A win Sunday in Boston means Rivers lives to coach another day. A loss should mean time to turn the reigns over to top assistant Tom Thibodeau.
Doc Rivers, you’re officially coaching for your job.
Rivers has done two things extraordinarily well this season: unite a roster that could have gone sour, but had every reason to come together, and allow defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau to run the less glamorous side of the ball, a move that would be difficult for most head coaches to stomach–this isn’t the NFL after all, there are no coordinator positions. His substitution patterns haven’t been perfect–far from it, in fact–but his poor in-game management is nothing new. While much of the media has given Rivers a break because most of his Celtics squads have had less talent than Paris Hilton, Bill Simmons has led the fire Doc bandwagon for years due to his inability to nail down a rotation or communicate simple strategies and concepts in the waning moments of close games. The Atlanta Hawks have successfully illuminated all Rivers’s blemishes during the series’s three contests in his former hometown.
Fortunately for Jeremiah Rivers’s father, the former coach of the year’s weaknesses have been sufficiently masked for most of the season. He was handed a roster tailor-made for him: the starting five set, and few legitimate options off the bench. However, as the season progressed the team evolved. A short bench became one of the deepest in the entire association.
Herein lies the problem. Given this surplus of talent, Rivers has faltered. P.J. Brown, a late-season pick up more for his wisdom than ability, has played more than Tony Allen, the team’s best defensive shooting guard, a guy who should have been developed all season for the purpose of guarding someone like Joe Johnson. For some reason, Brown has been the one on the court in crucial situations laboring to even find energetic, athletic youths like Josh Smith and Al Horford in order to box out. By the time his failing, elderly vision allows him to locate the high-flying Hawk big men, it’s too late. He’s a relic.
Atlanta’s biggest strength thus far has been its ability to convert via the offensive glass, as evidenced by big fourth quarter rebounds Friday night with the game on the line. Allowing Ludacris’s favorite team second and third chances resulted in the Hawks scoring on an incredible sixteen consecutive possessions in game six. Banner seventeen will be lifted from right under the Celtics’s noses if they don’t lock down their bedroom window.
Play Leon Powe more; in his last two appearances The Show has netted 19 points and grabbed 11 boards in 38 minutes. Sit P.J. Brown and hope you’ll need his wily, physical play in future matchups with heftier big men. Utilize Tony Allen’s abilities rather than watch ex-Celtic Joe Johnson abuse Tony’s namesake for 48 minutes. Play Sam Cassell sparingly–he was brought in as a security blanket, not as the furnace. Tap Eddie House on the shoulder earlier and more often. Bibby’s brother-in-law played a pivotal role during the Celtics’ 66 regular season wins, and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Oh, and while you’re at it, give the team some direction at the end of games. I’m thinking Rajon Rondo forcing a three at the buzzer wasn’t the plan. I’m also thinking that playing Rajon when the team was trying to score quick baskets in the final two minutes might have been a good idea, and inserting Eddie House when down by three in the game’s final seconds might have prevented an ill-fated, forced fade away out of the hands of a career 22.9% shooter from profundity.
Many, including Doc Rivers himself, have used officiating as a crutch for Boston. This is nonsense.
The refs have been questionable. Paul Pierce’s sixth foul was comedic. The 47-25 disparity between free throw attempts in Atlanta is discouraging. But when one squad finishes the season with 29 more victories than its counterpart, none of this should matter.
Go back to the basics, Doc. Watch tape of the regular season. Follow those substitution patterns. Do some thinking during the final moments of game seven. Because should Sunday afternoon provide us with a finale worthy of such a shocking series, it could be your last at the helm of basketball’s most storied franchise.