He told reporters the Celtics were “leaning back on past success,” that it was a “bunch of crap” for them to believe they were better than Orlando, and that he’d had “enough with the talk.” He said his team needed to do a lot of things differently, both offensively and defensively. He promised a quick hook if any of the same problems persisted against New Orleans.
Then the Celtics played New Orleans and, if anything, they played even worse. As the third-quarter woes continued, the quick hook Doc had promised was non-existent. Defensive lapses were rampant, ball movement was minimal, and Doc did nothing but sit back and watch. The same old players making the same old mistakes continued to play, and kept right on screwing up. Doc talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk.
Just like his team has done all season long.Reading Jackie MacMullan’s book “When This Game Was Ours,” co-authored by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Bird brought up an interesting dynamic regarding a coach-player relationship. When he decided to coach the Indiana Pacers, it was under one condition: After three years, he would be done. No matter what.
Bird learned from his playing days that players will only listen to one coach for so long. He considered his 1982-83 season wasted because his teammates had quit on coach Bill Fitch. It was Fitch’s fourth season, and players openly revolted, playing with a lack of passion dedicated in part to getting their coach canned. Bird vowed never to coach more than three seasons; players just couldn’t take listening to the same voice for so long.
Doc Rivers is now in his sixth season as head coach of the Boston Celtics. Players certainly didn’t tune him out after three years, but that mere fact doesn’t mean Bird’s three-year rule hasn’t now come into play. For Doc, his fourth season — the championship season — was his first with most of the players. It was almost an entirely new team, and so perhaps a new window was opened. But now, in his sixth year with the Celtics and third with the current nucleus, it seems as if Rivers might be preaching on deaf ears.
Time after time, Rivers’ advice goes without response. Rivers belittles his team’s effort? They give the same half-hearted, going-through-the-motions effort the next game. He says the ball needs to move and execution needs improvement? The Celtics have only 20 assists compared to 22 turnovers. He says they need to get better at coming out of halftime to close the door on trailing opponents? They fall apart in the third quarter, again, this time losing the period to the New Orleans Hornets, 29-12. And not just any New Orleans Hornets — a Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets giving up over 107 ppg over their last eight games.
Now, the question confronting Doc becomes this: What to do when a roster ignores your advice? How does a coach teach his team how to play, when none of his players seem open to his lessons?
After Boston’s latest humbling at the hands of New Orleans, Rivers chose silence. Silence? After yet another disgusting, cringe-worthy loss?
Via the Boston Globe:
Rivers’s postgame speech to the team was brief. Asked what he told the Celtics, Rivers replied: “Nothing, not a thing. We just get back to work. I liked our first half. I liked what we did. We’ve got to look at that first half and stay into that. That’s how we have to play every night.’’
Nothing? Not a thing? After THAT performance?
I guess there are only so many times you can light into a team before it starts to tune you out.
The Celtics now take a much-needed All-Star break. Rivers needs to regroup, just like his team. To come back with some way — any way, really — to motivate his troops, to rebuild the passion and camaraderie of yesteryear. Maybe he needs to bring Bill Russell into the locker room for a chat, to explain how he stayed thirsty for championships after winning one almost every year. Perhaps he should show a highlight tape of 2008, of how it felt to band together and win a championship. Of the trials and tribulations they overcame, and the joy they felt. Somehow, some way, he needs to reconnect with a team slipping farther and farther away from the NBA elite.
Coaches have enjoyed success with the same team over a long period of time. Red Auerbach’s nine championships can speak to that, and Gregg Popovich is a contemporary example.
But a coach has to adapt, and maintain a level of control over his team and the ability to keep his players inspired. Even in the face of adversity.
Sadly, it seems Rivers might have lost his touch.