Doc Rivers is a great coach. That needed to be said. Maybe it’s something people have been thinking. Maybe it’s a point people have just ignored. But now that it’s obvious, it needs to be acknowledged.
When Rivers was first hired by the Celtics, there were doubts. His record with the Orlando Magic didn’t impress. He had four straight years of hovering just above .500, and three straight first-round playoff losses. His time in Orlando ended abruptly when the Magic lost 10 of their first 11 games in 2003, and he was fired. After a year in the broadcast booth, Danny Ainge brought him to Boston.
First year: another “one and done” in the playoffs. Second and third years: 33 and 24 wins. At this point, we’re really not getting a clear appreciation of his greatness. Fourth year: Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrive and the Celtics win their 17th NBA title. How much credit did he get?
It seems to me, kudos for that title were shared by the players and Ainge. Even the Celtics’ great ‘D’ was attributed more to Tom Thibodeau than to Rivers. The public perception was that the coach had done a good job simply by not messing things up. Maybe that was true. Then last year, there was no KG, and no title. And this year, there were home losses and a fourth-place finish in the East. None of this, of course, helped people recognize what a great coach Rivers is.
Only now, as Rivers has led his team past Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and half of Dwight Howard, can we begin to look at his coach record in a different light. He was, after all, the NBA coach of the year in 2000, when he led a Magic team that included four undrafted players to a .500 record. In 2007, he had to bring that individual talent together and forge a great team. He did — much of the credit for that title should belong to him.
And like Bill Belichick in 2001, this year is Rivers’ coaching masterpiece. He believed in his team, and he conveyed that to them. He was patient in the regular season and prepared for the postseason. He’s outcoached three counterparts — so far.
So if, like many of us, you’re surprised the Celtics have gotten this far, you have to agree they’ve overachieved. That’s coaching. That’s Doc. That needed to be said.
— Bob Halloran is a sports anchor, reporter and author.
Follow him on Twitter @bobhalloran63
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