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A Confession From a One-Time Doc-Basher

A Daily Babble Production

Little by little, Doc Rivers keeps sucking me in. 

doc_teach.jpg Back in early December, I did some musing on Doc's first month coaching the new-look Celtics.  At the time, the reasoning behind the column was simple: With the team cruising along at 14-2, I needed to take some time to think about a lot of what I had said about Rivers the year before, at which point I was more than happy to pit him as one of the primary scapegoats (if not the single biggest problem) for the team's miserable season.   There needed to be some semblance of an idea on my part of whether or not yours truly wasn't simply being tricked into another case of the players making the coach.  Perhaps a combination of injuries an atrocious roster had put Glenn Rivers in an impossible situation, and perhaps he was simply doing the good job he was always capable of this season.  Or perhaps last year had been the norm, and this year's great roster was making Doc look way better than he actually was.

Either way, it was the rare instance in which I wanted to be wrong.  I wanted to be able to call myself an idiot and be largely absolving of Doc for the sins I perceived him to have committed the season before. That's because for this writer, being a fan has always been the first priority, and it's only natural for fans to want to fully support the guys on their beloved teams.

But predictably, my December soliloquy left me as certain as was suspected beforehand: not very.  The conclusions at the time were that Doc certainly deserved a good deal of credit for what had gone on thus far.  He had played a big role in helping the three stars jell together and with the rest of his new roster, of getting the players to go hard every night and of preventing letdowns.  But there was still concern about how the team would deal with adversity, how Doc would handle rotations (particularly after any possible mid-season moves by Danny Ainge) and how good his in-game tactical work would be, especially against the top-tier teams come playoff time.

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With the regular season and two playoff games complete, we're still in many regards in a similar place to where we were in December.  Doc has answered certain bells -- keeping the team together all year, dealing successfully with the bits of adversity the team faced (a couple of three-game losing streaks, nine games without Kevin Garnett) and managing the rotation in a way that both kept players fresh and prevented dissension over minutes.  But the questions about what will happen when and if this team goes deeper into the playoffs (even with a 2-0 series lead, there is no testing of the sports karma gods to be found here) remain:  When tension grows, will he still be able to successfully manage the rotation?  Will this guy draw up the right plays coming out of timeouts?  Will the C's run out of timeouts in the third quarter of a decisive game? 

Perhaps the questions are unfair.  Perhaps it's a situation in which my harsh perception of Doc's season unfairly raised my internal expectations for him for the following year.  Maybe I've painted him into a corner in which anything short of a championship wont be good enough, and that isn't just on my part. 

Perhaps not.  Perhaps his performance last season really did merit the undying scrutiny he's received (here's guessing I'm not the only guilty party) this year.

Ultimately, I'm not sure.   There is still much of Doc's tale to be told, and perhaps even the season's end won't reveal the truths to that tale.  As with rating presidents in office, it may take months or even years for me to be able to have a fair perspective in which to put Doc's job in Beantown.

For now, we're simply continuing the approach promised back at season's start: Keeping as an open a mind as possible and attempting to consider all the pertinent factors rather than simply taking the easy finger-pointing way out.

In that pursuit, while I have formed no definitive conclusions about the coaching of Doc Rivers (and rightfully so), I have learned this much: I love the way the man interacts with his players. 

The inspiration for this realization came from Doc's discussion with Glen Davis during the second quarter of last night's victory over the Hawks, but it is a realization that has been a long time coming.

When Davis came off the floor last night after committing an over-the-back foul 94 feet from the opposing basket to send the Hawks to the foul line, TNT's microphone on Rivers picked up a great exchange between coach and player.   Doc asked the Infuriated Infant if he understood why there was such a problem with the play he made, and the Pugnacious Papoose was aware of the fact that the fact that the Celtics were in the penalty at the time made it integral for him to avoid taking loose ball fouls on the offensive end of the floor.  Rivers made one more technique-related point about committing over-the-back fouls before patting Davis on his chest and telling him something to the effect of "Keep on playing and be ready.  You're going back in."

In a word, the interaction was perfect, and it was a microcosm of the way Rivers has worked with his players all year -- and perhaps beyond.

In an NBA rumored to be continuously dominated by know-it-all players who can't be bothered and coaches who are considered to be shepherds of talent above all else, Rivers' discussions with his players have indicated time and time again that Rivers is a teacher.  And so far as it appears, a good one at that.

It seems that every discussion has had a simple formula this year: calmly made teaching point, discussion with the player, encouragement.  Whether it's been with his young point guard Rajon Rondo or with veteran supersub James Posey, or even at times with his three superstars, Rivers has maintained that even demeanor all the time.  When his players mess up, he talks with them rather than spewing at them.  Even in the middle of games -- in the heat of the battle -- Rivers has been able to do this and to do it perfectly.  The end of virtually every conversation has consisted of Rivers restating his confidence in his man.  There have been few if any blow-ups on the bench this season, and in the rare occasions that players have snapped at the coach, both player and coach have been the first to wash over it and move on. 

It has never been about any sort of power struggle or ego trip with this guy this season.  All he seems to want to do is help make his players better and teach them to win games, and all they do is keep playing hard for him and talking about how much they enjoy playing for him.  They know that he is the boss, and they respect him, but they also know that they can have rational discussion with him -- and chances are, that only increases their respect for him.

We've seen wonderfully just interaction all season between Doc and both the neophytes and the veterans, and last night's discussion with the Nasty Newborn was the perfect epitome of that.

The ultimate coaching judgment on Glenn Rivers remains unknown, but that he is a player's coach in a truly reasonable sense is at this point quite certain.

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