In a way, Doc Rivers’ decision to rest his starters showed confidence. In a way, it showed fear. Mostly, it was about maximizing Boston’s chances to win an NBA title. Home court advantage matters, the Celtics have learned, but in this case, Rivers felt, rest mattered more.
You can see why Doc made his decision. The Celtics were not going to win an NBA championship playing like they were. They needed some rest, but the schedule hasn’t afforded much lately. They need three strong practices on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s Game One, but playing games on Monday and Wednesday night would not have been conducive to that plan. So Rivers chose to sit his starters, even though the Eastern Conference’s second seed was still in the balance, even though the Celtics possibly could have overtaken Miami and L.A. for home court advantage with two wins.
“This was a tough one,” Rivers said of the decision. “But it was the right one because at the end of the day for us, it has to be about our team and whatever’s best for our team, even over seeding.
“With the way we’re playing right now, I think we do need (the break), so we’re going to take it. And we don’t have a lot of time. This has been an unusual ending to a season with all the games. The decision was made on how we played (Sunday at Miami) and that we lost the game. That was more of what this is about.”
This is not Doc Rivers saying home court advantage does not matter. He knows better than that; all the Celtics know better than that. (After that vague reference to the 2010 NBA Finals, I think I just took a blowtorch to my face.) This is Doc Rivers saying his team’s level of play matters more than home court advantage. If the Celtics are playing to their capabilities come playoff time, Doc Rivers still likes his odds.
I hate to lean on last season as evidence; because this is a new year, because teams almost never flip the switch like Boston did last year, because Boston still fell short of winning an NBA title, because a poor regular season ultimately came back to bite them in the ass at the worst possible time. But last season happened. The Celtics looked awful for the season’s final 54 games, then became a different team, a better team, in the playoffs.
I don’t know whether Rivers banks on that happening again. He seems more frustrated than last season. He said last season’s collapse was somewhat according to plan, while this year’s was far from planned. He doesn’t know whether he can count on his team this year. Only five players remain from last season’s team; this new group has not meshed, has never done this before. But Rivers thinks Boston’s best opportunity is to focus on itself. At the same time, he only chose to rest the starters because they have played so poorly, because they quite obviously need time off, time to prepare.
“We’ll be ready for the playoffs,” Rivers said. But you get the feeling he’s just hoping. Just like me.