Doc Rivers rarely rips into the Boston Celtics publicly, and especially this year’s Celtics team, which has for the most part maximized its talent at least since putting that hideous 4-8 start in its rear-view mirror. So when Rivers lobs a grenade at his entire roster after a loss that on the surface seems unacceptable — on the second night of a back-to-back, against a Chicago Bulls squad that has been the best team in the NBA even with Derrick Rose injured — the outburst holds real significance. (Boston Herald)
“Maybe they thought they were cool, but I’m not,” Rivers said after a 93-86 loss to the Bulls that he called the worst of the season, if the measure of worst is effort.
“I had to use two timeouts in the first half to remind us that we had an NBA game tonight,” said a clearly upset coach.
“I thought this was the worst approach to a game all year for us. Chicago was too tough for us tonight. They got into us and frustrated us, and we let go of the rope. We’ve got three weeks to get better.
“We need to get tougher, because if we keep playing like this, we’re going to end up playing one of these two teams,” he said of potential first round series against either the Bulls or Heat. “That was an unacceptable effort for us tonight. It was a crime. We just thought we were cool tonight. We were the cool Celtics. We were walking the ball around and having trouble getting it inbounds. No one wanted to work. You don’t play basketball like that.”
In the previous two regular seasons, which saw several team-wide Rasheed Wallace-ian efforts down the stretch (which is to say that the Celtics played team-wide as if they were drunk, high, dizzy and sun-sick), Rivers never voiced his anger like this. So why now?
1. He knows these Celtics are young, which means they need to have playoff-caliber basketball drilled into them. In the past two seasons Rivers felt comfortable with the occasional (and sometimes often) weak effort because the locker room consisted of several veterans who understood what playoff basketball was all about. This year, the Celtics have both Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley playing huge minutes, and Ryan Hollins is the fourth big man for when the team gets into foul trouble. None of those three contributors has seen significant (or in the case of Stiemsma and Bradley, any) postseason playing time.
2. This team wins because of its effort, not in spite of it. This year’s Celtics team is built to outwork teams, not out-talent them. For the first time in years, the Celtics are not a glamorous collection of future Hall of Famers and former All-Stars. They are — at least outside of the Core Four — a pack of pitbulls trained to wreak havoc on the opposition rather than do triple-lutzes near the sideline and swish threes from the corner. If this year’s Celtics team lets up, even a little, it will lose because it does not have the top-to-bottom talent to win games while coasting. The Celtics have been significantly outclassed in two of the past four halves they’ve played, so Rivers wants to stem the tide before it really starts rolling the wrong way.
3. Rivers knows avoiding the seventh seed is a serious matter and wants his team TOREALIZETHATSIXOFTHENEXTNINEAREAGAINSTPLAYOFFTEAMSANDTHEOTHERTHREE-AREABACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK,DAMNIT,SOPLEASESTARTWINNINGGAMESNOW!
Rivers has already noted that seeding means little to him, at least as it compares to health. I truly believe Rivers is of the mind that he will take a healthy Boston Celtics team any place, any time and consider his team competitive against anybody, if not the favorites. But avoiding Miami and Chicago as long as possible would be nice.
4. Rivers is starting to smell the playoffs approaching, and he’s beginning to think these Celtics have a real chance. He sees Miami and the way they’ve curiously struggled at times this season, especially on the road. He sees Chicago and an injured Derrick Rose. He sees Orlando imploding around Dwight Howard. He sees every team out West, all beatable, even if the Thunder are damn good. He’s beginning to wonder, “Why not us?”, and losses like last night’s — when the Celtics were physically dominated inside by the Bulls — show him this team still has some growing up to do before it can really compete in the playoffs. He wants the guys to learn from last night’s loss, quickly, so it doesn’t happen again when the games matter more. He trusts this team now, but he knows it needs to play with more of an edge especially against the physical teams. Getting beaten is okay. Getting outworked, with this Celtics team, which wins specifically because of its teamwork and scrappiness, is not.