He isn’t some master whiz with X’s and O’s, and he’s not the new coach on the block looking to make a name for himself.
But he is exactly what the Boston Celtics needed.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has proven to be the valuable piece that Boston has needed to ensure that the Celtics’ “Big Three” didn’t go out on a down note.
After Christmas, as Boston struggled to a 27-27 record and losing seven of 10 games down the stretch heading in to the playoffs, the basketball world had conceded that the window had closed for Boston and that the “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett was over the hill and that their NBA talents were now no longer sufficient to compete for a title.
In many ways, those fears and concerns were valid, as Boston could never maintain any consistency, and home losses to teams such as the New Jersey Nets had the Celtics closer resembling the 2007 debacle rather than the 2008 championship team.
Rivers is not the greatest coach to walk the planet. He’s not the coach that can come in and totally alter a franchise that is down and is filled with young, developing players.
If you want proof of that, just look at his track record with the Celtics prior to the 2008 season.
It was a team filled with talented, young players such as Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, and others like them.
But, once he was equipped with a veteran team, the wins for the Celtics began piling up and the Celtics hung championship banner number 17 from the rafters of the TD Bank Garden.
Looking back, Rivers was a mere side note on the 2008 squad, as the common belief was that anyone with a basic fundamental understanding of the game of basketball would be able to win with a roster that featured three future Hall of Famers.
However, as Boston’s “Big Three” aged and injuries caught up to the them, it was Rivers who proved to be arguably the most important piece for Boston as the team looks to grab its second national title in three years.
Unlike many coaches in professional sports, Rivers has a firm understanding and appreciation for all 15 of his players, and he not only understands how they all fit into his system, but he also understands how each and every one of them functions.
Rivers understood as the Celtics struggled through a dismal second half of the season that, as long as his team was healthy, he could develop a game plan that his starting five would execute, and he knew that his starting five, when healthy could matchup with any team in the league.
While the rest of the world doubted, Rivers stayed the course, believing that, at some point, all of the regular season struggles were going to pay off and that the Celtics had what it took to make noise come playoff time.
“I thought it was the right plan,” Rivers said. “But it didn’t look right because we were losing. But guys were resting and conditioning, and I thought that was the only chance we had.”
Rivers knew what he had, and he knew what needed to be done to extract the best out of his squad.
According to Allen, even when the superstar laden Celtics resisted the idea of fewer minutes and reduced roles, all in the name of getting healthy, Rivers insisted that the team would stay the course and would not falter.
“As players, we kind of fight a little bit,” Allen said. “We need to do this, we need to do that. Doc would come in to the locker room and say we’re not changing anything. He stuck to the script the whole time.”
Even though Boston’s stars wanted to play and they wanted to experience the immediate success on the court that teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic were experiencing, Rivers knew that by forgoing playoff positioning and regular season wins for health and fresh legs, his team would be far better equipped to compete come playoff time.
In many situations, NBA players would revolt, fight back, and reject their coach if he suggested limited roles, especially of the team was losing like the Celtics were down the stretch.
But Doc Rivers is a master motivator, and even when there seems to be nothing left, he knows how to pull every last bit from his players, a talent that only a handful of NBA coaches have.
His steady hand, his motivating speeches, and his thorough understanding of the players on his team enabled Rivers to put the Celtics in a situation to achieve something that most NBA fans never thought possible.
Following the Celtics’ Game Six win over Orlando that propelled the Celtics to their 21st NBA Finals appearance, Rivers said that, as a unit, his starting five had never lost a playoff series, and he knew that, when healthy, he had one of, if not the, best team in the league.
While he is not the best coach patrolling an NBA sideline, Rivers is one of the best coaches in the league.
Had it not been for Rivers, Boston would not be where it is today.
Just maybe, as the Celtics prepare to play for their league-leading 18th NBA title, Rivers is the most important piece Boston has.