After three seasons at the helm of the C's, Rivers' record was, well, terrible. Their win total declined each season, going from 45 in 2004-05, to 33 the following year and a hard-to-stomach 24 in 2006-07. In Boston, a city that hadn't celebrated a basketball championship in 20 years, patience was wearing thin. And Rivers, who carried a less-than-sparkling 171-168 career coaching record with him, was in many fans' crosshairs.
Then, obviously, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen signed on to play with Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins developed as consistent contributors, James Posey and Eddie House signed on as clutch role players, and the Celtics rolled through a 66-16 season on the way to that elusive championship.
Since then, Rivers has become a fixture in the Boston sports landscape. Though it was fair to question how much of a role a head coach can have on a team loaded with such incredible talent, Erik Spoelstra is showing the world just how important a coach can be.
Maybe Spoelstra has the capability of being a wonderful NBA head coach. Maybe he does have the full confidence of Pat Riley, which the team's president has assured us all along. Maybe, but probably not.
It's only been nine games, but Spoelstra simply does not look like the right man for the job. His "inspirational" talks in huddles and the locker room sound like he's reading them right out of a book, and when he stands by the bench and halfheartedly argues with officials, he looks more like an actor trying to learn his role on the fly than he does an NBA head coach.
It's going to be hard for Spoelstra to command the attention of his players, if for no other reason than the fact that he never played in the NBA and his players are some of the best of all time. Right away, that's a problem.
With Rivers, that may have been the difference. Not only did Rivers last longer than a decade in the league, he was a heck of a player. No, he wasn't among the all-time greats, but he had enough experience to understood how to handle situations.
If it were any coach other than Rivers in charge of a young Rondo, it's a safe bet he wouldn't be the star he is today. If it were any other coach in charge of the '07-'08 team, maybe it wouldn't have worked as seamlessly as it did.
It is too soon to sink the Heat, but with a 5-4 record, you simply cannot brush it off as "early-season struggles." Every analyst has spouted that "it takes time to jell" and each star is adapting to his new role, but Rivers' team showed us that it shouldn't take long to get on a roll.
The 2007-08 Celtics won their first eight games … by an average of 15 points. They lost their first game on Nov. 18. They lost their fourth game on Jan. 9; the Heat lost theirs on Thursday.
Of course, you can't say that the struggles in Miami are all Spoelstra's fault and the success of the '07-'08 Celtics was all Rivers' work. Still, Spoelstra's problems down in South Beach should add at least a little shine to the championship resume of Rivers.