Grading Doc Rivers' Job as Boston Celtics Coach This Season

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Grading Doc Rivers' Job as Boston Celtics Coach This Season
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Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Boston Celtics franchise in 2007, coach Doc Rivers has been dealing with the weight of championship-or-bust expectations for the past six seasons, but with his star players showing their age and a laundry list of injuries to key contributors, the 2012-13 campaign was easily among Rivers' most trying.

On paper, this was supposed to be a team that could challenge the Miami Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy, but ACL injuries to Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa, as well as Jared Sullinger's back surgery and Kevin Garnett's ankle issues left Rivers' squad depleted and the veteran head coach scrambling to ensure his team a playoff berth.

Ultimately, Rivers' club finished just 41-40, and that was reflected in his 13th-place finish for Coach of the Year voting. That's right, Vinny Del Negro and Larry Drew both received more votes than Rivers.

Now that the Celtics season has ended in anticlimactic fashion in the first round of the playoffs, let's take a look back at the job that Rivers did pacing the sidelines in his ninth season as Boston's head coach.

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Offense

Rivers began the 2012-13 season having to rework Boston's offense without the steady hand of Ray Allen in the backcourt. Relying more heavily on Rondo than in years past, the Celtics offense struggled out of the gates as the team stumbled to a 20-23 record before the severity of Rondo's injury was revealed.

Though Rondo put up impressive numbers of 13.7 points (on 48.4 percent shooting), 5.6 rebounds and 11.1 assists in his 38 games, he dominated the ball, and players like Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and even Paul Pierce all put up relatively mundane numbers.

When Rondo went down, Rivers made some major adjustments to the rotation, shifting Avery Bradley to point guard and putting the brunt of the ball-handling duties in the hands of Pierce, who excelled in the point-forward role despite a high turnover rate.

Rivers also decided to feature Green more, ultimately moving him into the starting lineup and watching him average 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds during the postseason. Plugged in at both forward spots and used both as a spot-up shooter and a slasher, Green was a revelation for the Celtics and showed Boston that he could be a player to build around.

Though the team eventually came back down to Earth, the resurgent Celtics enjoyed a 15-6 stretch and ensured their spot in the playoffs. Rivers shifted the team's offensive identity to a more motion-based system, which relied on players moving without the basketball and passing consistently to the open man.

The team finished ranked 18th in the league on offense at 96.5 points per game. That number by itself is nothing to get excited about, but with the Celtics' deliberate pace it was enough points to earn Rivers and Boston their sixth consecutive postseason appearance.

Ultimately, the Celtics offense sputtered in the postseason against New York, as the club averaged a mere 82.3 points, last among playoff teams. Rivers curiously spent the first three games creating a Paul Pierce-on-Raymond Felton matchup that clogged Boston's offense and allowed New York to collapse in the paint.

Turnovers killed the team in the postseason, as Pierce averaged 5.3 per game, and the team gave away the ball 17.3 times per contest, an unacceptably high number.

Though Rivers found a spark in Jason Terry as a spot-up, off-the-ball shooter and in Terrence Williams as a spot-duty point guard, Boston's underachieving offense was a major reason the team found itself in an 0-3 hole before rallying for a pair of wins.

It's difficult to totally fault Rivers for Boston's offensive struggles; his Celtics have never been an offense-first team, and he was missing some key pieces. Still, averaging 82 points per game in the playoffs is not acceptable.

Grade: C+

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Defense

What kept the Celtics relevant in both the regular season and the playoffs was their renewed commitment to defense. Boston finished the year 12th in the NBA, giving up just 96.7 points per game.

When Rondo went down, the team recommitted to its defensive principles from seasons past, and both Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee saw their minutes spike in the last few months of the regular season.

Bradley and Lee are far from transcendent offensive players, but both are first-rate perimeter defenders and Bradley in particular has built up a reputation as a brutal on-ball defender.

Without a true shot-blocking threat on the roster, opposing guards were more willing to attack the basket against the Celtics. But Rivers did a good job of making sure his players rotated and communicated out on the court. Some of that, of course, has to be attributed to Kevin Garnett, but Rivers is still a solid defensive coach.

The Celtics also did a phenomenal job guarding the three-pointer, as opponents shot just 34.2 percent from beyond the arc, which was fourth best in the NBA.

Their lack of size made rebounding struggles inevitable for the 2012-13 squad, but this has been an ongoing problem for Boston.

In the playoffs, the Celts ratcheted up their defense, holding New York to 87.7 points per game and just 41.2 percent shooting from the floor. The New York Knicks, a three-point reliant team, also shot a mere 33.3 percent from behind the three-point line.

Rivers made several clever moves in guarding Carmelo Anthony, relying heavily on Brandon Bass in isolation plays and not constantly throwing double-teams at him. Anthony struggled mightily with his shot through the six games, as he shot 38.1 percent overall and a ghastly 26.5 percent on three-pointers.

The same is true for J.R. Smith, who was goaded into taking bad shots all series and averaged 15.2 points while shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three.

Though Raymond Felton repeatedly torched Bradley off the dribble, Rivers' job in getting his team ready defensively has to be praised given that he lost one of his best wing defenders in Rondo.

Grade: A-

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

 

Rotation

When the 2012-13 season began, the Celtics looked like a team that could legitimately go 10 or 11 deep. Boston had one of the best bench units in the league.

However, that turned out to be far from the case, as Boston's bench struggled to contribute consistently, and injuries forced the team to sign Terrence Williams, Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White midseason.

The underwhelming play of Lee and Terry made it so Rivers had to constantly tweak his starting lineup, shuffling between the two in the hopes of injecting some spark into the Celtics offense.

Rondo's injury only made things worse, as the team had no true backup point guard and was forced to start Bradley at the spot down the stretch.

However, Rivers finally hit upon an ideal starting lineup when he shifted Paul Pierce to the 2-guard, a position he has rarely started at in his lengthy career, and went big with Green, Bass and Garnett to man the frontcourt.

With Green starting, Boston's bench was left without much firepower, but the move gave the Celtics the best chance to win and to get off to a strong start in the early stages of games.

Having Pierce in the backcourt alongside Bradley also saved the former from having to check Anthony defensively, which allowed him to conserve energy for the tremendous burden he was forced to carry on the offensive end of the floor.

Unfortunately, Rivers received little production from the bench: He used just seven players in Game 5 and only two bench players for more than five minutes in Game 6. Terry improved as the series went on, and Rivers found value in Williams' athleticism and ball-handling, but Crawford and Lee were complete non-entities.

Doc managed to steal some quality rest for Garnett at the end of the regular season but was forced to rely on him and Pierce to play the kind of superhuman minutes they played when they were younger. Though both rose to the occasion, the workload clearly began to take its toll as the series wore on. Pierce averaged 42.5 minutes in the six games while KG averaged 35.3 due to foul trouble.

Given that Rivers was dealt somewhat of a bad hand, it is difficult to pin Boston's inconsistent rotation squarely on him. He receives a decent grade if only by virtue of making some necessary adjustments as the season progressed.

Final Grade: B

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

 

Motivation

Twice during the 2012-13 season, Doc Rivers had to rally his Celtics from what appeared to be the point of no return.

When Rondo went down and the team's playoff future was all but guaranteed, Rivers found a way to recommit his team to the principles that have made the Celtics such a dominant franchise over the past half decade.

He redefined the roles of players like Pierce and Bradley and drummed up enough Celtic pride for the team to manage a seven-game winning streak and lock up a playoff berth.

Then, with his team facing a glaring 0-3 hole after losing Game 3 in Boston, Rivers was able to push his team to a pair of playoff wins that saved the Celtics from a humiliating end to one of the most trying seasons in the franchise's recent history.

In both of these situations, a team could have easily rolled over and waited for lottery balls to turn their way and not had the fortitude to rally to make the playoffs and attempt a comeback from an 0-3 series deficit.

Rivers has always been revered as one of the game's best motivational coaches, and he proved his worth in that department during the 2012-13 campaign; he was able to light a spark in his club that kept it passionate and competitive.

This past season was not one to remember for Boston Celtic fans, but it was one that could have gone much worse with a lesser coach pacing the sidelines.

Final Grade: A-

Rivers discussing Boston's future following the Game 6 loss at TD Garden.

 

Ultimately, Rivers did as good of a job as any coach could do given the difficult circumstances he was put in. This will not be remembered as one of his all-time best coaching jobs given the team's lack of postseason success, but in many ways just the fact that people considered Boston a dark-horse threat in the playoffs is a testament to his good work.

The season may not have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, but Rivers saved it from being a complete embarrassment in the face of injuries and inconsistent play and that is enough to earn him a solid grade.

Overall Grade: B+

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