Last night the Celtics squared off against a team with one of the best coaches in the league– Gregg Popovich, and they were simply outperformed on both ends of the floor. As I pointed out yesterday, the Spurs and Celtics are in many ways mirror images of one another, with an aging core and valuing similar basketball philosophies. Doc echoed these sentiments when asked about coaching philosophies he adopted when playing under Pop on the Spurs during the 1995-96 season (via The Boston Herald):
“You have to sacrifice, everyone has to get themselves out of it. I can’t stand guys who are into themselves and not the team, and all of their worries are about themselves and not the team. You have to take yourself out of the team, and I probably learned that more than anywhere else when I was there.”
It is true, they both have superstars and at least 5 hall of famers between the two rosters. Managing egos is something both coaches are known for, and frankly, are the two best coaches at that very craft. Convincing players to buy into the team-first attitude is an acquired skill, and both of these coaches boast the track record proving they are capable (unlike the coach for the Lakers… Okay, last shot at D’Antoni for a while).
But last night was a perfect example of the subtle differences between the two coaches. While Thaigo Splitter scores 23 points off the bench and seems to fit seamlessly into the offense, Celtics fans are forced to watch Courtney Lee score four points with four turnovers in sixteen minutes, or a 2-7 shooting performance from Jeff Green.
It’s not that there is a great talent discrepancy between the two teams; its how the rotation is established, and how egos are managed. Pop ripped into his team recently for their lack-luster play, and yet they still play with a sense of confidence. Rivers and the Celtics higher-ups continue to preach a philosophy of ‘this is a growing process’ while the players that were brought in to bolster bench scoring seem skittish and uncomfortable on both ends of the floor.
No matter how many minutes the Spurs’ player played the previous night, they sub in ready to play with confidence. The Celtic’s have yet to figure out their rotation, and it shows as the players seem to tense up when they are made evident of the fact that their playing time will be directly correlated with their effectiveness on the court.
I believe Doc needs to take the plunge on this team. Perhaps recklessly and prematurely, but I still believe it needs to happen. Yes it is true, some players have not played well enough to deserve more minutes, but at some point you have to make the decision and stick with it. When a coach tells you: “you’re my guy” it has a calming effect as opposed to “get out there and play for a bit, see if you can get some good looks”.
Who knows about the subtle differences between how Popovich and Rivers relate to their respective players, but while the teams maintain similar levels of talent, one is looking like a well-oiled machine, and the other is heading towards an antique shop shelf.
Yes there is still room to grow and always more time to sort through things, but the launching point for the growth must be established soon. For the Celtics players that means having a fortified rotation and playing without constantly having to look over their shoulders.
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the day off from NBA hoops– I heard some football was on, maybe that will suffice.