The Celtics are in uncharted territory within the Big Three Era.
A team once lauded for its unparalleled passion and desire is now falling short due to a shortcoming of those two very traits. And cohesiveness, the rallying cry for Boston’s “Ubuntu” motto? Rajon Rondo called doubt upon his Boston teammates’ willingness to sacrifice for their team’s sake, and his doubts are easily confirmed when watching the Celtics play.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says that he wants his teams to play like a fist; five fingers rolled into one, far more powerful as a unit than as individuals. Boston hasn’t felt the strength of a fist in weeks. It’s simply been a collection of five solo fingers, far less potent than those fingers, when joined together, have the potential of being.
Doc Rivers is fed up with his team’s laissez-faire attitude and borderline selfish play. He’s determined not to allow it to continue during the road trip that begins tonight in New Orleans. Rivers, normally laid back and calm, says there won’t be any more Mr. Nice Guy routine from the C’s head coach.
He told the Boston Herald that if the ball isn’t moving offensively, the culprit’s getting subbed out.
“Offensively, the only thing I told them is that if the ball gets stuck once, you’re getting subbed,” Rivers said. “That’s just clear.”
And defensively? Same thing. If someone screws up, he’s getting yanked.
“One of the things we made clear is that you’ll be playing [based] on your defense,” Rivers told ESPNBoston. “If we made anything clear [Monday], it’s that you can make 10 [3-pointers] in a row, but if you’re not getting stops, you’re going to come sit next to me. That’s the way it has to be. We have to get back to thinking of ourselves as a defensive team.”
After weeks of watching his team’s uninspired play, Rivers is finally drawing his foot in the line and making sure none of the Celtics cross it. Rivers might have thought his team would snap out of its long malaise by itself, but the cold reality check that was Boston’s third quarter against Orlando encouraged him to step in and become more of a dictator. Getting shellacked 36-11 in a span of only 12 minutes tends to clarify a team’s flaws. And Boston, right now, is far from flawless.
It still remains to be seen how Rivers will follow his plan. We won’t know how serious he is until the first time a player misses a defensive rotation, or the first time someone launches an ill-advised jumper after over-dribbling the shot clock away.
Even if he does stay true to his word, and is quick to pull the trigger on substitutions, how will the veteran Celtics react? Will they take it for what it is, a ploy to return them to their winning ways? Or will they see it as over-coaching and tune out the same coach who so adeptly led them to the 2008 championship?
The Celtics players should know that the blame for Rivers’ new hard-assed nature is on them, that without the last month and a half of mediocre basketball Rivers would still have the same easy demeanor.
There’s a reason Mr. Nice Guy has left the building.