last night’s 101-93 loss to the Bulls and will be in the fourth spot.
Rivers rested Kevin Garnett Saturday against the Bucks and monitored him closely last night. With injuries knocking out star players on a handful of playoff teams, Rivers wants to be cautious.
He also has his personal experience to draw from. The Knicks won that season-ending game against Chicago, but when the teams met again in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls won, 4-2.
“It’s my memory,’’ Rivers said. “Every time I think about playing guys, I just look down.’’
Rivers agreed with Ainge to an extent, but he said that while his team could have won more games in the regular season, it will be judged by the playoffs.
“I’ll let Danny speak for Danny,’’ Rivers said. “I’m not getting into it. Listen — and I’ve said this only about 50 times now — it’s for you guys to judge our team. And if you all want to make opinions about it, go ahead.
“Yeah, if we were healthy all year, there’s no doubt 50 wins were not good enough. Even not healthy, we should have won more games. Having said that, what do you want me to do? Worry about that or get ready for tonight, tomorrow night, and the playoffs?
“I’ll let you guys keep saying whatever we didn’t do and all that stuff. This is what I know: If we win in the playoffs, you won’t be talking about that. If we lose in the playoffs, you’ll be talking about it.’’
The Celtics wrapped up their third straight 50-win season for the first time since the Bird Era, despite dealing with injuries throughout the year.
Before the season, Rasheed Wallace said he thought this team could challenge the 72 wins the Bulls posted in the 1995-96 season.
“I don’t think about it a second,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t worry about it. If we had won 60 games, I wouldn’t have even worried about that, either.
“That’s my point. As a coach, your job is to worry about the future. The past is the past and there’s nothing you can do about it.’’
“I was walking back to my car and all the Cavs guys were there and that’s all they were talking about,’’ Rivers said. “A little bit of our game and then playoffs. I think everyone sees the end and everyone’s looking forward to it starting.’’
Kendrick Perkins said players have started changing their routines with the playoffs nearing.
“It gets interesting around this time,’’ Perkins said. “Guys go to the gym two, three times a day, getting extra work in. It’s starting to show. I just feel like we’ve got a veteran team, so we’ve got to know how to go out and handle our business.’’
“I know in the playoffs, those are shots that I’m going to be able to get,’’ Pierce said. “A lot of teams are cutting off a lot of the drives and keeping me off the free throw line. I think that’s a part of the game that I can be more dominant in, and that’s what I want to do.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.