OK, here’s the deal. As a longtime Celtics fan who waited so long for them to become relevant again, never mind so stocked with talent that anyone but Dick Vitale could coach them to a title, imagine my agony watching Doc Rivers screw up this amazing team game after game.
After losing my mind for playoff game after playoff game, I’ve decided the only way to keep my sanity is to blog a live, minute-by-minute report of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
There are three goals here: To fill the journalistic gap of all the so-called experts watching this series and somehow not seeing Rivers’ nonstop ineptitude; to stay sane by venting my agony; and to give credit where credit is due, to the amazing players who are being sabotaged game after game.
We’re minutes from tip-off…
First, let’s get up to date with a too-short recap of Doc’s biggest blunders leading up to this momenta:
1. Squandering the best pure shooter in the game today. Anyone know of a guy named Ray Allen? The whole basketball world did until Doc Rivers installed him in a formless offense that does nothing to get anyone a shoot in his comfort zone, or even a shot at any given time during the game. Then, when Ray went so long without looks that even the devil would have gone cold, Rivers left to his own devices to find his shot. A smart coach would have loaded Ray up with several shots in a row back when he first went into the slump and shoot him out of it, and Ray would have never gotten off track for more than a game. Unfortunately, we have Doc Rivers.
2. Destroyed one of the deepest, most enthusiastic benches in basketball. Want a sign of how dead Boston’s bench is? Watch them with the game in play. No one stands, no one cheers, no one gets pumped — all things they did back during the regular season when they actually got to play and felt like their were part of the team. But that ended when the playoffs started and Rivers abandoned the rotation that ruled the league in favor of benching guys like Eddie House, Glen Davis, Leon Powe and Sam Cassell for several games in a row. Way to tune your players out of the game, Doc.
OK, the talking heads are yapping, so it’s time to tip it off…
McDyess hits his first shot for 4-0 a minute into the game. The Dice Man has hit nothing but net all series long, so you’d think an opposing coach might address not. Not Doc.
Whoa: With 9:54 to play in the first quarter and the Celtics staggering to an 8-0 deficit, Doc Rivers has actually called time out. Did I pick the wrong game to blog? This is unheard of in the Rivers era. His MO is to let them play themselves into a 15-point deficit, then make wholesale substitutions that stick bench players into a cyclone of a game that’s already out of reach. Have the owners instructed Doc to let his assistants ref the game?
8:58 and McDyess hits another. Gee, who’d have anticipated that?
OK, Celts need a big shot to get on track. Another coach would call a play for Pierce to get the team on track. Rivers goes to … Kendrick Perkins. The result is predictable.
7:18 in total dissarray, 12-2. Time for a timeout, Doc, in the time-honored tradition of Red Holzman. No? You want to let it get further away? That’s my Doc. At the other end, McDyess (hey, maybe we should pay some attention to that guy, Doc) gets hit on a backdoor layup.
Under 6, and Rivers has actually made a substitution: PJ Brown. Nice choice, Doc. Actually have to agree with this one. Who hijacked Doc Rivers’ brain?
McDyess (hey, there’s that guy again) pulls down an offensive rebound at 4:23, goes up, gets partially blocked and pushes the ball out of bounds, but the refs give it back to Detroit. At times like this I secretly (ok, not so secretly) wish Doc would finally stand up for his team and get a T (the idea being, with one T he’s only one more T away from ejection and someone with a brain taking charge of the team). Aw, who am I kidding? Doc never gets T’s. He’d rather stand on the sidelines and make that I’m-about-to-cry face than stick up for his players.
So, with the Celtics getting overwhelmed 16-6, maybe it’s time to mix it up — change the face and the tone by injecting someone like Sam I Am to lend savvy or Loeon Powe for toughness or Glen Davis for energy. Naw, Doc likes it just the way it is. We’ll keep playing this hand.
Hey, here’s a thought while Pierce shoots free throws. Let’s whine to the refs instead of coaching the team. Way to go, Doc.
Whoa, wait — Doc just inserted Cassell. Is Doc channelling me? Maybe I’d better blog every game. Worse yet: What is Doc does everything I suggest, and the team loses anyway. Is Doc reading my blog? Hey, is that how he coaches? Does he sit on the bench with a laptop looking for ideas (since he has none) from bloggers? That might finally explain his year’s worth of coaching, or should we call it bloaching?
OK, 2:31 in the quarter, we get a nice shot of Leon Powe sitting on the bench in between two Celtics fouls. Nah, don’t put him in, Doc. Leave Garnett out there to be outplayed by McDyess.
2:15 and McDyess draws a foul from PJ Brown right after Garnett gets a would-be dunk blocked by Jason Maxiell (who?). Great time to sub a fresh frontcourt power player, unless your name’s Doc Rivers. Instead, Doc inserts James Posey and leaves oldtimers Garnett and Brown out there to rack up minutes on old-man legs. They’re be feeling good by the fourth quarter.
1:42 — Second shocker of the night. A Glen Davis sighting.
1:20 and rookie Rodney Stuckey sticks in a jumper for the Pistons. This guy’s been playing big minutes for the Pistons all season long, and it shows. Way more minutes than Davis this year, or Powe or Rondo in their rookie years. Way to develop talent, Doc.
First quarter blissfully ends with Celtics losing only 22-17. I should feel better, given their deathly start, but I know Doc’s just getting warmed up. To be a 2007-08 Celtics fan is to wait for those glorious moments when Doc pulls one of those wholesale substitutions that leaves the likes of Perkins, Davis, Powe, Posey and House on the floor (no ball handlers or shooters, for the Doc Juniors among you) and then wonders why his team can’t run the offense or get a shot. And the best part is that he usually saves this brainstorm for a stretch when the team is struggling.
Interviewed by ESPN, Doc compliments Michelle on her dress and complains that his team is being outhustled. Gee, too bad he can’t do anything about it like insert a bunch of energetic young ballplayers to match the Pistons’ intensity. Oh, wait a minute, he can. No, wait, he can’t — he’s Doc.
26-17 on the first exchange of the second quarter, but Big Baby sticks in an offensive rebound. Like he always does. No wait, he hasn’t done that in a long time … cuz Doc hasn’t let him off the bench in about four games. The amazing thing is that he can come into a game after riding the pines for so long and actually be focused. That’s what I love about these Celtics players — when any normal human would have given up or gone postal, these guys somehow come in after a monthlong hibernation and do their best.
Rasheed blasts past KG at 8:40 for a layup. Gee, do you think KG might be tired? Nah, leave him in, Doc. Whoops, Maxiell flies in for a dunk over KG on the very next time down the court. Gee, do you think KG might be tired. Nah, leave him in, Doc.
With 8 minutes in the first half left, Detroit is leading 33-16 and still beating Boston to all the loose balls. To be fair, although I think Doc Rivers is a terrible bench coach, his big brag is that he gets teams to play for him. So I have to ask: If Doc can’t do much else but at least he gets people to play for him, why did his team take the court like it was a late-season game against the Sonics?
McDyess hits another shot at 5:36 left in the first half. Sure didn’t see that coming.
So Ray Allen hasn’t done anything all half, but Doc still has him in there, running around. Not getting shots, mind you, just running around for no good reason because that’s what the league’s best pure shooter does in a Doc Rivers offense. He runs around getting tired while getting no shots. So if you need him late in the game for a big shot, he’ll be too tired to hit it.
KG, meanwhile, forces a shot and loses it all by himself. Hey, do you think HE might be tired? Nah, he’s only played about but a minute of the game after playing a game every other night throughout the playoffs. The weird thing is, I write this and then read it and it sounds like hyperbole but it isn’t. This is really what’s going on. Only in Doc Rivers’ NBA.
3:35 — Allen misses a runner wildly. Wonder what he might have done if he’d had a few minutes rest? For that matter, you have to wonder if the Celtics be scoring more than 30 points in a half if they had one or two fresh players on the court. You have to wonder because it’ll only happen in your imagination — Doc has his starting five out there. Perkins just missed a free throw. Nah, he can’t be tired.
3:34 — Rip Hamilton, who just game back in after a prolonged rest on the bench, hits a jumper. Do you suppose there’s a connection?
With two minutes left, Allen takes his fourth shot of the game. That’s less than any other starter, including those world-class shooters Rondo and Perkins. Nice offense, Doc.
ARGH, had to get my shirts out of the dryer and hang them before they wrinkle up, and missed the last two minutes. Boston’s somehow within 4. Did Rivers get ejected? Is Thibodeaux running the team? Or is Flip Saunders’ lame offense simply too weak to take advantage of the Celtics’ miscues on offense? I have this theory that Doc and Flip cut a deal at the opening of the series and agreed to ignore suggestions from their assistants any time one of them points out something stupid the other coach is doing that might be exploited bigtime (see Doc’s no-ballhandler, no-shooters offense, above). In any case, the result is a 39-30 halftime score. The NBA: Where Mikan happens.
HALFTIME. A chance for a few observations/elaborations:
1. If this game proves nothing, it proves this Pistons team cannot and will not win a title. File them under one-time wonders. If the most they can score against this struggling Celtics team tonight is 39 in an entire half, they’re not to fare any better against teams with actual coaches like Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich (and Popovich isn’t even a great coach, but he’s not a bad one. Like some we won’t mention. At least not for another sentence or two).
2. As much as Doc makes me crazy, these players impress me more than any since the ’87 team that nearly stole a Finals from the Lakers. That was the one where McHale was playing on a broken foot, Parish was playing on two sprained ankles, DJ was diagnosed afterward with chronic fatigue, Ainge played with a bad hip and Bird was beginning to familiarize himself with a condition known as a bad back. This year, Ray Allen suffered a year of serial misuse without even once complaining (can you see Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd or Vince Carter going even a month and sucking it up like Ray? Eddie House, after a lifetime of DNPs, responded when called like he’d bet his salary on the Celtics winning. Glen Davis and Leon Powe, no matter how many games Rivers leaves them on the bench, never stop hustling. True, Sam I am spent his four straight DNPS (why did they get him again?) lying on his back staring at the rafters, but he’s got a bad back. Or maybe, since he has coaching aspirations for his post-playing days, he’s doing his damndest to tune out anything that comes out of Doc’s mouth. Sam’s no dummy.
Oops, McDyess just hustled to go to the line at the 10:41 mark of the third quarter. Hit both FTs, too. Hey, Doc, maybe you should mention that in the next timeout. Nah….
Whoops, McDyess hits another at 9:09. That’s 6 of 9 for the game. Mark Jackson just said “you can’t give him open shots.” Hey, Mark, I know that Knicks coaching gig didn’t pan out, but how about the Celtics? Like, right now? Like early into the third quarter of tonight’s game? Pretty please?
Meanwhile, the Pistons have bolted out to a hot start to the second half against “the team that likes to play for Doc.” Doc might not be able to coach his way out of a paper bag, but at least he fires up his teams, right. Ummm….
8:29, Ray misses from the top of the key. Wonder how he’d do if he’d shot more than once every six minutes?
Pierce throws across-court to that all-league shooter Rajon Rondo, who bounes it off the floor to the Pistons. Nice offense, Doc. After a Pistons hoop, Allen drives and passes out to — yes — Rondo, for a brick. In Doc’s offense, the best shooters get plenty of looks.
Pierce drives at the 6:48 mark and dishes to — yes — Rondo, who dribbles around and around and then throws up a brick. Nice offense, Doc. So here’s the question: Are the Celtics executing a really stupid game plan by Doc, or has Doc simply lost all control of the team? Either answer warrants Doc’s dismissal, and yet I’ll bet any money the Celtics extend him this summer.
Ray goes up at 5:56 and tries to pass off to — yes — Rondo, but gets hit and goes to the line before Rondo can miss the shot. Do you suppose Rondo has dirty pictures of all his teammates, with dates and times they were taken? Or is this the offense Doc wants? Or has Doc lost total control of his team? Oh wait, I just asked that a minute ago. In all fairness, it’s something you could ask all game long.
After Garnett forces up a bad shot, McDyess (who?) hits another at teh 4:28 mark. Now, to be fair, someone might make the argument, you can’t blame Doc for a player who makes a bad decision. And I’ll buy that, to a point. But when the player makes bad decision after bad decision, and Doc doesn’t sit him down and point out a better option, then send him back in with a better mindset, who’s fault is that?
3:52 left in the third quarter, and Eddie House and Leon Powe might as well be dead. That’s OK, though. Maybe the longer I watch KG move a step slow and a step late, I’ll start to like it.
At 3:00, KG misses a jumper from the top of the key. Overlooking for a moment the fact that you have your seven-footer the farthest from the basket of all your players (nice offense, Doc), let me say this: I have nothing but sympathy for Garnett. This is a guy who gets beaten up every year when his team falls short, and yet never do you see any of the so-called pundits acknowledging that his coaches ride him so long and so hard that he winds up playing winded half the game? Out in LA, if Phil Jackson had KG he’s sit him for periodic stretches, regardless of what happens on the floor (Doc, can you spell panic?), and when he would be on the floor he’d have the energy to follow-through. And everyone would say what a great player he is. Tell you what, folks: KG is a great player. Like Pierce, like Allen, like a handful of others. But they’re all wasted by Doc. It’s a crime. If you love basketball, you have to cry at what Doc Rivers does as a coach.
At 1:50, Theo Ratliff just drew a foul on a hideous offensive move. It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than this. Unless, of course, you’re Doc Rivers. Stay tuned. There’s a whole quarter left.
Pierce misses a FT as the quarter winds down. Hey, Doc, do you think it has anything to do with him playing more minutes than anyone else on the court? Naw, why would you think that? You never thought stuff like that when the Celtics were up by literally 25 points over the Hawks and Cavaliers and you kept your top players on the court when you could have been giving confidence to your bench players.
McDyess scores with 16 seconds left, for 21 for the game. Buzzer. During the between-quarters break, would you say anything to your players about the sole guy carrying the other team? Doesn’t matter. You’re not the coach, and you can bet the future of the franchise that Rivers won’t. Instead, he’ll just tell the guys to play hard and play with energy, and then stick the same tired players on the floor while sitting an incredibly rested bench. Hell, if the Lakers had Powe, he’d be getting Rony Turiaf’s minutes (and, yes, Doc, playing big minutes every game). But in the weird world of Doc Rivers, he’ll catch nothing but splinters.
At the 11:27 mark, the guard Doc sat for four straight games just blocked a crucial shot on the break, giving the Celtics a four-point turnaround. See what I mean? With the way Rivers has played him, Sam could just quit, but he’s still competing. This is a group of players who are greater than the sum of their coach.
Ray Allen scores on a tough drive with 8:30. Again, why I love these guys. Doc gives them an offense the couldn’t spring Wilt Chamberlain loose for a hoop, and still they find a way. Not tonight, though — Doc’s in full screw-the-bench mode. The long minutes of the starters will leave them too tired for the final push, and it’ll be too late to go to the bench. Nice job, Doc. Just watch the final five minutes. Not the next few, the final five: Boston will be tired and their shots will miss, they’ll get outhustled for rebounds, they’ll get beaten to the hoop. Not because the players aren’t talented or aren’t playing their hearts about, but because Doc wasted their energy all game long when he could have run in hungry, fresh players who would have matched the Pistons’ intensity and kept Boston on even footing.
At the commercial break the pundits are talking about Maxiell’s great effort. Guess what? The guy has played 15 minutes. Does you suppose that has anything to do with his energy, Doc? Pierce has played 33, Garnett 31. More than anyone else in the game. Hey, Doc, how are you at math? Is it too late to require that NBA coaches pass the WASL?
Pistons go up by 9 at 6:20 left in the game and, to my mild surprise, Doc again calls a time out. I’m assuming it’s Doc. But I’d put money down that Thibodeaux tugged his shirtsleeve.
The crime is that this is a winnable game. The Pistons are ripe. But not with Doc at the helm. The players can win despite Doc is they run up a lead, but they can’t come from behind. Because coming from behind takes energy and good decisions from the bench. Not a Celtics strong suit this year. Or for, oh, five years now. Funny how that matches with Doc’s tenure.
With both teams in the penalty, Hamilton goes to the hoop and draws the foul at 5:43. And how much do you wanna bet it never occurred to Doc to tell anyone during the timeout to go to the hoop?
With 2:53 left, Billups (well-rested after a long stint on the bench), nails a 3 over Boston’s tired lineup to give the Pistons a 10-point lead and the game. Such a surprise.
Oh, wait, there’s almost three minutes left, plenty of time to make up 10 points with some smart coaching. No, wait, Doc is their coach. Looks like we’re tied 2-2 and heading back to Boston for game 5.
The final insult. The game out of reach, Rivers sends in House and Powe (and Davis) in for the final 30 seconds. “I wouldn’t let you near the court when there was a chance of saving it, but I’ll send you out there for an utterly meaningless handful of seconds.” No, Doc didn’t actually say that. But you know that’s what the players heard. That’s what anyone watching the game heard.