Once upon a time, we wanted Doc Rivers' head.
The Celtics finished a miserable 24-58 season, and we mostly blamed Doc. With hindsight, it's easy to see that a team which needed big minutes from Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green -- not to mention regular minutes from Brian Scalabrine (not to be confused with Jackie Moon) and Allan Ray (not to be confused with Ray Allen) -- was destined to fail. But back then we thought the Celtics possessed a talent-laden, albeit young, roster. The losing, as such, was all Doc's fault.
It was curious when Danny Ainge kept Rivers around. He wasn't meant to be a head coach, we felt, and he certainly wasn't the right choice to coach The Big Three. Except, well, we were 100% wrong.
He's actually perfect for the task. After all, he's the best garage in basketball. Wait, what? (Boston Herald)
"Doc does a great job of managing the old antique cars," said O’Neal. "He does a great job. Doc’s garage is the best (expletive) garage in the business."
But Doc is more than just the average best (expletive) garage in the business. He's also an ebonic Phil Jackson. Okay, these descriptions keep getting stranger.
"I’m going to call Doc an ebonic Phil Jackson," said O’Neal. "And what I mean by that is Phil Jackson has his Buddha ways, but Doc got his homeboy ways because he was once one of us and he really relates to us very well. I think the guys respect him for that. You know, he treats us like men. He only expects one thing from us: Do what he says and play hard. If you could substitute a better word than ‘ebonic Phil Jackson,’ I’d like you guys to put your degrees to work. But it’s sort of like that, on that level."
I'm no Shaqtologist, but I think what Shaq means by "Doc got his homeboy ways" is this: Doc manages the Celtics' personalities better than any other coach could.
Think about the players Doc has harnessed since the Big Three Era. Rasheed Wallace, and his epic laziness. Shaq, and his mammoth ego and personality. Kevin Garnett, and his psychotic intensity (even though he's probably a coach's dream). Paul Pierce, who had to loosen his control on the franchise's reins. Ray Allen, who had to sacrifice a large portion of his game (not to mention a whole bunch of shot attempts). Rajon Rondo, who's somewhere between stubborn and the most cocky player in the history of the universe. Glen Davis, who injured himself punching his own friend. Sam Cassell, who never stops running his mouth (and never stopped firing ill-advised mid-range jumpers). Delonte West, who's fragile. Von Wafer, who's a noted nuisance to coaches. And Stephon Marbury, who's Stephon Marbury.
Somehow, through all the over-sized egos and strong personalities, Doc's lessons of Ubuntu have stuck. The Celtics play together, and they remain focused only on winning. Individual statistics and accolades don't matter. Not to this group. And a lot of that has to do with their coach. (Boston Globe)
Handling personalities has been Rivers’s signature the past three seasons.
"He’s just continued to grow,’’ Rondo said. "He’s gotten better as the years have passed. No other coach could do it. Not this mind-set of players.’’
But to pigeonhole Doc as a manager of talents would be to sell him short. He also possesses a keen mind for the game.
Re-watch the game-winning play from the 76ers game -- Doc drew it up perfectly. Or just look at the Celtics' defensive stats. People gave Tom Thibodeau most of the credit for Boston's defensive fortitude, but here we are, with Thibodeau in Chicago, and the Celtics still lead the league in defensive efficiency. Or just look at Phil Jackson -- Doc is one of only two coaches yet to beat Jackson in the NBA Finals (Larry Brown being the other).
Do the skills of Doc's antique cars have a lot to do with the Celtics' success? Of course. If John Wooden had coached five mules, he wouldn't have won one game, let alone ten NCAA championships. The point is, even the best coaches need talent. But coaching is about maximizing what you get out of your players, and making the sum greater than its parts. When it comes to that, few are better than Doc Rivers.
Doc still has some faults, of course. He doesn't exactly adore rookies. He loves his family so much he thinks about leaving the Celtics every season (yes, that's a fault in my distorted eyes). He rides starters too long, on occasion. (I'm still wondering why Rondo played 47 minutes against Philly the other night, with a sore hamstring and feet.) And I'm sure I could think of plenty other shortcomings, if I really tried.
But faults and all, the homeboy ways of Ebonic Phil Jackson work for these Boston Celtics.