Rivers's plan was for the long term
There were never three options, said Glenn “Doc’’ Rivers. There were only two.
“I wasn’t always sure what I was going to do,’’ explained Rivers, now entering his eighth season as coach of the Celtics, “but I knew what I was not going to do. I wasn’t taking a job somewhere else. Maybe that’s the romantic in me, but I just thought it would be the wrong thing to do.
“There would have been nice options out there. I’m fully aware of that. And I’m fully aware of what the value of those options are. But it really came down to either me coaching in Boston or taking a year off.’’
And Rivers didn’t keep us in suspense. Minutes after the Miami Heat eliminated the Celtics from last season’s playoffs, Rivers pledged his NBA allegiance, and it was to the team that has employed him since the 2004-05 season and not to the any of the teams for which he once played (Hawks, Spurs, Clippers, Knicks) or coached (Magic).
“I’m a Celtic,’’ he announced.
So much for bidding adieu to an aging Big Three. So much for coaching, say, Dwight Howard. It all seemed eminently logical, especially with Rivers’s personal market value at a very high level.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people were surprised,’’ he said, “but if you check my record, I have a history of staying put. When my free agency came up in Atlanta, I stayed. But if I had [moved], I probably would have come to Boston.’’
He’s here for at least the next five years, which means he will be here after Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and presumably Paul Pierce, all are gone. That’s the way he wants it.
“It’s the right decision,’’ he insisted, “whether we win five more or rebuild.’’
As a sign of commitment, he no longer will be renting. He has purchased a nice pad with a view at the Four Seasons.
Student of chemistry
Smart people never quit learning things about themselves, and one thing Rivers has learned is that he is a capital C, Coach. He is a natural TV analyst, but there always will be time for that in another incarnation. At 50, he feels he is in his coaching prime.
“That was one of the lessons I learned from the lockout,’’ he said. “I was out to dinner with my wife and after a while she said, ‘I’m watching you, and can you imagine if you had decided to sit out the year? You’re going crazy. You’re already writing on the green pad.’ We all laugh in our family, because when I pull out the green pad it means it’s basketball time.’’
This from a man who says he does believe in the burnout theory. “I think coaches all need a break,’’ he said.
“I’ll know it when I know it,’’ he said. “I’m not ready for a break.’’
Let’s talk about the family; wife Kris, daughter Callie, and sons Jeremiah, Austin, and Spencer. They’re all athletes (Callie is a professional volleyball player), and they all rather like the idea that Dad is coach of the Celtics.
“Callie is probably the best athlete [which is saying a lot because Duke freshman Austin is generally regarded as the Next Best Thing], and the voice of the kids, and she said this summer, ‘If you step away, don’t blame it on us. Why would you stop coaching? You love it. You’re not 75 years old.’ ’’
Among other realities here, Rivers doesn’t want anyone else coaching the Big Three, or Four with Rajon Rondo, for that matter.
“I love those guys,’’ he said.
He has presided over Pierce’s maturation into a cold-blooded killer of a scorer. It’s his captain, remember. “He is a great competitor,’’ Rivers said.
As is Garnett. “When I was on the other side, I always thought it must be fake,’’ Rivers said of Garnett’s intensity. “But it isn’t. As Keyon Dooling said the other day, ‘The man is home-made.’ To me, he is a single-molded piece of clay.’’
And then there’s Mr. Allen, whose latest accomplishment was to frustrate the folks at New England Baptist Hospital by acing a stress test to such an extent they’re not sure the apparatus wasn’t faulty. They’re reasonably certain no human being could possibly have done what Allen did.
Rivers is used to hearing things like that about Allen.
“He is the most professional player in the history of the NBA,’’ Rivers said. “They should make a documentary for the rookies. They should follow Ray Allen, who does everything right. How to eat. How to talk. How to practice. They should show it to every rookie 10 times before he has one practice. There is no better pro ever to play the game.’’
Those three, plus Rondo, are the only players left from the 2007-08 championship team, or the 2009-10 team that lost a Game 7 to the Lakers in the Finals. This is a matter of concern to the coach, who says one of the great lessons he has learned over the years is the need for a complete team. Stars are absolutely necessary, but so, too, are auxiliary players who understand why they are on that particular squad.
Said Rivers, “A lot of older coaches will tell you, ‘Man, you don’t know how you get chemistry, but you need it, and if you have it you shouldn’t screw with it.’ ’’
That 2007-08 title team provided Exhibits A and B. “The James Poseys of the world keep the first team in line,’’ Rivers explained. “The first team, not the second team.
“The first day of practice there was a moment when there was a dispute over possession of the ball between Garnett and Pierce on one side and Posey on the other. Posey grabbed the ball and said it was his and you guys could you-know-what. He brought that attitude and it never changed. Red [Auerbach] always told me you want instigators on your team, not retaliators, and Posey was an instigator. Tony Allen was another guy. He was as frustrating, and as fun, to coach as anyone I’ve ever had. He took crazy shots sometimes, but he had a crazy competitiveness.
“Another big factor for us was something fans would never see. Baby [Glen Davis] and Leon Powe were in competition with each other all year long. Remove one, and the other would become ineffective.’’
Up for any challenge
Winning a championship, in any sport, is a complex task. Fans and media can grasp that in the abstract, but the coaches who live it are almost in awe of it.
“Oh, it’s hard,’’ Rivers said. “You need health, rhythm, chemistry. When we won, Rick Carlisle asked me to sum it up. I said, ‘It’s hard. I don’t care who you have on your team. One call. One sprained ankle. One guy going off on the other team at the wrong moment.’’
Sometimes it takes a great player making a great play not always in his job description. Pierce always will be remembered, and rightfully so, for his 41 points (while LeBron James was going for 45) in Game 7 of the second-round series against the Cavaliers in 2008. But what Rivers always will cite as his most vivid remembrance was a play Pierce made on a jump ball.
With 58 seconds left, and the Celtics leading by 3, Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Posey were engaged in a jump ball at the Boston end of the floor. Ilgauskas is 7 feet 3 inches. Posey, listed at 6-8, is actually 6-6. Clearly, advantage Cleveland. But Pierce sniffed out Big Z’s intentions and immediately headed in the direction of James, cutting off LeBron’s legs with a dive to the floor that a Havlicek, Cowens, or Bird would have been proud of, and coming up with both the basketball and a timeout for the Celtics.
“That play saved the game,’’ Rivers said. “If we get the ball, we win. If they get the ball, they win.’’ Final score: Boston 97, Cleveland 92.
How fragile is all this? Consider that Rivers said the team was even better the following year. “We were really rolling,’’ he said. “And then we got to Utah.’’
Yes, Utah. That’s where Garnett sustained a knee injury that sabotaged that season.
In 2010 the Celtics lost Game 7 of the Finals in LA because, among other reasons, Kendrick Perkins had been injured in Game 6 and the Lakers’ quirky Ron Artest had his best offensive game, certainly in terms of timely baskets, of the playoffs.
It’s hard for any team, and there are innumerable obstacles for this particular Celtics unit. But Rivers is ready for the challenge.
“I’m a Celtic,’’ he declared. “It’s great to be a Celtic, and I want the team to feel that way. When times were bad, I felt that way, and I still feel that way.’’
Gotta like that, right?