After great show, Rivers may bow out
LOS ANGELES — He’s not going to tell us today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But there’s certainly a chance that Doc Rivers has coached his final game after six years on the Celtics bench.
“I don’t know,’’ Rivers said late Thursday night after walking out of a teary Celtic locker room in the wake of an 83-79 loss to the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals. “I’m going to wait. I’m going to go and watch my kids play AAU basketball, and I’m going to wait a little bit.’’
Today is Father’s Day, and Doc wants to just be a dad for a while. Maybe for a few years. His son Jeremiah, a basketball player, will be a senior at Indiana this year. His daughter Callie, a volleyball player, will be a senior at the University of Florida. His son Austin is one of the top 10 high school basketball players in the country and is going into his senior season at Winter Park High near Orlando.
That’s a lot of ballgames. A lot of senior years. A lot of final games, final hugs, graduation gowns, and mini-fridges toted up and down four flights of dormitory stairs. What dad wouldn’t want to be there for all of that? Especially when you have the money (Rivers makes $5 million annually with the Celtics) and the ability to come back and get another NBA job any time you are ready. Let’s not forget that Rivers could easily slide into a cushy TV gig. He’s been in the booth before and, of course, he’s great at that, too.
Red Auerbach never moved his wife and two daughters to Boston when he was coach of the Celtics. Red lived in a hotel room at the Lenox Hotel (he had his own hot plate to heat up leftover Chinese food). Auerbach was 48 years old when he retired from the bench after one last seventh game in the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Rivers is 48. His family stayed in Orlando when he took the job in Boston six years ago. He has won a championship and his stock will never be higher. He has a year left on his contract, but it’s not the worst time to walk away from the bench.
The 2009-10 Celtics were not an easy bunch to coach. Boston’s locker room was a room in transition — young egos and old egos. Glen Davis had a fistfight with a friend and took a seat on the shelf to start the season. Rasheed Wallace was openly defiant just about all the time. There was tension at the trading deadline when Ray Allen’s name was floated. The Celtics repeatedly blew double-digit leads and looked old. Paul Pierce missed a bunch of games. Kevin Garnett missed a bunch of games. They went 27-27 over the last 54 games.
Think about that number. The Celtics were a .500 team for two-thirds of the NBA season, yet managed to get to the seventh game of the Finals? It says a lot about Doc. It also says a lot about the difficulty of coaching this group.
Rivers likes to brag that the starting lineup of Pierce, Allen, Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins never lost a playoff series. He made this point after the Celtics finished with Orlando in the conference finals.
“This starting five is 7-0 in playoff series,’’ he said.
He was correct then and he’s still correct. Garnett (knee injury) did not play last spring when the Celtics were eliminated by the Magic in the conference semifinals.
And Perkins (torn knee ligaments) did not play Game 7 at the Staples Center.
“The starting lineup still hasn’t lost,’’ said Rivers Thursday. “It was a shame we didn’t have that starting lineup tonight. But I told them, ‘You’ve still yet to have a true chance to defend your title because Perk wasn’t there.’ ’’
After Game 7, you could hear the bell ringing for the Big Three Era. In many ways, Rivers was the perfect coach for this collection of talent. He gave them a lot of rope and allowed them to work out their difficulties themselves.
“I can’t stress enough how crazy close this team was,’’ he said. “And that would be the word, crazy close. They’re the type of group that they could scream at each other.’’
Can he come back for more?
“I can’t reflect on it right now. Probably in a week or so. I’ll go hide somewhere for a while. But you know, it was the craziest, most emotional group I’ve ever coached in my life. I told them they’ve made me reach to places that I never thought I needed to go.
“Through it all, we were the tightest, most emotional-crazy group that I’ve ever been with in my life. So that’s what makes it tough.’’
I wish I could say he sounds like a man who’s coming back next year.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.