Slightly lost in the haze of joy emanating from the Celtics' blowout win over the Lakers in Thursday night was the fact that C's coach Doc Rivers posted his 401st win as coach of the most storied franchise in NBA history.
Rivers is now the third winningest coach in team history, trailing only Hall of Famers/legends Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn in that category. Win No. 401 was yet another referendum that he is not only one of the best coaches the Celts have ever had, he's one of the best two or three coaches in the NBA today.
Undoubtedly, it was the acquisition of Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007 that not only changed the culture of the organization and led to a championship, another Finals appearance and five-plus seasons of title contender status for the Celts, but also allowed Rivers to enter the realm of the league's greatest coaches. A coach is only as good as his roster and even though Rivers has transcended that fact a couple of times in his career (starting with his first season as a head coach in Orlando 13 seasons ago in which he won 41 games and Coach of the Year with Darrell Armstrong, Ron Mercer and Chris Gatling as his main cogs), the bottom line is that if the Celts hadn't made their deals for KG and Ray Allen to play with Paul Pierce, Rivers might not have achieved the heights he has ultimately has.
Regardless, there really isn't a better fit for this team than this coach. There aren't many coaches who could have handled the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Nate Robinson, Big Baby Davis, Stephon Marbury and Sam Cassell with the grace and aplomb Rivers has. He steered turning Allen from a go-to guy to a complementary piece for almost five full seasons before Allen's ego took hold. And he has been the only coach Rajon Rondo has ever had, developing the temperamental, mercurial point guard into an All-Star while rolling with all of Rondo's immaturity and shenanigans and barely missing a beat.
He led the Celtics to the brink of a third Finals trip in five years with Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma as his top reserves last season. He outcoached Phil Jackson in that championship winning series and was en route to doing it again two years later before Kendrick Perkins went down with a catastrophic knee injury. He had a difficult time keeping the hatches battened down when Perkins was traded for Jeff Green thus breaking up the C's championship core nine months later, but has navigated Rondo's and Jared Sullinger's season ending injuries to the tune of an ongoing, six-game winning streak that has reinvigorated the fan base and brought new hope to a season that appeared potentially lost just two weeks ago.
Sometimes Doc can be a little stubborn. There have been times this season when he's stayed with Jason Terry too long when Terry clearly hasn't had it going while leaving a far more productive Courtney Lee on the bench. And while Rondo's absence does not make the Celtics a better team, the fact that they are succeeding playing a different style without him lends some credence to the idea that Doc may not have needed to wait for Rondo to go down before opening up the offense a bit.
So he's somewhat flawed. All the greats are, even Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich, who is the best coach in the NBA by so far, it's not close. Doc (along with his former top lieutenant Tom Thibodeau) is next in line. Watching that game on Thursday night purely from the coaching match up perspective was almost comic, with Doc getting such effort and sensational, all-around play from the Celts while Lakers' coach Mike D'Antoni oversaw his team roll over and quit then showed up Dwight Howard by leaving him in a 30-point blowout despite playing with an injury before passive aggressively calling Howard out in the post game. D'Antoni managed to make Howard appear sympathetic which is no small feat whatsoever.
That's not the point, though. The point is that Doc Rivers continues to prove time and again that he's the best Celtics' coach in two generations, the 400-win milestone only the latest validation of that fact.
The Celtics and their fans are lucky to have him.