The Celtics entered December with the best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference. They encountered a tough, busy schedule to start the season, playing three games in four nights on six different occasions.
Now, in the midst of a much quieter stretch (only four games in the first 10 days of December), Doc Rivers discussed his teamís hot start and how much he has learned about himself after guiding the Celtics to their 17th NBA championship.
TC: When you looked at this schedule to start the season, you knew how difficult it would be. You must be awfully happy to be sitting where you are right now.
Rivers: I am. When I first saw the schedule, I was thinking letís just get through it healthy and letís keep our heads above water. Thatís basically what we talked about as a staff. My whole thought as a coach, though, was making sure the players stay fresh throughout, and to do that I knew I was going to have to use the bench more than we normally would have, and [give players] a lot of days off. Early in the year as a coach, you never want to give days off because you have things to work on, and I thought there was slippage on the floor because of that, but we kept winning games, so that allowed us to do it.
TC: Are you able to make some of that up? Can you make up for lost time on the practice floor?
Rivers: No, you canít make up that time, but we will have a lot of practice time coming up. So now, we have a body of work that we can show the players to show them what we have to work on, and we can take it one piece at a time and try to work it out.
TC: Youíll have more practice time now. What does that allow you to do?
Rivers: It allows us to extend minutes in certain games. There have been games this year where weíre losing leads and weíve got Kevin [Garnett] on the bench and we keep him there because we know we have four more games coming up that week, and weíve gotten away with it. It allows us to work on all of the things that weíve slipped on. Thatís the good part about this schedule coming up. The games are still going to be tough, but at least we can prepare better.
TC: Youíve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking with Terry Francona. He has said he learned so much that off-season after the Red Sox won a championship. Learned a lot about himself and about how to manage. Was it the same for you this off-season after winning it all?
Rivers: Absolutely. Itís amazing when you self-evaluate yourself after a poor season, and then when you self-evaluate yourself after a championship season. Not only yourself, but others. You just learn so much about the importance of character for your team, of patience, of [knowing] the right button to push and when. Itís a good learning tool. I was laughing with Terry that the only way you can learn it is to win it. Itís a tough way to learn it.
TC: Tough, but good.
Rivers: Great, yeah.
TC: Talking to Francona that first championship winter, and then during that 2005 season, it seemed the other learning process was how the team was handling being a champion. Itís one thing to be on the quest, itís another thing to be the hunted.
Rivers: Yeah, itís a whole different bird. I look at it like mountains. You climb that one mountain, you canít climb it again. So you have to look for another one to climb. A higher one. Thatís what weíre in the middle of right now, because it is a different journey. You can have the same guys and have a different team when that team returns because of egos, because of role changes ó at least perceived by them sometimes ó or just hunger. So it is a different team, and there are different buttons to push.
TC: Weíve heard a lot about all the talk happening on the court. Is all of that trash talk part of the learning process as well? Getting the players to learn to deal with all of that?
Rivers: It is, because I think a lot of it has been the opponent talking to us. They want to beat us, theyíre excited to play us, and thus they talk more. We donít have to respond, but we have a couple of times, and when we do, the refs get involved and now we have technicals. So it is a learning process for us.
TC: You talk about this team learning to be a champion. How important was a good start to that process? If you had stumbled out of the gate, would that have been a much tougher learning process?
Rivers: Yeah, I think so. Obviously, the way weíre winning, there are more fourth-quarter wins, and in a strange way that will help us in the future. Winning close games is never a bad thing, and getting off to a good start is great for a coach because it allows you to coach more.
TC: Thanksgiving and the holidays are here. What are you most thankful for right now?
Rivers: Thereís a lot to be thankful for: for family, for health. The bottom line is, having good people with good character around you makes you smile every day.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports