When the 4-9 Knicks extended their lead to double digits early in the third quarter of Fridays game, the catcalls began: just a few loudmouths at first screaming for coach Doc Rivers' head. When the lead hit 22, though, a chant spread through the TD Banknorth Garden: Fire Doc! Fire Doc! Fire Doc I half expected to see German villagers march onto the court carrying torches and looking for Boris Karloff.
This was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule folks: nine games at home, eight against teams that didn't make the playoffs last year. Instead, the Celtics are 4-8 and Rivers is now a career 41-73 as a head coach in the month of November. The chances of Doc being on the bench past Christmas are about the same as those of Dick Cheney playing Santa at the DNC holiday bash. (Although I bet he dreams of having Nancy Pelosi on his lap.)
Rivers' defenders say the coach is not the whole or even the primary - problem with the Celtics. They're right, but they're also missing the big picture. The same flawed evaluation process that's produced, as the Globe's Peter May wrote, a poorly constructed team with a roster that, for the most part, consists of players who would be serviceable reserves on good teams, is also responsible for Rivers' hiring and tenure.
The Globe's Shira Springer talked about the way Celtics GM Danny Ainge makes decisions in a profile earlier this year: For all the lists and statistics and scouting trips and team workouts, Ainge said the decision about whom Boston drafts each year boils down to instinct.' Danny believes he can see lottery picks and future all-stars in 18-year-old kids who've never played a day of division one college basketball. It's hardly surprising he'd look at a guy who'd never won more than 44 games and never won a playoff series and see a coach who could lead the Celtics to banner 17.
As of Friday night, however, assigning blame for the team's slow start officially became irrelevant. The Celtics rolled over at home to one of the worst teams in the NBA. Nobody's going to buy the we're young and inconsistent garbage for this one. Whatever their limitations, the players have just stopped putting out for Rivers. The last time that happened, we were listening to rants about how we weren't going to have Rick Pitino to kick around anymore.
Rivers has been a useful lightning rod until now, taking the heat and drawing attention away from the fact that the Celts consist of Paul Pierce, a handful of marginal vets, and kids who were low first round and second round draft picks. But while it's defensible (barely) to lose six of your first seven games to teams with a combined .661 winning percentage, it's just a disgrace to be spanked by the Bobcats and then run off your home court by the Knicks teams that are a combined 7-17. The rubes were crammed in the tent looking to buy the religion last night. They left avowed basketball atheists before the end of the third quarter. You think Wyc, Steve, and the rest of their buddies aren't getting sick of seeing their $360M team blow yet another opportunity to move up in the Boston sports hierarchy, particularly with the Red Sox and Bruins playing poorly?
How much would a new coach help? The Globe's Peter May says not much. Then again, who'd have predicted Jim O'Brien would take a team of perennial losers and bring them to the conference finals in a little over a year? Was that team more talented and capable than this one? Of course not. They were simply committed to a style of play and they executed consistently. That's what good coaches get players to do.
The enthusiasm and anticipation that accompanied the new season is rapidly waning. It's been 20 years since the last championship and four since Danny blew up a playoff team. Maybe ire directed at Rivers is misplaced, but it's a fact of life now and, more to the point, a fact of business. The team stinks and fans are turning away. Fair or not, the owners may soon have to heed the furious shouts of their paying customers and "fire Doc."