Jim Davis / Globe Staff
If you're a Celtics fan you better hope that coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers is operating on the Boston bench next season.
The one consistent aspect that the team could count on in an inconsistent season is the sanguine Celtics coach. His upbeat attitude belies the wear and tear of a tumultuous season that is furrowed across his face each game. Like his bespoke suits, Rivers is custom-made for this Celtics team, which enters tonight's Game 3 at the Garden tied 1-1 with Cleveland Cavaliers in the teams Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Rivers is part psychologist, part strategist, part mentor, part motivator and part ringmaster. He is attuned to his team in a league that tunes out coaches on a regular basis and where messages come with an expiration date.
Rajon Rondo is the floor general for the Green, but there is no doubt that it is Rivers, in his sixth season as the team's 16th coach, that has facilitated the Celtics to the point of return from a disappointing regular season and to the point where they have a real chance in this series against the Cavaliers.
There was a Boston Herald report last month that Rivers, who has one year remaining on his contract, was considering hanging up his whistle and heading home to Orlando. Rivers downplayed the report, and Celtics executive director of basketball operations/general manager Danny Ainge sidestepped the question today, saying he is planning on Rivers returning and hopes he does.
He'd better. There are not too many coaches who could handle this team. The 48-year-old Rivers won the NBA's Coach of the Year honors with the Orlando Magic in 2000, but it's doubtful he's ever done a better coaching job than this season.
The Celtics got off to a 23-5 start followed by four months of .500 basketball (27-27) with injuries to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce troubling them in between.
Yet Rivers has somehow coaxed a team beset by aches, temperamental talents and regular-season ennui to play its best basketball when it matters the most.
"Doc is always the leader of the team, through the good and the bad," said Ainge. "The players aren't going off on their own and doing their own thing. They're staying together. They're fighting through thick and thin. I think as a result of the injuries and as a result of the team not really being able to reach Doc's expectations during the regular season that's always a difficult challenge. Then you have a rising young player like Rajon, but there are a lot of little things and every team has those. ...That's why I would just say coaching is hard. Doc is a great coach."
That's not recognition Rivers often gets, despite winning 66, 62 and 50 games the last three seasons. He's rarely if ever mentioned in the same breath as Phil Jackson, or Gregg Popovich or one of his former coaches during his 13-year NBA career, Larry Brown. As recently as three years ago, when the Celtics were in the midst of a 24-58 season that included a franchise-record 18-game losing streak, people were saying Rivers was a better broadcaster than bench boss.
When the Celtics won the NBA title two years ago, most of the credit went to Ainge for assembling the Big Three. But someone had to mold those players and personalities together.
Ainge said that was a draining season for Rivers and acknowledged this one has been as well with a team that played to its potential in spurts.
"As a coach you just live that," said Ainge, who coached the Phoenix Suns for three-plus seasons. "You think about it after the game. You're thinking about it at dinner that night, on the plane ride home, you stay awake at night thinking why are we not playing up to our capabilities? How come we're showing spurts of it, but we're not able to sustain?
"Then when you're not living up to expectations other things creep in. Then personalities become stronger, and not only does the media and the fans have their own ideas of how we can win, so does the general manager, so does the star player. ...So, that is hard on a coach."
It would have been easy for this Celtics team to implode under the weight of its own outsized egos and expectations, but Rivers wouldn't let it.
He understands that Allen has to get his shots, Pierce has to get his way and that sometimes you have to get out of KG's way. He knows that Wallace and Rondo have to believe that what they're being asked to do was their idea and not someone else's.
"I think Doc did a great job," said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. "I know it's hard for him with all the veterans on the team, all the egos that we have on this team. I think Doc does a great job of picking and choosing when can he attack his superstars and when he can't. When he let's them get away with stuff, and when he has to call them out on things. I think Doc has the toughest job, especially with this team, so I think he did a great job of handling all of us."
Rivers told us in 2006-07 he could coach. He was right. He told us this team would get it together at some point. He was right.
Even Ainge, who said the team's objective was always to peak in the playoffs, admitted he had some doubts about whether the team would do so. But he never doubted his coach.
He knows better.
"I had doubts like everybody whether we would [peak]," said Ainge. "I knew what we were capable of doing, but I never had doubts that Doc could. My doubts have never been whether somebody else could do better than what he is doing."
That's because somebody else couldn't.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.