BOSTON — Those who can, do. Those who cannot, supposedly,
Doc Rivers apparently can do both, though. With their coach
nestled into a comfy chair in his office to watch the second half Tuesday night, the Celtics
built a decent lead over the Brooklyn Nets and had a chance to win with a
well-executed play on their final possession.
Rivers’ ability to diagram plays has been a well-known
quality for years, but on Tuesday, his disciples showed that some of Rivers’
expertise has worn off. Rajon Rondo helped assistant coaches Armond Hill and
Mike Longabardi draw up an inbounds play that almost generated an open layup
for Micah Downs. No matter how easy the Celtics made it look, creating the
perfect play is no simple task, Hill cautioned after the game. And nobody does
it better than Rivers.
“He’s so great at drawing up plays,” Hill said.
“I think he’s one of the masters at drawing them up and having different
counters. As a young coach — I’m old, but ‘young’ as a coach — you get to
learn different things and to watch him in a timeout, command a timeout and
then draw up the play where he has counters to the play. Then you see how he
handles players. He treats everybody as professionals.”
Rondo’s play, while nearly effective, was not entirely
unfamiliar to the 59-year-old Hill, either.
“Those are all the things that Doc is teaching
everybody,” Hill said. “Rondo’s seen that play because Doc has run
that for him. There’s all little things that guys remember and you pick
Paul Pierce has scored a lot of points. Kevin Garnett
prevents any of the players from ever letting up. Rondo leads the offense. But
make no mistake that the No. 1 reason the Celtics are consistently among the
league’s best-executing teams is Rivers, the guru of the grease pencil.
As you may have noticed, the Nets franchise had a busy
offseason. Yet Rivers feigned ignorance when asked about their changes prior to
“You mean changing their colors, building a new arena,
moving to Brooklyn and adding a lot of players? They’ve been really
quiet,” Rivers said. “No, they had a heck of a summer. They obviously
had a lot of game-planning about this summer, because they had to have two game
plans — the Dwight Howard plan and then the secondary plan, which was still a
pretty good plan.
“They’re better. They pulled it off. The new arena and
all that helped. It helped recruit players, and I think it helped keep a player.
Deron Williams, if they’d stayed in Jersey, probably wouldn’t be there. So they
had a nice summer.”
In addition to keeping Williams, the Nets traded for Joe
Johnson, retained Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, signed Brook Lopez to a
contract extension and added several veterans on affordable contracts. They
also moved to Brooklyn from East Rutherford-via-Newark and shed their patriotic
red, white and blue for stark black and white.
Like Rivers said, they were very quiet.
From the day they arrived in early September to get a
head start on training camp, the Celtics’ rookies developed an unusual bond. Jared
Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph were the incoming draft picks, but Dionte
Christmas and Jamar Smith assimilated easily into the group as well.
The latter two got their walking papers on Tuesday, though, when
the 26-year-old Christmas and 25-year-old Smith were waived hours before the
preseason home opener. Just a few days before, Christmas had elbowed into the
media throng at the Celtics’ practice facility to ask Sullinger the burning
question: Which of his fellow rookies was his favorite?
Sullinger kept a straight face and responded, in a
professional tone, that he liked all his teammates equally. But a grin broke on
his lips before he could finish speaking.
With instant camaraderie like that, Sullinger admitted it
was difficult seeing Christmas and Smith go.
“It’s very tough,” Sullinger said. “Coming in
early, playing with those guys, working out with those guys, then seeing them
dismissed, it’s kind of hard. But at the same time, it’s a business. I hope
they’re doing better for themselves. It gives them another opportunity to play
basketball and to do what they do best. Hopefully, they go to a system where
it’s about them.”
Christmas and Smith each have experience playing overseas,
and Christmas turned down several lucrative offers from international leagues
to accept the Celtics’ partially guaranteed offer. So expect Christmas and
Smith to turn up somewhere.