BOSTON — Assistant coach Armond Hill has observed what he
calls a “coaching instinct” in Rajon Rondo, but whenever one of the
Celtics coaches raises the notion of coaching at some point in the young point guard’s future, Rondo brushes it aside.
Coaching may not be attractive to Rondo as a profession, but
there is little doubt he loves to dabble with the whiteboard. Celtics coach Doc
Rivers has taken to allowing Rondo to draw up plays in practice, and with
Rivers sitting out the second half of Tuesday’s preseason game against the
Brooklyn Nets as a training exercise, Rondo stepped up with what was almost the
“I’ve got a play! I’ve got a play!” Rondo called
out in the huddle, according to Hill, who shared head coaching duties with
fellow assistant Mike Longabardi for the final 24 minutes of action.
With 3.6 seconds remaining and Boston trailing by one point,
Rondo, Hill and Longabardi jotted down a play that freed rookie Micah Downs for
an inbounds lob from Courtney Lee. The pass, catch and finish were nearly just
as perfect as they had drawn it up. Downs certainly appeared to get fouled as
he caught the pass and attempted a layup in one motion, but the officials put
away their whistles and the Nets handed the Celtics a 97-96 loss.
No need to extend an exhibition game longer than necessary.
The point was made. A lineup of reserves from deep on the bench and other
players battling for roster spots coughed up a 10-point lead, but the Celtics
demonstrated that they could still run their system and even come up with a
well-executed play in the event Rivers is incapacitated.
“We got what we wanted,” Rondo said. “I can’t
really comment [on the foul]. I think you get fined for saying those types of
things as a coach. The guys did a great job of executing out of the timeout and
it just didn’t come up.”
Rivers joked during his media availability prior to the game
that he was leaving at 9 p.m. to watch the presidential debate — at least,
everybody figured it was a joke. Hill insisted afterward that Rivers did watch
the game, not the debate, and that Rivers offered a quick assessment before
Hill addressed reporters from the seat his boss normally occupies after games.
“As far as at the end, I put all the guys in and I
didn’t have any point guards in,” Hill said. “But once I explained
that Courtney was cramping up a little bit, he understood. We still had chances
and I thought we shot quick, too quick, when we had a seven- and eight-point
lead. But it’s all a learning experience.”
Rondo’s play-calling and Rivers’ absence overshadowed a
stellar preseason performance by Paul Pierce. The 35-year-old forward was in
midseason form, scoring 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting and hitting six of
eight 3-point attempts. It was a far cry from the old-looking man who hobbled
into last year’s lockout-shortened season with a bruised heel or the one who
limped to the finish with a sprained MCL.
Scoring loads of points is nothing new to Pierce, though,
who has put forth similar efforts in games that actually mattered. What was new
is that the Celtics can now feel confident in the huddle at the end of a game,
even if Rivers is not present.
“At the same time we’re in training camp, our coaches
are in training camp,” Jared Sullinger said. “Just in case Doc loses
his mind one time, coach Hill has to be able to step in and run the show, and I
thought he did a tremendous job of doing that.”
Or, if even that fails, the Celtics could also just turn
over control to Rondo.