NBA@2: Is Doc Rivers at the Top of His Game?
Back in 2010, as the Boston Celtics were surprising the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic to reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, I was asked to write a piece on coach Doc Rivers for The Wall Street Journal.
The gist was simple: Boston overcame age an injury and, through the help of a revamped bench, Rivers was able to bring his team back where few thought they would return.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jeff Van Gundy and Danny Ainge were all nice enough to give me their time, and all were effusive in their praise of Rivers (actually, I interviewed Dave Cowens as well, but his admiration for Rivers had to be cut because of limited space).
Rivers knew when to rest his aging stars like Paul Pierce; he knew when to push his younger players like Rajon Rondo, and he even correctly predicted that Nate Robinson would win a game for the Celtics (Robinson scored 13 points during a key six-minute stretch in the series-clinching win over the Magic).
Overall, I didn’t particularly love the finished product, but I felt it accurately reflected the brilliant job Rivers had done in the 2009-2010 season, which I believed was his finest performance.
Of course, that was before I witnessed what Rivers had in store for us this season.
Yes, Derrick Rose’s injury likely prevented the Celtics from having to contend with the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the second round, and yes, Chris Bosh’s injury has helped the Celtics defense focus on Miami HEAT stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But it’s not like the Celtics haven’t had a few injuries of their own. The season began with news that Jeff Green would be forced to sit out for the year following heart surgery and by the time the playoffs rolled around, Ray Allen and Pierce were each dealing with ankle and knee issues respectively.
Rivers—who had considered starting Green and turning Pierce into a sixth man before the season—handled everything in stride.
When Jermaine O’Neal went down, Rivers began playing Kevin Garnett at center and started giving minutes to 26-year-old rookie Greg Stiemsma and journeyman big man Ryan Hollins.
When Allen’s ankle was undermining his shot, Rivers moved second-year combo guard Avery Bradley into the starting lineup and turned Allen—a future Hall of Famer—into a sixth man.
And when Bradley’s shoulder began popping in and out like a whack-a-mole, Rivers moved Allen back into the starting lineup and reinserted Marquis Daniels into the rotation.
As risky as the moves were, the former Hawks, Clippers, Spurs and Knicks guard has yet to regret any of them.
But as good as Rivers has been dealing with injuries, he’s been just as good with the Xs and Os. Unlike in 2010, when he had defensive assistant Tom Thibodeau designing one of the top defenses in recent memory, Rivers has taken on more of that responsibility this season.
In fact, the only teams to post a better defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in the postseason than the Celtics are the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks—the two teams Boston has already defeated in the playoffs.
The Celtics defense may have been at its best on Tuesday night when Rivers continuously switched from a matchup zone to their traditional man-to-man defense. Boston trapped Wade, pressured the point and basically just made life miserable for Miami’s offense.
The results were magnificent. The HEAT made just 39% of their field goals, 26.9% of their 3-point attempts and turned the ball over 15 times in the Game 5 loss.
Now the Celtics return to Boston with a 3-2 lead and a chance to clinch another NBA Finals berth. Considering where this team was after their 0-2 start in the Eastern Conference Finals, Rivers deserves as much or more praise than he earned in 2010.
I should probably pen an additional article on how he’s putting forth another “Coaching Performance for the Ages,” but the more I see the trend of his career, the more I realize the best is yet to come from Doc Rivers.
Check Out: Maalik Wayns
HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler caught up with Villanova’s Maalik Wayns, who is out to prove he’s more than just a combo guard. Wayns sees himself as a true point guard who was asked to score with the Wildcats last season (he posted 17.6 points and 4.6 assists per game). The Philadelphia native has the size (6-2) and athleticism to make it in the NBA. Now he’s just looking for the right chance.
Draft Combine: Who Sat Out?
The NBA Draft Combine is underway in Chicago, and, according to NBA director of college scouting Ryan Blake, the following hopefuls opted to sit out on Thursday: North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Florida’s Bradley Beal, Connecticut’s Andre Drummond, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Syracuse’s Dion Waiters.
Nets Looking for a First-Round Pick?
Before the trade deadline, it looked like the Nets were going to have two first-round picks. Then they sent theirs to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Gerald Wallace deal and the Houston Rockets retained their first-round pick—which was slated to be sent to Brooklyn—when they fell out of the playoffs and into the lottery.
Long story short, the Nets want a first-round pick again.
“There are a variety of ways to get there,” Nets coach Avery Johnson told ESPN’s Andy Katz, as quoted by SNY’s Adam Zagoria. “Can’t give you any of our secrets, but we have some opportunities. We’re talking to teams like everybody else and we have our eyes on some players that if we end up getting in the first round, there’s some guys that we like.
“So we’re here evaluating all of these kids, we’re going through the interview process just like all of the other teams. So even though we’re at 57 now, my general manager is Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov is the owner so you never know what they may pull off. So we’re anticipating that we could move up.”
Keep an eye on the teams with two first-round picks, such as the Boston Celtics, who the Nets dealt with in last year’s NBA Draft.
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