BOSTON — Part of Doc Rivers‘ heart will always be in Boston. Every Celtics fan knows that. What they might not know is that it looks like a bit of Rivers’ mind is still here, too.
Rivers coached the Celtics for nine years, which he calls the best of his coaching life, and while preparing to face his old team as head coach of the Clippers on Wednesday, Rivers couldn’t help but put himself in current Celtics coach Brad Stevens‘ shoes.
That’s not necessarily anything unique to the Celtics, however, as Rivers tries to look at whichever team he is watching through the eyes of its coach. Still, it was interesting to hear him talk about wondering what he would do with this year’s Celtics roster, how he would draw things up similarly or differently than Stevens, prior to the Clippers taking on the Celtics on Wednesday.
“You’re a coach, of course you do,” Rivers said. “I wonder about every team. You do. That’s what you do as a coach. … I don’t say anything. I say, ‘Wow.’ You try that, you try this, but you look at every team you prepare for and you always put yourself on the other side. I do it all the time.”
Rivers’ reveries aren’t meant to be critical of the job Stevens has done in his first year. Rivers, like almost everyone else, has been impressed with how the rookie NBA coach has handled a group of players that wasn’t expected to make much of a dent in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Celtics are in first place in the Atlantic Division and threatened Rivers’ Pacific-leading Clippers right to the end on Wednesday.
“I think [Stevens is] doing a terrific job,” Rivers said. “First of all, they are rebuilding, but it’s tough to rebuild when you’ve got good players, and they still do. I know the guys that I coached are good, competitive players and I’m not surprised the fans are looking at these guys and saying, man, they play hard and they’re very competitive, because they were for me. They’re competitive guys. When Rondo comes back, that’s going to make them even more dangerous.”
For the second time in his short tenure with the Celtics, Stevens had to pause during a break in the game to acknowledge one of the franchise’s icons after a video tribute during a game. The first time was for Bill Russell, after the 11-time NBA champion’s statue was unveiled and the team honored him with a montage on the TD Garden video board. The second time was Wednesday, when the crowd erupted in cheers after a video thanking Rivers for his time in Boston played on the same scoreboard.
While the Garden faithful rose and applauded, Stevens looked on and politely applauded as well.
“I respect a good coach,” Stevens said. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity that I have and I’m appreciative of the time he spent here. I’m appreciative of the good times he had, and I’m appreciative of the tough ones he had to build to the good times. I don’t know him very well, but I obviously admire what he’s accomplished. Everybody else was up. I figured I should’ve been up, too.”
Rivers may still imagine himself on the Celtics’ sideline, but imagining is all he can do now. Boston’s bench belongs to Stevens. All Stevens can hope for is to someday come back to the Garden and get a similar reception.
Of course, that would mean Stevens won a title, so that’s probably what Celtics fans are hoping for, as well.