Whistles getting Rivers’s attention

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 9, 2010

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He couldn’t resist.

The question came up about Kevin Garnett’s play and coach Doc Rivers couldn’t even address it without first pointing to the fact that fouls strapped Garnett to the bench for most of the Celtics’ Game 2 victory.

Rivers found it hard to fathom how the Lakers could take issue with the way the game was officiated when Los Angeles took 41 free throws and Boston seemed to be in chronic foul trouble. Rivers, of course, ignored the fact that Kobe Bryant was saddled with as many fouls as Garnett and Ron Artest picked up his last four fouls in the fourth quarter.

“I’m just miffed and amazed how the other team complained about the fouls since we’ve been the team that’s been in foul trouble for two games,’’ Rivers said. “Maybe they do different math there or something. I don’t get that one.’’

As far as Garnett, who played just six minutes in the first half because of fouls, Rivers said simply seeing the floor would help the power forward find his rhythm. Ray Allen was similarly hamstrung by his five Game 1 whistles, and promptly responded in Game 2 with a Finals record eight threes. But with the Lakers’ size presenting all kinds of problems for the Celtics, it’s easier said for Garnett than done.

“We just have to keep [Garnett] on the floor,’’ Rivers said. “Two of his fouls were not smart fouls, so he has to do a better job of that. But listen, this is a physical series, [Pau] Gasol and [Andrew] Bynum, they’re big, and they’re going to keep attacking, and we just have to figure out a way of keeping out of foul trouble. It’s huge for us.’’

Rivers likes choice
As the Hornets introduced Monty Williams as their new head coach, he told a story about his playing days with the Magic, when Rivers, his coach at the time, told Williams a head coaching job was in his future.

Williams played three seasons for Rivers in Orlando from 1999 to 2002. The two also played two seasons together in New York.

“It makes you feel like you’re 1,000 years old,’’ Rivers said. “Now he’s coaching and he’s a head coach. I’m just really happy for him. I will say that.’’

His last season in Orlando, Williams averaged 7.1 points in 68 games.

“I told him he was going to coach some day because I told him I was about to cut him soon as a player,’’ Rivers said. “But no, I’m very happy for him. He’ll be a very, very good coach.’’

Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau was offered the Hornets job, but passed to take the Bulls opening.

Plenty in reserve
The Celtics have played most of the postseason with an eight-man rotation. In the past few games, Nate Robinson has played a more consistent role. On the whole, though, Boston has gone much of the season without a traditional sixth man.

“We do have guys,’’ Rivers said. “We expect solid play from Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace coming off the bench every night. We know they’re coming in and they’re going to have an impact. So at the big spots I think we’re pretty solid. It’s more at the smalls.’’

Where the Hawks essentially bank a double-digit night by holding a player like Jamal Crawford in reserve, the Celtics put their faith in a platoon. Wallace, Davis, and Tony Allen are Rivers’s go-to reserves in the playoffs. Rivers developed more trust in Robinson, the trade deadline addition, after Robinson bought into the defense.

“Tony has to be our defensive and our energy beacon, that’s what we call him,’’ Rivers said. “That’s what we need him to have. Nate is a wild card for us right now. He was great in [Game 6 against] Orlando. He was great the other night [in Game 2]. So you obviously don’t know on a given night with any of those four. And a lot of times fouls have dictated with the bigs which way we go.’’

Baby’s steps
One of the resonant images of the regular season is Davis coming down with an offensive rebound and clutching it several times over with a canopy of defenders stretched out above him.

Typically he would put up a shot, either drawing a foul or having the shot swatted away. What he’s started to do, though, is kick the ball out to shooters, which Rivers said is a huge difference.

“He’s not going to be taller than anyone in this series,’’ Rivers said, “This is a long team, and he gets underneath, sometimes he gets too deep, he can’t finish. One of the things I thought he did better the other night, he got it up quick or he threw it back out.

“One of Ray’s threes was off of Glen Davis’s offensive rebound, and that’s something we preach. We don’t exactly execute it very well, but we preach offensive rebounds is the best time to look for a 3-point shooter, and that’s something I hope we do more of in this series.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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