Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Newspaper Game: Personnel announcement, the editing process

Subject: Roster move

We’re pleased to announce that Larry L. will do what we’ve told him to do and begin applying his considerable storytelling talents to the news pages this fall as he picks up where Kits M. is about to leave off. In transitioning from sports, Larry will provide much-needed relief for our understaffed, overworked news team.

We’ve told asked Larry it was either take our offer or have no medical insurance to fall back on the next time he has a heart attack to write about interesting local characters, to introduce us to people behind the news of the day, to inspire us, and to shine a light on areas of our community that don’t otherwise get covered despite years and years of brainstorming sessions, employee surveys and soul-searching meetings. We trust he’ll slip into an ever-deepening depression and eventually retire or take his own life find his own approach to a beat like that.  Either way, we’ll have cleared his compensation package from our payroll.

Larry will cover the Sounders M’s through the end of their (baseball) season and then bend over and take his medicine begin the transition to news. That also gives us time to figure out the new sports coverage plan, though sports has abundant resources and should be able to solve the problem for themselves.
Please join us in congratulating Larry on groveling before management and doing whatever is necessary to keep his job at The News Tribune this new assignment.

The Editors

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Favre a J-E-T (reportedly)

There are reports! Finally, reports!

It’s allegedly official. Reports are coming in. Stuart Scott says so. ESPN just ran a full screen graphic saying “Breaking News!”

Write it on your calender. This is the moment: Wednesday August 6, 2008, 11:50 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. It is being reported by some unnamed, unknown, unidentified, anonymous source that Brett Favre is reportedly headed to the New York Football Jets!

According to ESPN’s Neil Everett, “It’s the news that a nation has been waiting for – a sports nation!”

Really? Where the fuck is the damn sports nation and why am I somehow not affiliated. ‘Cause honestly Holmes, I don’t give a flying fuck where the stupid prima donna bitch is going. And, if I did, I would want a little more than a report. More than innuendo. I’d want fucking fact, yo. So get off the damn TV, go talk to some motherfuckers involved, and come back when you know a little more than an alleged report from FOX news. …

Oh wait: 12:03 a.m. EDT. Neil Everett interrupts his speculative discussion with Chris Carter (after Mark Schlereth weighed in on the news and before Rachel Nichols would sum up how she missed the damn story) to say that, “ESPN’s Michael Smith has confirmed that this trade will go through!”

Now it’s official! No more speculation. No more alleging. Just the true and spectacular conclusion of the Greatest Story Ever Told: The soap operalike selfishness of a 38-year-old quarterback, his ridiculous suitors and a swarm of media foaming at the mouth for both sides every move!

And now it’s done, allegedly, officially and somewhat confirmed. So what’s left? Well, what else but blow out the whole damn show talking to everybody they can think of who has no relation to anybody involved in the trade and absolutely no knowledge of how it occurred! Sweet! If you got their number boys, give ’em a call, yo: Sal Palantonio, Trent Dilfer, Merril Hoge, Trey Wingo, Chris Mortensen …

Wait! Chris Mortensen does the unthinkable. He says he talked to people involved and has uncovered that the deal is not officially official. “It still could be held up,” he says.

Apparently Favre’s not happy (yet again). The great No. 4 apparently wanted to go to Tampa Bay and the Packers did him yet another disservice by trading him to New York! He could still say no! He could sit out! He could RETIRE!!!

If there is a God up there somewhere. Hear me now please. Tell me what I can do to make amends. Tell me what I can do to make this happen! Almighty overseer of life, please, please let the narcissistic son of a bitch retire. Let him cry. Let him weep. Let him blame everyone on Earth for not loving him enough to want him back. Let him crawl back in his Mississippi hole forever!

But no. No. Of course we’re all not that lucky, 12:45 a.m. EDT: the Packers release a statement:

“Brett has had a long and storied career in Green Bay, and the Packers owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for everything he accomplished on the field and for the impact he made in the state. It is with some sadness that we make this announcement, but also with the desire for certainty that will allow us to move the team and organization forward in the most positive way possible.

“We respect Brett’s decision that he could no longer remain here as a Packer. But there were certain things we were not willing to do because they were not in the best interest of the team. We were not going to release him nor trade him to a team within the division. When Brett ultimately decided that he still wanted to play football, but not in Green Bay, we told him that we would work to find the best solution for all parties involved. We wish Brett and his family well.

“We appreciate the tremendous passion shown by our fans. We, like them, always will see Brett Favre as a Green Bay Packer and our respect for him never will change. Moving forward, we are dedicated to delivering a successful 2008 season for all Packers fans.”

Well that’s just swell. I’m sure Brett and your fans are just as happy as I am that the motherfucking motherfucker is still in the league and on his way to New York. Sweet.

But wait. What’s ESPN going to do now? How are they gonna react to this historic development? Any more talking heads to roll out of the closet? Oh wait, they found the reel of Top Ten plays in Favre’s career that they put together when he cried like a bitch and retired (And every year for the last five in the offseason when he cried like a bitch at the mere thought of retirement)! Hey wait, they also found a retrospective of the All-Time Passing Leader’s career, (also cobbled together five months ago when the arrogant fuck quit). Dust ’em off! Queue ’em up! Roll ’em! The gunslinger is back! This stuff is gold all over again baby!

And, hey, after that, Linda Cohn and Steve Levy just arrived, get ’em on stage, ask ’em what they think. Who else you got laying around? Anybody?

Football season 2008: Welcome to the beginning – allegedly!

Celts Winning Despite Rivers, Not Because of Him

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that my hometown Celtics are closing in on the franchise’s 17th championship. Better yet, they’ve doing it at the expense of the hated Lakers and probably the most despicable player in the game today, not to mention a coach tied with Red Auerbach for most championships.

Those are all good things.

The only problem is the campaign to give Boston coach Doc Rivers so much of the credit. His team is winning the Finals, the logic goes, so he must be a great coach. Let’s not forget, though, that Al Attles once coached the Golden State Warriors to a title and Rudy Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to two titles, and I don’t see anyone recommending them for the Hall of Fame. For that matter, LA won its first Showtime championship under the guidance of Paul Westhead, who has since been ridiculed as an NBA coach. So before everyone crowns Rivers as Coach of the Century, let’s get a few things straight:

Rivers had little or nothing to do with what makes this team so powerful. 

When contrasting this Boston team against the recent entries that lost so many games and competed so fiercely in the Greg Oden lottery less than a year ago, coached by that same Doc Rivers, observers cite three primary reasons for the turnaround:

1. The arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce to form a modern-day Big Three (and, unfortunately, launch the most over-used phrase in recent memory when describing the top three players of almost every team in the NBA). Danny Ainge drafted and traded for the multitude of players used to bring these stars aboard, and Rivers’ only contribution was to coach his team to such consistently poor records that Boston got plenty of good draft picks.

2. The addition of assistant coach Tom Thibodeaux to correct the team’s most glaring deficiency under Rivers: A porous, pathetic defense against which rival players padded their stats. There’s plenty of credit to spread here, as Garnett brought a manic dedication to defense and hustle, and Pierce and Allen ramped up their defensive games to the point where their coverage of Kobe Bryant draws praise instead of snickers.

3. The determination of Pierce, Garnett and Allen to set aside their personal goals and glory in favor of doing whatever it takes to win a championship. Rivers might claim some minor credit here, at least for fostering a locker room that emphasized teamwork and sacrifice, but let’s face it: the Big Three arrived ready to do what it took, regardless of who was coach. If they hadn’t brought that mindset, Rivers wasn’t likely to have changed it any more than he was able to transform former Celtics like Mark Blount, Ricky Davis and Gerald Green into selfless players. In case anyone forgot, nobody ever accused those Rivers teams of selflessness.

Rather than exploit the deep talent on his bench, Rivers has squandered and crippled it. 

James Posey, Eddie House, PJ Brown, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and Sam Cassell would be prime contributors on any NBA team. But Rivers, after mining them for valuable contributions all season long, had almost all of them racking up more DNPs than points, rebounds or loose balls. Except for Posey and Brown, Boston’s bench players have only broken their sweat during warmups and a few brief appearances when someone was in foul trouble. Most recently, Rivers has been described as some sort of mastermind for inserting Leon Powe in Game 2 and Eddie House in Game 4.

There are two problems with this fuzzy logic:

1. If it made so much sense to play Powe and House (and it does, as each has demonstrated so dramatically), then why did Rivers bury them on the bench for three prior playoff series and most of the Finals so far? When Ray Allen was colder than Mount Rainier throughout the first three series, why no House? When the Celtics were being mauled on the boards by Atlanta’s young leapers, why no Powe? If Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo hadn’t gotten injured against Los Angeles, Powe and House would have stayed exactly where Rivers has long wanted them: firmly riveted to the Boston bench. So much for the coach’s so-called insight.

2. Even in Game 2, when Powe was rammed in 21 points as the Celtics exploded for a 24-point lead over the Lakers, Rivers held his minutes to 15. while the lead was still in the 20s and showing no sign of fading, Rivers took Powe out in favor of Garnett, who hadn’t played particularly well and had already racked up more minutes and needed rest more than anyone. Instead of weaving younger, fresher players into the lineup and keeping Boston’s game at high rev, Rivers kepts his starters out there as LA’s fresher players began to find it easier and easier to get open for jumpers or drive to the hoop. The lead shrunk all the way to two points before Pierce saved the day with some late-game heroics.

3. Through the first three rounds, Boston never went three nights without a game — and they were tough games, for the most part. The first two series went to tense seventh games, and the third went six. And through this entire stretch, even though his bench had provided critical defense, scoring and rebounding all season long, Rivers turned his back on it and rode his starters into the ground playing heavy minutes in a game every other night. This went on for more than three straight weeks. And people wonder why Boston looked so ragged in game after game.

The one aspect of the game Rivers controls, the offense, is one of the NBA’s worst. 

As much as I thirst for Boston victories, they can be painful to watch. Rivers’ offense resembles nothing so much as a pickup game between strangers. You know, those chaotic affairs where no one knows anyone else and everyone passes the ball without any idea of who can shoot jumpers and who needs to post up; centers wind up shooting from the perimeter while guards collide with each other in the post. Which is pretty much how Rivers’ offense works. Watch in most games and you’ll see Ray Allen forgotten on the far side of the court, well away from the ball or any perimeter scoring opportunities. Count how many times Garnett, the Celtics’ tallest player, takes 20-footers  jumpers from the top of the key rather than post up where he can dominate the paint and stay in position for offensive rebounds. It’s no accident Ray Allen hauled down nine rebounds in Thursday’s clutch game; he spends more time down low than Boston’s big men. Count how many times Pierce, the man through whom the offense should flow, touches the ball; if Larry Bird went without touching the ball for as many long stretches as Pierce does, his hallowed 80s teams wouldn’t have made the playoffs much less won them. Many nights end with Perkins and Rondo taking more shots than two of the Big Three; check out the box scores, at least from the games before they got injured, and you’ll see what I mean.

So the next time you hear someone talk about Rivers’ great coaching, remember that the only thing really working for Boston is at the defensive end, where Thibodeaux calls the shots. When they talk about Rivers guiding this year’s Celtics to a championship, remember that he’s the same coach who blew a playoff series his Orlando team was leading 3-1 and whose prior Celtics teams were league patsies.

These Celtics are on their way to a title despite Doc Rivers, not because of him. If Rivers had any conscience at all, he’d be giving half of his hefty pay check each week to Thibodeaux, without whom the Celtics probably wouldn’t have made it out of the first round.

  

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).

 

Good vs. Evil, or Celtics vs. Lakers 2008

Before I get started, you need to know I grew up in Massachusetts and came of basketball age in the lunchpail Havlicek-Cowens-Silas era. The team that shaped my basketball brain wasn’t pretty. John Havlicek, the highest-scoring Celtic ever, moved like a knock-kneed geek who should have been working at Microsoft.  The only time Dave Cowens didn’t look like he was in the middle of a barroom brawl was when he was sitting on the bench in foul trouble. Paul Silas not only had no jump shot, his set shot looked like the Statue of Liberty. Jo Jo White was a fine shooter who looked like he was fighting off an epileptic fit each time the ball left his fingers. And Don Chaney … well, let’s just say there’s a reason his nickname was “Duck” (no offense, Oregon fans).

Why is this important? Because this was a team short on flash and long on winning. Nothing came easy to them, and yet in two of three years they won titles by fighting their way past the league-darling Knicks (back in the day long since removed when New York boasted talented, selfless players and smart coaches), the domineering Bucks with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime and Oscar Robertson filling in the spaces (the NBA might have chosen Jerry West to be The Logo, but the Big 0 should have been). In other words, this was a working-class team who mowed down more flamboyant opponents. While Oscar was rightly dubbed “poetry in motion,” it was brutish Dave Cowens who dove a dozen feet across the parquet to beat him to a crucial possession in 1974’s title game.

Which brings us to 2008 — and an irresistible duel for a staggering number of reasons:

* No teams have gone head-to-head for more championships in the history of the NBA than the Celtics and Lakers. From West and Baylor vs. Russell and Cousy to Bird vs. Magic, these franchises were born to duel.

* The Bird-Magic decade known as the 1980s spilt fans across the country into one of two camps. No one can watch a Boston-LA series without hating at least one of the teams. Even fans who hate both inevitably hate one more than the other.

* Boston, more than any other team save the fleeting phenomenon known as the early-70s Knicks, is the poster franchise for unselfish, team-oriented sacrifice. LA, in turn, is known primarily for individual achievement at the cost of success — see West, Baylor, Chamberlain, Bryant (more about him in a minute) and glitz (see Dyan Carroll, Showtime, Jack Nicholson, balloons in rafters).

* This year’s Celtics squad only adds to the team’s persona. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen spent most of their careers excelling on teams that sometimes stunk and always came up short. Joined on the Celtics, they have put their individual goals aside to the point they’ve actually drawn criticism for passing too much. Throughout the regular season, you see see the team’s stars rooting as hard or harder for its bench players as the bench for the starters. This year’s Lakers, meanwhile, are led by a player widely agreed to have driven off the league’s best big man and its smartest coach several years ago so that he could hog the spotlight. He’s spent his career attacking his teammates (when Shaq was injured in 2002, he blamed the ensuing string on losses on everyone but himself, and last summer he lobbied for the team to trade Andrew Bynum, a player now viewed as one of the most coveted centers in the league) and working harder to show them up than help them succeed (witness his quitting at  halftime against the Suns in 2006, refusing to shoot in the second half of a seventh and deciding playoff game that eliminated his team). This year Kobe padded his resume by ripping his team in the pre-season and insisting on a trade, then sleep-walking through the early season as the Lakers racked up losses until Memphis inexplicably handed them Pau Gasol for a few draft picks and a wad of used chewing gum. If you think I’ve forgotten to mention Kobe’s rape charges a few years back, well, they were dropped before the case went to trial and anyway Kobe made up to his wife for his night of sex/assault/whatever with another woman by buying her a ring the size of a basketball. Similarly, he made up to his teammates by buying them dinners this year, so you can see what a warm guy he is.

* Some times the bad guy is the bad guy more for who he isn’t than who he is. Sure, Phil Jackson is a consummate whiner and back stabber (he famously wrote Kobe off as impossible to coach before returning to the Lakers and suddenly declaring Kobe just fine after all), but he’s really not that bad a guy. But he did luck into a career coaching the best players in the league (see Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant) and ringing up easy championships in a watered-down era (let’s face it, the likes of John Starks’ Knicks, Rick Smits’ Pacers and Karl Malone’s Jazz were more pretenders than contenders. Nevertheless his nine titles (six with Jordan and three with O’Neal and Bryant) tie him with the redoubtable Red Auerbach for most by a coach, giving Boston fans and traditionalists everywhere extra incentive to want to see Jackson’s Lakers fall short of giving Jackson more rings than Red.

* Which brings us to Jackson’s opposite number. No drama is complete without conflict, whether in the form of a key injury, traitor, Achilles heel, you name it. In this case the Celtics’ primary stumbling block is their coach, a man who had never won a playoff series until he finally wound up this year with so much talent and heart on his team that the players have been able to overcome his imbecilic coaching. But you can’t count Doc Rivers out, because he works hard. Earlier today I chuckled while reading a series preview that touted Boston bench players like Leon Powe and Glen Davis. Who? Sure, these guys are good, damn good in fact. They powered Boston to innumerable wins throughout the season, and any team in the league would covet them.  But they play (or sit) for Rivers, who won’t even let them off the bench in the playoffs. Although each has enjoyed a momentary cameo here and there, they’ve both gone several games without a single minute of playing time while Rivers has run his starters into the ground, keeping them on the court even when the team was up by 20 and 30 points in playoff blowouts with scant minutes to play.

Finally, we have a morality play: Good vs. Evil. For no fan who outwardly cheers Kobe’s skills can privately overlook his lack of character. No fan who believes in underdogs can root for a coach whose career was built on lucking into the most talented lineups in the league and who never had to rebuild or coach a dying team. Such a matchup isn’t unprecedented. In 1977, Bill Walton’s notoriously unselfish Blazers upended perhaps the most egotistical team ever assembled, the Sixers of Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free and — you can look it up — Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, who halfway into the series announced he should be starting ahead of teammate Steve Mix because “I can beat his face in at any phase of the game.” Of course, nothing in Bryant’s mediocre career, which ended up in Europe, backed up his ridiculous claim. Indeed Jellybean will forever be known not for his limited skills but for his progeny: a son named Kobe whose career has proven him every bit as disloyal to his teammates as his father was to his.

More recently, the “play the right way” Pistons upset the massively dysfunctional Lakers for the title in 2004, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls put an end to the “Bad Boys” Pistons, a team that set basketball back light years, in the early 90s. Of course, good doesn’t always win out over evil. Those same Pistons won back-to-back titles before Chicago put the stake through their heart, but that’s what keeps you at the edge of your seat for series like these: You know who you want to win, but nothing’s certain until the final buzzer sounds and the balloons fall from the ceiling. Or, as in the case of the 69 Lakers that Russell beat in Lalaland for one final championship in his last year, the balloons don’t fall from the ceiling.

So the stage is set for David Stern’s ultimate wet dream: Celtics vs. Lakers. Pull up a chair and a tub of popcorn. And pour a stiff drink.

 

Why, and How, Boston Will Lose Game 6

After I did a live blog of Doc Rivers’ ineptitude in the Celtics’ Game 4 loss to the Pistons, I sat back and agonized through the team’s Game 5 victory at my leisure. Live blogging for 48 minutes was no joy, even if it did allow me to vent my misery at having to watch a supremely talented Celtics team struggle under the burden of Rivers’ so-called offense that resembles nothing so much as a pickup game at the Y. I’ve been goaded in blogging again, however, and have agreed to blog how and why the Celtics will lose Game 6 in Detroit. So here goes. Here’s why, and how, my beloved hometown team will lose:

1. For 24 days, or nearly a month, the Celtics have been playing games every two nights. Not routine regular season games but playoff games packed with intensity and stress. Worse yet, throughout this stretch Rivers has abandoned the team’s highly successful regular season rotation. For months, forwards Leon Powe and Glen Davis had come off the bench to provide a lethal sucker punch much like Dennis Rodman and John Salley did early in their careers for the Pistons. Eddie House had come off the bench to rain in backbreaking 3-pointers, and more recently Sam Cassell had arrived to provide clutch shooting. Forget that. Powe and Davis have rung up mostly DNPs and, when they did play, it was only for scant minutes at a time because a starter was in foul trouble. House got to play briefly when Rondo, Allen and Cassell were playing so badly that Rivers had no choice. The only bench players to contribute significant minutes have been James Posey and 38-year-old PJ Brown. Which means the Celtics’ starters are playing on tired legs. Contrast that to the Pistons, who have given big minutes to rookie guard Rodney Stuckey, veteran Lindsey Hunter and forward Jason Maxiell. The Pistons, facing elimination, will have more energy and stamina. Count on Rivers to ignore his bench once gain unless he runs out of options, which guarantees two things: not only will Boston’s starters be tired down the stretch, anyone who comes off the bench knows his coach has played him in desperation, not because he has confidence in him. Anyone who’s ever played sports at any level knows what that sort of thing does to a player’s esteem, confidence and ability to produce. Never mind the fact that you haven’t played a minute in several games or with your teammates. Advantage, Detroit.

2. When the Celtics are able to stifle their opponents by playing assistant coach Tom Thibideaux’s overwhelming brand of defense, they score effectively in transition and semi-transition. But when they have to set up and play Rivers’ predictable halfcourt offense, they die. There’s no movement, and the picks and rolls on which Rivers insists bunches up the Celtics and makes it easy for Detroit to help and double team. Look for lots of intercepted passes, steals and easy Pistons hoops in transition. Advantage Detroit.

3. Rivers is one of the weaker bench coaches in the history of the NBA. One of the reasons his teams look worse as series go on is his inability to adjust to the other team’s defenses. Once a team has played Boston once or twice and adjusts to stymie its offense, Rivers’ players are stuck trying to execute a game plan its opponents know as well as its own. Advantage, Detroit.

4. Rivers’ worst instincts betray him every three or four games, when he realizes the need to spell his starters but does it in classic Rivers style — that is, instead of working bench players in among the starters as anyone intelligent would do, he pulls his starters and fields crazy lineups like Brown, Powe , Davis or Perkins in the frontcourt and House and Posey in the backcourt. In other words, no ball handlers and no one who can create a shot for himself. When this happens, leads vanish and deficits mushroom. Until Rivers panics and puts his tired starters back on the court and buries his bench players again. Advantage, Detroit.

5. The sad part of this is that Boston’s roster is so talented and versatile that it often overcomes Rivers’ stupidity, which is what has happened in two playoff series so far and will happen again in Game 7 in this series. But in the Finals, against a coach skilled in exploiting opportunities, Rivers will be undressed by Phil Jackson and the worst of all worlds will unfold. Evil will triumph over good and the Lakers will beat the Celtics for the championship. And to make matters worse, Ainge and the Celtics will probably extend Rivers’ contract, ensuring a similar debacle next year.

Remember, you read it here first.

48 Minutes of Hell with Doc Rivers

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.