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Celtics at Knicks > Game 3

Rivers is often quick on the draw

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 21, 2011

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Sometimes Doc Rivers’s Sharpie shifts into overdrive.

He tries his best to contain it. To keep the clipboard neat and the writing legible.

That’s why, when the Celtics coach calls a timeout, he and his coaches walk onto the court for a pre-huddle gathering, before returning to the bench to actually talk to the players. He’s like a teacher putting the final touches on his lesson plan.

Except that Rivers is designing another play, the kind that makes his players ask, “Where does he get these from?’’

“You try to draw it up neatly,’’ Rivers said. “Then the pen starts going too fast sometimes.’’

If all of the ink stays on the board, and off his hands, it’s something of a miracle.

“His hands have all got marker on it,’’ said Glen Davis. “He’s going a hundred miles an hour.’’

For what it’s worth, Davis doesn’t try to keep track of everything Rivers is diagramming.

“I just look at my position,’’ he said. “If you try to see what’s going on, you’ll get messed up.’’

It’s not because Davis is not smart enough to understand; there’s just too much going on.

“That’s why I’ve got to ask him every time I leave the huddle, ‘Where was I supposed to be? Oh, OK,’ ’’ said Davis.

But those plays, crafted for the final minutes and executed to precision, are the reason the Celtics are up, two games to none, on the Knicks in their first-round series.

Ray Allen’s winning 3-pointer in Game 1 was the product of a play the Celtics had run before, but Rivers made slight alterations to throw off the Knicks.

The play that got Kevin Garnett a go-ahead jump hook with 13.3 seconds left in Game 2 wasn’t even a part of the offense until the morning of the game. It popped into Rivers’s head at the last minute and paid off.

“I’m always curious what his thought process is when he’s deciding what play we’re going to use, because he has a couple,’’ Allen said. “We’ve used many of them throughout the course of the last four years.

“I don’t know if it’s the plays he’s used against this New York team or if he’s taking a stab in the dark. But I truly believe in his mind, he’ll just pick one and we’re going to make it work.

“If we execute, everybody does there job, runs the plays hard, we’re going to get the shot we want.’’

Sometimes, Rivers said, he just sees things. It may be on film or from past games, but he takes notice. He keeps a sheet of plays, and he’ll refer to it to find one that fits the moment.

“I’ve been wrong as much as I’ve been right,’’ Rivers said, “but when you’re right and then the shot goes in, it makes it a lot better.’’

The myth is that Rivers is otherworldly with a clipboard. And even though there’s some truth to his offensive creativity, he gets some help.

Kevin Eastman is handing him notes all the time. The handwriting of fellow assistant Armond Hill is on the dry erase board before every game, laying out the plan of attack, point by point.

“It’s all of us,’’ Rivers said. “I get more notes, something someone saw, then you put it all together.’’

It helps to have good players, too.

“Sometimes we make the plays look good,’’ Davis said.

Rajon Rondo has been as confused as Davis coming out of huddles. As the point guard, his job is even more difficult. If it’s hard for Davis to remember one position, imagine Rondo having to remember five.

“It’s so much going on in the huddle,’’ said Rondo. “I even ask out of timeouts sometimes.’’

Then, he made sure to clarify.

“Not in the fourth quarter.’’

And just because Rivers draws up a play, it doesn’t mean the team will get to it right out of the huddle.

“You might go up and down twice without the play,’’ Rondo said. “Then, you kind of lose track.’’

Toward the end of the regular season, the Celtics’ execution was spotty. Possessions at the end of games would result in Davis, Rondo, or Garnett taking a 3-pointer, even with Allen and Paul Pierce on the floor.

But against the Knicks, the Celtics have been sharp in the final minutes, and the perception is that Rivers is outcoaching counterpart Mike D’Antoni.

“Obviously, we didn’t do a good job of executing them in the regular season, but these last two games we’re doing a pretty good job of executing the plays,’’ Rondo said. “And obviously if you miss the shots, they don’t look as good. But we made the shots.’’

Both Rivers and D’Antoni knew coming into the series that games would come down to fourth-quarter execution. It’s easy to have things fall apart in pressure moments.

“I’m hoping we never get in those moments, to be honest,’’ Rivers said. “But I’ve been in the league long enough to know that those moments, you better execute.

“Because the other team is going to execute their defense. So you’d better be on point.’’

Monique Walker contributed to this report. Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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