There is Dwyane Wade. He fills it up as his teammates fall silent. He is shooting 61.1% in his Miami Heat’s first-round series against the Boston Celtics, his teammates 32.2%. Wade is one of the NBA’s select few, capable of winning games all by his lonesome.
There is Doc Rivers. Villified by many, even when winning 50 games. Driven, perhaps, to retirement by an underacheiving team and a family that he doesn’t see enough. Owner of one championship ring, one NBA Coach of the Year Award, the doubts of many, and the respect of at least one NBA superstar.
“Doc is a great, great coach,” Wade said on the heels of the Heat’s Game Two defeat to Rivers’ Celtics.
After Doc’s team put the shackles on Miami in Boston, it’s tough to argue with Wade’s words. The Celtics’ defensive rotations have been impeccable, the pick-and-roll defense desirable. Tony Allen and Glen Davis were inspirational in Game One, and Rivers made a difficult decision to sit Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins to keep Allen’s and Davis’ fire in the game. Game Two rolled around and Rivers chose Davis, rather than Rasheed Wallace, to start in Kevin Garnett’s place. All Davis did was score 23 points and 8 rebounds, even though his greatest contributions — hustle and attention to defensive detail — didn’t even show up in the boxscore.
Rivers has been a puppeteer, pulling every string he needs to.
“But,” Wade says, “he hasn’t thrown anything at me that I haven’t seen before.”
When the Celtics — or any elite basketball team, for that matter — are good, that’s the beauty of it. They don’t have to throw anything new at their opponent. Their opponent can know what they’re doing and might have seen it 25 different times, but good execution always beats good preparation. Wade can know that Glen Davis is going to be waiting for him with a flat hedge and a delayed double team. Wade can know that the next defender will rotate to help Davis. Wade can know that if he splits the double-team, more help will arrive. But what does that knowledge do, if the next defender always rotates? What does hitting the open man do, if he isn’t so open by the time he catches the basketball? If his own team isn’t executing as well, what can Wade do about it?
Doc Rivers has the Celtics executing, right now, at the perfect time. They’ve been a step slow, a day late, and a paycheck short all season, but they are finally abiding by Doc’s gameplan.
Coaching isn’t all about X’s and O’s. It’s about getting players to buy in and fill their role on every play.
84 games into the season, the Celtics have finally done that.