Rivers clearly wasn't happy after Wednesday night's loss to the Grizzlies, 90-87 at home at the TD Garden. After most losses, the coach is more than happy to break it down and explain what went wrong, but after Wednesday, he was taking it especially hard.
That's because he took a lot of the blame himself.
Usually, when a close game goes wrong, it's the players' fault. But there were a couple of iffy coaching decisions in Wednesday's loss.
With 26 seconds left and the Celtics down one point, Rajon Rondo corralled a defensive rebound and took off in the open court. Should Rivers have called a timeout? Quite possibly, yes — but instead he let Rondo freelance, and the young point guard missed a running jumper with the game on the line.
After two free throws, the Celtics got the ball back for the final 13 seconds, down three. It was on Doc to draw up a play and find a 3-point shot for Ray Allen or Paul Pierce. The Grizzlies shut down both options. Were the C's outplayed, or was Doc outcoached?
Doc's absence in front of the press at Thursday's practice answers that question.
"That's one thing about Doc," Glen Davis said after practice. "He's accountable for his mistakes. He came to us, and he was just like, 'My fault.' He took ownership.
"But it's not just him. I could have called a timeout myself instead of shooting that 3-ball, in the moment. He doesn't have to call a timeout. We all knew there was a timeout."
While Rivers didn't want to face the media Thursday, he had plenty to say to his own players. On a night when there was plenty of blame to go around, Rivers shouldered it himself.
"We let him say what he had to say," Davis said. "We're not going to be like, 'Oh, Doc, it's our fault.' But everybody knows. Everybody knows what's going on. Everybody knows, everybody takes the blame. I took the blame. I took the blame for missing a layup — even though I hit a shot to put us within one, I still could have made the layup before that. Or I could have made the 3. Shoot, if I'm going to take it, I've got to make it."
A lot's been made this season about the Celtics' players quest to find their rhythm with the postseason approaching. But equally important, and underratedly so, is the mental and emotional stability of the team's head coach.
Rivers is his own harshest critic when things don't go well. But it's that same honest, introspective attitude that makes him one of the game's best coaches in big games, come springtime.
In a way, it's good that Rivers and the Celtics got a loss like Wednesday out of the way before the postseason. Now that they've cleared their minds, they'll be good to go come playoff time.
Needless to say, the C's still trust Rivers going forward.
"I wish I played for him," said assistant Armond Hill. "If you can't play for Doc, you can't play for anybody. All he wants you to do is play. The less thinking you're doing, the more playing you're doing.
"He gives you a guideline, and if you stick with it, it's very simple. He asks for players' input — he'll listen to Paul and Ray, he'll listen to everybody — but at the same time, he's going to make the call. It's very easy to play for him."