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They seemed to pass this test

Ball movement key for Rivers

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 15, 2008

When asked, "What's the best way to facilitate ball movement," Doc Rivers made it sound so easy.

"Um, passing," Rivers answered before last night's 96-89 win over the Cavaliers in Game 5.

In the last few games, with his team taking what he called "hero" shots trying to get themselves out of jams instead of trusting each other, Rivers wanted the Celtics to make passing a priority.

Then in the second quarter, down 11 and counting, Rivers watched.

Ray Allen was stonewalled on a drive to the middle, but instead of forcing up a shot, he found Kendrick Perkins, who kicked it out to Kevin Garnett, who swung a pass to James Posey, who found Sam Cassell on the wing. And instead of forcing up a shot, Cassell made the fifth pass of the possession, back to Allen in the corner for a three that pulled the Celtics within 8.

Minutes later, they closed the quarter on a 12-3 run.

"It's amazing when the ball moves and touches people's hands how good you look all of a sudden offensively," Rivers said.

The Celtics had 25 assists on 37 field goals, the most helpful they've been all series - and the most they've scored.

Had he been waiting on something like this? Sure. Does it take time? Absolutely. Is he glad that time came last night? "I'm thrilled. At some point, you just knew that they would start trusting each other again."

The Celtics were down by as many as 12 in the second quarter with LeBron James looking superhuman (he scored 11 of the Cavaliers' first 16).

Rivers didn't call too many timeouts, but when he did he told his guys not to press the panic button.

"The biggest part that I was really happy about was we didn't panic," Rivers said. "That's all I kept saying in the timeouts. I told them things were not going well. But that's OK, just hang in there and they did."

Garnett hit a jumper from the elbow, then Rajon Rondo drilled a pair of threes in the second and next thing you know, the Celtics went from being nearly buried from the jump to within 3 points at the half.

It was their most crucial run of the game.

"We made that run," Paul Pierce said. "We got a defensive spark and we got a couple threes out of Rondo, so that really kind of started our run going into halftime. We finished off the quarter on a good note and it carried over into the third quarter and we were able to get a lead and never relinquish it."

Rondo had a game-high 13 assists, but Pierce and Garnett combined for seven, including one in the third quarter in which Garnett fed Pierce on a give-and-go along the baseline that ended up as a two-handed dunk that made it 69-58, Celtics.

"You always want to make the right play," Rivers said. "And I think, at times, if you're struggling you hold on to the ball a little bit longer because you try to figure out a way to get yourself going. But the right play is in front of you and just make the right play."

Rivers's coaching became a national concern when ESPN questioned everything from his bench rotation to his adjustments. Even in the crowd, fans murmured it was time for Rivers to start coaching.

To the press, Rivers just blew it off.

"When you're winning, the guys you're playing are just perfect," Rivers said. "And when you're losing, that's when everybody wants [the] backup quarterback. That's basically how it works."

He did make some adjustments, though. Before the game, he said Cassell was going to be the first man off the bench. But Cassell was struggling against Daniel Gibson, so Rivers laid off and said Eddie House would be his option in the second half, if needed.

Rivers said it was no use for his team to talk. It had to play it out. Still, he said he wasn't about to explain himself.

"I don't need to," he said. "I like what we do; I like our record. We've been doing the same thing all year and whoever doesn't like it, tough. We're going to keep doing it."

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