This year's NBA Finals have been rife with matchups to analyze, with Rajon Rondo versus Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett versus Pau Gasol and Paul Pierce versus Ron Artest.
Here's another one: Doc Rivers versus Phil Jackson.
"I don't even look at that matchup," said Rivers, coaching the Celtics in the Finals for the second time. "If you're comparing me to Phil, then we're in trouble. He's got 10 rings; I've got one. You go by his record, he's the best coach to ever coach the game. I'm not going to challenge that. I told our players, they've got to be better than me with Phil. That's for sure."
The contrast in this series makes for a compelling story — Jackson has spent the last two decades coaching three of the best players ever in Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant. Of the last 19 NBA Finals played to date, Jackson has won a majority of them. Pretty absurd.
Rivers, meanwhile, has just the one title, and his career was never a decorated or celebrated one before he captured Finals glory with the Celtics in 2008.
But how much does it matter?
"I don't get into that stuff," Rivers said. "I really don't. Until a coach can step on the floor and make jump shots, I don't care about the other coach, and they don't care about me. That's just how it is. We don't. You do what you do. You know, you're not sitting there thinking, 'OK, now what is Phil Jackson doing today?' You don't do that. You do your job — you coach your own team. You don't worry about all that other stuff."
But despite Rivers' modesty, the matchup is quietly becoming a storyline in these NBA Finals. Who will eventually emerge as the better coach in this series, himself or the great Jackson?
No one's expecting Rivers to emerge as the big winner, and he won't. But by respectably playing the coaching matchup to a draw, Rivers can give this Celtics team enough to win another championship.
Leading this Celtics team has been a challenge for Rivers — especially this season, with all the egos to juggle. But he's made it work.
"I think people don't realize how hard it is to manage personalities," said Pierce. "Regardless of the talent level, you've got to be able to manage the personalities on the team. … You've got to be able to know your players, understand them, and I think in these days and times, you have to be more of a player's type of coach, and I think that's what Doc brings to the table with the different personalities, because it's tough to coach such strong‑minded individuals in this locker room."
From Pierce, who's been the man in Boston for 12 years now, to Garnett with his dominant personality, to Rasheed Wallace who's always a wild card, to all the younger guys itching to have their voices heard — there's a lot to juggle in that locker room, and Rivers has done it admirably.
"Doc lets us deal with each other how we deal with each other. He doesn't try to control us," said Garnett. "He lets you be who you are, but at the end of the day, he's in control of everybody. If you have an ego, or if you think you're better than what you are, or you're not doing well, he does a great job of micromanaging this team. Everybody knows their role. There's not one person before this team."
How can Doc hold his own against Jackson? Exactly the way he's always professed — by coaching his own team. By blocking out the distractions and keeping his guys focused, he can put them in position to win another title.
With great players, they always say that you never stop them — you can only hope to contain them. With Jackson, it's much the same way. Rivers is holding his own against the Zen Master, and on this stage, that's really all you can ask.
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