Two stories today summed up the confused way I feel about Doc Rivers in a nutshell.
A play for Nate
Doc sat awake all night, wondering how he could help Nate Robinson become acclimated to the team. Just like the rest of us, Doc had seen Nate’s level of discomfort during his first three games, and he felt determined to come up with a solution.
And he did, and it was nothing short of genius: Doc decided to put in one of the Knicks plays. Nate was struggling to adapt to the C’s offense, so why not adapt the C’s offense to Nate?
“My thought was, ‘ Well, if I put in one of his plays, he’ll be comfortable,’” Rivers told the Boston Globe, explaining his innovative coaching decision. “The other four [players] may not be, but he will be.”
Not only did Doc install one of New York’s plays, but he had Nate explain it to his team. As much as it worried Nate (“Aw man, I’ve got to be coach now,” he told the Globe. “I’m teaching the play to KG, Paul, Ray, ’Sheed. I’m like, ‘Wow.’”), it clearly gave him confidence.
In the fourth quarter, running that Knicks play almost solely, Robinson drilled three three-pointers and led the Celtics to victory. Score one for Doc Rivers, his ability to reach his players, and his blatant thievery of Mike D’Antoni.
‘Just Another Loss’
As the season has turned south, I’ve found myself repeatedly wanting to break my television set as I watch Boston disintegrate right in front of my very eyes. If my roommate Eric didn’t hog the clicker all the time, I probably would have smashed it to pieces against the wall a long time ago.
But Doc somehow still exudes calmness. (Boston Globe)
“[New Jersey] was just another loss for me. Literally, if we would have lost to San Antonio or the Lakers, it’s still a loss. That stuff doesn’t bother me at all.
“When you lose to a team with a bad record, they are going to kill your team – let them have fun – but at the end of the day, it’s going to be about making the playoffs.”
I don’t know where to start when picking apart this quote. Should I tell Doc that New Jersey isn’t just another loss? That it’s a sign of the Celtics continuing down the slippery slope to mediocrity? Or should I wonder why “at the end of the day, it’s going to be about making the playoffs?” Making the playoffs???
The fact of the matter is, that loss should bother him. It should bother him a lot. And it should bother the players at least as much. I’ve mostly blamed the players for not showing up ready to play, but perhaps it’s a reflection of Doc’s apparent indifference toward losing that has made them seem unwilling to find the fire to compete on a nightly basis.
If Doc just wants to “make the playoffs,” why wouldn’t the players settle for the same goal? Kendrick Perkins voiced the team’s growing boredom in his recent comments. They feel as if they can beat any team, anywhere, and don’t need a higher seed or homecourt advantage to do that. And Perkins’ coach seems to echo the same sentiments. The Celtics are walking through the regular season just to get to the playoffs, and Doc Rivers is leading the charge.
But he made a very good point:
“If we win a title this year, you think that Jersey loss means anything?”
I can remember the good ole’ days, wondering whether the Celtics’ balls-to-the-wall, 100%-all-the-time effort would catch up to them in the playoffs. I watched the Spurs coasting through the regular season to get ready for the playoffs, and wondered why Boston couldn’t conserve some energy for the postseason.
Now, with the C’s conserving more energy than I ever thought possible, I yearn for nothing but 100% effort. I want a coach who demands the best out of his players every night, rather than settling for mediocrity and being unaffected by horrific losses. I want someone who will hold the players accountable for their undeniable lack of passion and convert them into a hungry team.
For some reason, though, I’m starting to feel — ever so slightly — that Doc might have it right. His way of handling the players is the antithesis of how I would, but I’ve started to gain a belief that his way might be the right way. My belief is small, but it’s there. Somewhere, below the doubt and despair, I’ve gained hope. It has nothing to do with last night’s win against Detroit, and everything to do with some weird trust I’ve developed in Rivers.
Maybe I’m just biased, just hoping his methods will work. I might just be holding onto whatever fickle reason I can to believe the Celtics are still contenders. That very well could be the case.
But I look out onto the court, and I see Kevin Garnett starting to work himself back into shape, Ray Allen’s shots starting to fall, and Rasheed Wallace starting to take his ass down low. I see Rajon Rondo continuing to progress into a go-to guy, and I trust Paul Pierce will be there when Boston needs him. With Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels leading a suddenly-solid bench, the Celtics have all the pieces in place to make a swift and powerful run at another championship. The only thing holding them back right now is a lack of effort.
But what if that lack of effort is partially due to a coach who understands that the regular season is meaningless? What if the proverbial on-off switch is turned off on purpose, by a coach who was once mentored by Gregg Popovich and now seems to be using some of his methods? Losing to the Nets could never be planned, but saving energy for a strong playoff run certainly could.
Popovich always let his teams use the regular season to build steam for a strong playoff run. The great Spurs teams always looked decent through three-quarters of the season, then turned it on and were humming at full speed by the time the playoffs rolled around.
I don’t want to say Doc Rivers is doing the same thing. Not yet. Not with Boston looking atrocious, losing to everybody in sight, and failing to inspire any confidence. But there’s a chance that this is all by design. It’s possible the Celtics fail to get up for games because Rivers doesn’t find the regular season important anymore. His team is playoff-tested, and has shown — in the past — the ability to win big games, either at home or on the road. The regular season, this season, has become nothing but a means to get to the playoffs. With an aging team, maybe Doc is having them keep the foot off the gas for a reason.
Then again, maybe the C’s lack of energy is just because he isn’t pushing the right buttons.
Can you tell how confused I am by Doc Rivers this season? Most of me wants to slap him across the face and physically force him to light a fire under his troops, who have drastically underachieved for a long time now.
But part of me thinks he has a master plan. That he’s learned to save it for the playoffs, and will have his guys ready to go when the lights are bright. Seasons aren’t defined in February against the New Jersey Nets, or even against the Cavs.
When the playoffs come, that’s when seasons are made or broken. I know that, you know that, and Doc knows that.
I just hope he’s going about it the right way.