Celtics coach Doc Rivers went on the defensive tonight for the first time all year. Without being asked a question, Rivers launched into his postgame press conference by defending his decision to leave his starters on the bench for most of the third and fourth quarters.
“I was not throwing the game or anything like that,” said Rivers. “Because I’ve heard all those questions. Honestly I got to the point early in the fourth quarter and I turned to the coaches and said to them, ‘We are going to win or lose with this group [Rajon Rondo, Leon Powe, Ryan Gomes, Allan Ray, and Gerald Green].’”
Rivers spoke in a tone uncharacteristic of the coach who has won over fans and media with charisma despite a season of losing. There were no jokes. There was, however, plenty of introspection.
“I was asking the bench, ‘What do we get out of that, if we put [Paul Pierce, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, and Al Jefferson] in and we win?’ At some point, [the bench] has to be able to play. If you look at the Phil Jackson’s of the world, they are able to do that all year because they know they are playing for a title and they can teach lessons to their bench … All those other coaches who don’t have championship teams, we never have the opportunity to actually do that. Tonight I just said, “Screw it. Our guys are staying in.’”
Rivers said some of his starters gave him bad looks from the bench when the game was getting out of control and the coach showed no signs of subbing.
“Those are the guys that always [gripe] about playing,” said Rivers. “Everybody on the bench wants to play on every team. Everybody wants minutes.”
Rivers said there was nothing, medically, to preclude Pierce and Jefferson from returning to the game earlier.
“Everybody could have come back,” he said. “I put Al in very late just because we needed somebody big. I didn’t want to put Paul in, didn’t want to put Delonte in. I didn’t think it was right to put those other guys in.”
Rivers was asked why he picked this particular time to teach his team a lesson.
“It was just one of those nights,” he said. “We got other nights that we could have done it, so there’s no doubt about that. The difference is that especially early on the year, that we were still trying to play for something.”
“My job is to go out there and do what he [Rivers] asks me to do,” said Leon Powe. “We just have to come up with a better effort. That’s the only thing I can say.”
Powe was asked if he wondered why the starters did not come back into the game.
“No I wasn’t wondering,” said Powe. “I thought he was going to come back with them a little bit.”
Ryan Gomes was only slightly more candid.
“I was a little surprised [that the starters did not return],” said Gomes. “I thought those guys would be coming back into the game. But they didn’t, and that was the decision that he made. It could have been positive for us or it could have been negative, and tonight it was negative.”
One player who is consistently running through walls for the Celtics, point guard Delonte West, was used sparingly during the second half. Rivers consistently praises West as one of two or three guys who brings it every night.
West played just under six minutes in the fourth quarter and hinted that by the time he entered the game (with 5:51 left in the fourth), the game was already out of reach.
“A lot of momentum was in their favor,” said West. “Once a team gets rolling on you and feels confident in their shot, that’s a tough thing to deal with.”
Then West went back to defending his coach. Was he disappointed not getting back into the game?
“No, not at all,” said West. “At some point you have to view your team as just a team, not as who’s starting and who’s not starting. We entrust all of our players to go out and compete at a high level. We didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t do that collectively as a group at the end of the game and that led to a loss.”