Cry Me A Rivers

Rivers nearly blows the game, then blames his players

It reached the point in Game 2 where the Celtics were playing so well I started to believe not even Doc Rivers’ coaching could sabotage them. The lead was up to 22, Kobe and the Kobettes were misfiring from everywhere on the court, and the Lakers were facing the prospect of having to win three games in a row (from a team they haven’t been able to beat all season) or else come back for two games on Boston’s home court down 3-2.

Then Rivers stepped up. With 9 minutes less and the Lakers in total disarray, the Celtics scoring at will, any other coach would have begun working in his bench players. You rest your starters and avoid injury (all the more important when Paul Pierce is playing on a strained knee and Kendrick Perkins is playing on a sprained ankle), you give valuable court time to players who haven’t played yet in the Finals, and you maintain the high energy your players have established. Eddie House, for instance, is the perfect player to insert in such situations: A guy who scrambles all over the court, hustles on every play and makes the defense play for any letdowns with 3-pointers. Guess how many minutes Eddie played?

Instead, Rivers kept his starters on the court (even inserting Kevin Garnett back into the lineup) and then watched as they grew tired. And slowly, steadily, the difference between fresh Lakers and weary Celtics (Phil Jackson give five bench players big minutes, as opposed to Rivers who played only three bench players plus Sam Cassell, who went out of the game after 6 minutes with a wrist injury) began driving past weary Celtics and hitting wide-open 3-pointers.

After the Celtics survived to win 108-102, Rivers opened the post-game press conference by saying his players lost the lead by trying to attempt difficult shots. Although he’s paid to know the game, Rivers apparently didn’t notice that his tired players were getting beaten on passes and loose balls and rebounds.  Somehow Rivers didn’t see that Kobe Bryant was getting into the paint on drives that had been denied to him the first 7 quarters of the Finals by a team that no longer had the legs to stay with him.

The sad part is that this is nothing knew. Ever since the playoffs began, Rivers has inexplicably abandoned the bench that helped the Celtics to a league-best 66 wins. Leon Powe, who powered the win with 21 points, surely wouldn’t have played serious minutes if Perkins hadn’t been injured and picked up early fouls to boot. After all, Leon — who turned in lots of games like this given the chance during the season — had seen more DNPs than Ps throughout the first three rounds as the Celtics struggled against the Hawks, Cavaliers and Pistons. Don’t expect to see much more of Leon unless someone gets injured or in foul trouble, even though he’s Boston’s best inside player. Or unless Rivers gets hit by a bus and someone with half a brain takes over as coach.

Good vs. Evil III: The Phil Factor

There’s no question Phil Jackson is the superior coach in this series (hell, it’s not even close). There’s also no question he’s an asshole. And judging by the events of the last few days, he’ll always be an asshole.

Jackson reacted to Boston’s Game 1 victory by suggesting Pierce had faked a knee injury. He opened tonight’s press conference by blaming the refs. 

First, the knee. Set aside the fact that  Yes, there are players who milk injuries when their seasons go south (see Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter). There are even players who fake injuries to create drama and draw attention (see Kobe Bryant). But no players in a Finals game fake injuries, and especially not a player like Pierce who’d hungered all his career to make it to this stage. What was there to gain? This is a time where players would run over their grandmothers to stay on the court. What player would willing leave?

What makes it worse is that Jackson would make light of a player’s injury. Much is made of Jackson’s rivalry with the late Red Auerbach, as the two are tied for most championships in NBA history with nine apiece. And Auerbach was no shrinking violet. He once punched an opposing owner in the jaw, he ran onto the court to confront a 6-10 backboard destroyer named Darryl Dawkins, and he made few friends outside the Celtics with his rabid determination to win. But Auerbach never ridiculed players on other teams. In fact, Auerbach spent years complimenting and nurturing opposing players in summer camps, all-star games, coaching clinics and the like. Jackson, in contrast, attacks even his own players — witness his psychological assaults on Scottie Pippen during the 2000 playoffs and his assassination of Bryant in his most recent tell-all book. Now, with his team needing to win three straight games at home, it will be interesting to see who he blames next.

After Game 2, it was the refs. Borrowing the blurry prism through which Doc Rivers seems to watch games, Jackson somehow failed to notice that his players rare drove or created contact, settling instead for the perimeter jumpers the Celtics’ defense is designed to allow. The assembled press somehow listened with straight faces, but ESPN’s David Aldridge laughed away Jackson’s whining minute slater in a post-game interview of his own. Maybe he can also send Jackson a tape of Game 2 so Jackson can actually watch it and count the fouls himself.

It’s hard to root for in idiot like Doc Rivers, but it’s even harder to root for him to be undressed by a jerk. Even a jerk with 9 titles to his resume.

Radmanovic’s end run

If nothing else, the Celtics’ victory spared everyone the familiar NBA spectacle of another ridiculous game-deciding blunder by referees. Never mind the contact when Vladimir Radmanovic bumped James Posey to steal a pass (that happens only every four seconds in any NBA game, although Jackson would probably whine about it); but what about the four or five extra steps he took in ramming home the breakaway layup that closed the gap to 4 points? It’s not like the refs were screened out on the play; Raddy was all alone in the open court, and besides, there are three different refs with a view of the action. And it would have really stank if the Lakers had won and then the NBA ruled a day later that they should have called the travel, much the way it ruled Derek Fisher had blatantly fouled Brent Barry on the game-tying shot the day after it cost the Spurs the key game of the series. The NBA: Where “my bad” happens (but doesn’t affect the score).


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