Celtics coach Doc Rivers spoke briefly with reporters today at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, Calif. today. Below is a partial transcript.
I know you’ve talked a lot this year about how much Ray has had to sacrifice his game for the other guys, probably more than anyone else. But can you talk about how much he has been able to change what he does, maybe recognize things in his game that he didn’t necessarily know existed as much?
Doc Rivers: Yeah. I mean, he’s been great all year. You know, like I said before, I thought Kevin you can put in any system. He’s just such a versatile player. And Paul had basically been in a system. So Ray was a guy that really had to sacrifice the most. I think really he’s learned a lot through this year.
He had been a player at times that, in Seattle especially, when the ball touched his hands, it basically stopped and he got to decide from that point on what happened. You know, it’s just not how we’ve ever played or I’ve ever coached, and I just thought the ball movement is the key to winning.
You know, to his credit, he’s done it. He’s struggled with it at times, but he’s done it. You know, now he’s learning through the offense how to get the catch and shoot shots, how to move the ball and get it back and get into pick and rolls. So he’s been fantastic in that.
Even at this stage of his career that he’s been able to do that and sacrifice to be able to do that has been tremendous. And then on the other end I think he’s been more impressive. He’s never been known as a defender, and he’s been fantastic in this series guarding Kobe, even though guarding Kobe is tough, and throughout the playoffs. So yeah, I’m very happy for him.
Ray Allen said last night after the game that it meant a lot to him when he heard Paul Pierce say that he wanted to guard Kobe, really said a lot about Paul, and will we see that match up again tomorrow?
Doc Rivers: Well, you’ll see everybody on Kobe, just like it’s been. I don’t think one guy can guard Kobe throughout one entire game. I’m sure Ray was extremely happy when Paul said that because that meant that he didn’t have to guard him for a while (laughter). You know, truth be told, it probably is the reason Ray was able to play 48 minutes.
You know, if he had stayed on Kobe throughout the game, I don’t think he would have been able to get through the entire game.
The fact that Ray had strength at the end of the game, I thought, had a lot to do with Paul guarding Kobe, and that allowed Ray to get some rest.
Two questions: One, can you tell us the story behind the story of taking the big three out on the duck tour, the parade route before the season began? That, and do you realize that the coaching job you did last night was one of the greatest coaching jobs of all time?
Doc Rivers: I can answer the second one. I don’t realize that and I don’t know if that’s true. The way I look at coaching is the players make the shots at the end of the day.
But the duck tour was just you know, hell, I had been sitting in that apartment watching the freaking duck tours where the Red Sox go on them and Patriots have been on them, and I just thought it was important for the Celtics, those three guys, because through them you can sell it to the team. I just thought it was important that they saw the route. Paul knew about it. Paul has been in Boston for so long, but Kevin and Ray, I think they thought we were going on a historic trip of Boston. I don’t think they really got it at first until we explained to them what we were doing.
It was a fun trip. I’m glad we did it.
I know you don’t want to look forward, but if you’d please indulge us here with kind of an eye on history, might you coach this next game with a cigar in your jacket pocket?
Doc Rivers: No (laughing), I will not. I do I mean, Red is always on our mind, obviously. But no, I won’t do that. As far as we are concerned, we have to win a game, and the next game is our focus.
You know, it’s very important for us that when you look at this series, any of the games besides probably Game 2, even though they came back, could have gone either way. So this is a close series in our minds.
We have to just focus on that process. We can’t look at anything more than that. I think it’s very important for our team.
To go back to my dad, he’s just very important in my life. It’s still very difficult for me to talk about because I haven’t had a lot of time, really, to reflect on it. You know, it happened during the season unexpectedly. It’s very, very difficult. But I do think about it. I think about it a lot.
Getting back to Ray, when he went through that slump there in the second round, especially against Cleveland and Game 1 against Detroit, people were wondering what happened to him, what happened to his shot. How did he handle that, how did he get through that, and talk about his attitude and the way he’s now playing?
Doc Rivers: I thought he was great. I thought Ray was you know, it’s difficult for a great player to struggle at all, and especially to struggle on a big stage and hear about that he doesn’t have it and all that. You know, I just kept telling Ray, just do what the team needs and don’t try to get yourself off. Try to just keep making plays for the team, and it’s going to come; it’s going to happen, it’s going to break for you. And it did, and so I’m very happy for him.
A lot of players I don’t think could have done that, and Ray saw the bigger picture than the picture of him, so it was great for him. He’s a great shooter. You don’t forget how to shoot, and you knew that. He needed a couple to go down for him, and they started going down. Once they started going down, you felt really good about it.
You played against and coached against Michael. And you know that Kobe always gets compared. He takes three shots three points the first half, no baskets last night, you know that. He winds up getting criticized by some people for not taking over the game. From your perspective as an opponent and an observer, what do you expect out of a guy like that and how fair is it for him to have to carry that kind a burden?
Doc Rivers: It’s not fair. I said it before the series started. I’ve never seen a guy this talented get criticized as much as he does. It’s just completely unfair. He’s a great basketball player, the greatest player right now in our league and probably top three or five in the history of the game in a lot of ways.
He is, he’s just a criticized player. When you look at the shots he made down the stretch of the game last night, he only does it every night. He’s just a terrific player. He’s driven like no other, and I think his drive Will Perdue is back there. I know at times Michael got on his teammates, too, and that’s what all the great ones do. But when they do it and things don’t work, they’re usually the guy criticized for it.
I don’t know. I love him as a player. I don’t know Kobe very well as a person, but when I’ve been around him, I’ve loved him that way, too.
When people made their predictions for this series, were a lot of us too guilty in looking at what happened in the first two rounds of the playoffs and maybe forgetting about the whole body of work, what you guys looked like for the five months previously?
Doc Rivers: Well, we caused it. We didn’t play well in the first two series. I thought it was great for us in the long run, I really do. I said that at the time.
We really hadn’t been through anything as a team. We kind of went through the season, we had a little blip right at the All Star break on the West Coast trip. Other than that, we hadn’t really had anything to fight through.
That Game 5 against Atlanta and Game 7 against Atlanta, the Game 5 against Cleveland and Game 7 against Cleveland was great for us, now that we won those games. But I did think it helped our team, and it helped me see how guys reacted in those situations, as well. So if they come up again, you’re better equipped to get through it.
The Lakers are a fantastic team, so we didn’t find that as a slap that people, most picked the other team. That didn’t bother us.
In the past or last year, your coaching ability was questioned. Now there’s whispers and statements that you’re out coaching Phil Jackson. How do you feel about that?
Doc Rivers: I don’t think it’s true. I mean, Phil to me is the best coach, at least of my generation, to coach, him and Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich are the three best. I’m not in that class and don’t deserve to be in that class. I ignore it.
But last year was a tough year. It was a tough year for me as a coach. It was a tough year for our players as players, and hell, I’m thankful that Danny hung in there with me more than anything.
On a different note, is there any concern, if this series does continue, about your team breaking down? We saw Perkins, Rondo obviously and even Pierce with his knee.
Doc Rivers: Well, we’re not in great physical shape, there’s no doubt about that. You know, but that’s what it is, and there’s nothing you can do about that. I think our guys are mostly gamers. The fact that Rajon tried to go last night, again, was phenomenal. Perk, obviously the injury he had last night could be significant, and we don’t know the results yet. But that’s clearly not looking great right now.
Paul tweaked his ankle and his knee again, so it’s amazing going through this. That’s part of it. It’s a lot of physical and mental things that you have to go through, and we’re going through it.
From someone who never got a chance to win a championship as a player, I wonder if you could put into perspective the unique opportunity Paul has here to win a championship in his hometown.
Doc Rivers: Well, you know, as a player, I had one shot and I was injured. With the Knicks, I was sitting on the bench, and I watched us lose Games 6 and 7 in street clothes. That was very difficult. We lost to the Bulls thank you, Will Perdue, when we were up 2 0 against them and they came back and won the Eastern Conference Finals against us. So to be able to do it against a hometeam, where you grew up, would be sensational.
I had that opportunity in some ways because I thought we were going to knock off Chicago, but we didn’t. So I’m sure Paul feels that way.
But really, I’m hoping that Paul is not even thinking about any of that. We’ve got to just focus on the process of basketball, and once we do that, then everything else will take care of itself.
Just curious, could you go through your relationship with Paul since you’ve been in Boston, and especially over the last year and how his leadership role has kind of changed over that time?
Doc Rivers: Well, obviously when we first started it wasn’t great because I asked him to change his game. You ask an All Star to change your game, it’s probably not the smartest thing for a coach to do. But I thought it was the right thing for the team, and I thought it was the right thing for Paul. And he didn’t at the time, but he did early even in that year he did, and the credit goes to Paul for doing it. I mean, that’s a hell of a chance to take. You’re an All Star and I’m telling you you have to change your game in some ways, and he did that, as far as just the ball movement part of it and where he was getting his shots from.
Since then he’s been very good. He’s been frustrated at times over the last two years, not towards the coach, just towards the losses. You know, we’ve had a lot of private conversations over that, just hanging in there. But like I said before the series or one of these series they all blend together I don’t think Paul got enough due for re upping with us when he clearly could have waited and been a free agent. He whispered it at times, but for the most part he wanted to stay here and be a Celtic and not leave and see this through.
We’re in a generation now that whenever your team is bad, the players want to leave. They want to jump ship. They want to go somewhere else. I think Paul never did that. He wanted to stay.
Considering what you’ve been through, though, how does this validate you now as a coach?
Doc Rivers: I don’t know. I don’t care, honestly. I love coaching. I honestly love coaching. I love what I do as a profession. It’s very difficult family wise because even if you’re with them, you’re not. Even when you’re there, you’re not. It consumes you 24 hours. That’s actually what I like about it.
You know, I just enjoy what I’m doing, and I’ll leave it at that.