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Doc Rivers Has Won the Coaching Match-up

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on June 10, 2008

I am moved to write this because I profoundly disagree with the assessment of so many: that the Lakers, in The Finals, have the coaching advantage.

First of all, please don’t give me this talk about rotations. I’ll answer the question with a question: Was Leon Powe ready to play? What Celtics players have been told is “be ready to play”. That’s all the rotation that’s needed.

Bottom-line: a basketball coach’s job, any coach’s job, is to prepare his team. Prepare in terms of physical readiness, strategy, execution, honed skills; have them ready to execute his vision. But more importantly, absolutely paramount, the coach’s job is to ensure that the players are mentally and emotionally prepared to, plainly put, give it their all. A sustained, determined, consistent, focused, confident effort. I believe that from the moment this Celtics’ coaching staff started putting together their long-term goals during that European trip and all the way to the pre-game preparation for the Lakers (sorry . . . Fakers), he has done the job and done it extremely well. Every move, every decision was made to prepare the team for a no-nonsense run to the championship. Look at the result. And, I believe, it would have been very easy to screw this up. Great as these guys are, they are no Bird-McHale-Parish-Walton-DJ outfit. With all due respect, KC Jones could not have crooned his way to a title with this group. Doc’s a smart, genuine, knowledgable players’ coach, who’s learned his lessons well enough to have a vision and to communicate exactly what was necessary to get them there. They, the players, bought into it enough so they’re gonna win this thing. Comparatively, the Lakers look woefully ill-prepared, at the beginning of games, on defense, end-of-game situations. You would have to agree, easy to see. And you’d have to agree that that is the biggest difference in this series: one team has been readied for the long, hard, physical, don’t-back-down haul of it, the other not. Doc deserves a ton of credit.

Now I’m thinking, wondering about taking this to the next logical Doc versus Chief Triangle match-up; what if you gave Doc Rivers Kobe, Pau, Odom and the rest of that crew last October and gave Jackson The New Big Three and friends? What if you give me your guys and I give you mine? Not buying it? What would the present group of Celtics be like without the never-say die commitment to defense? And what would the Lakers be like with it? And where do teams get that attitude from? The coach, plain and simple. Sure, Doc couldn’t do it without KG anchoring the focus end of the defense, but couldn’t he do the same with Kobe? Have in-and-out-of-focus defender, Kobe, commit to defense to the degree that the rest of the team would follow? I’ve become enough of a believer that I think at this stage in their careers, Rivers’ new team could actually take Jackson’s in a seven game series. I just don’t see this Lakers team playing together, being together, playing with a purpose and determination and confidence. All that sits in Jackson’s lap. Sure, the better team can take that out of you, but, if you’re mentally tough, prepared with that mental toughness and determination, you can’t all of a sudden look like Federer playing Nadal. Impossible. The body language has made it clear right from the start: the Lakers know they can’t beat Doc Rivers’ team. Phil hasn’t told them anything or done what it takes to make them believe they can.


One Response to “Doc Rivers Has Won the Coaching Match-up”

  1. jim said

    i really don’t get all the doc bashing either. doc’s teams are almost always ready to play, his young players all seem to improve (did anyone think rondo would be this good back in november?) and his superstars are completely on board. most critics focus on his (lack of) substitution pattern. it would be nice if he were more jerry sloan like and had a rotation that he never deviated from, but with a young bench (remember pj brown and sam cassell didn’t get here until late in the season) its probably better to see who’s playing well on any given night.

    it seems coaches don’t get their due until they win a title. before a championship, lots of sports blowhards think they could do better (remember before the red sox won in 2004 people were calling him “fran-coma”). once you win that noise just goes away.

    meanwhile in laker-land, the essential malignancy at the heart of the lakers is kobe bryant himself. big chief triangle can send up all the smoke signals he wants, but kobe is not a great teammate in the way bird or jordan were. those two would test their teammates toughness in practice, would call them out in the media, but in a way that was about winning. kobe’s actions towards his teammates are all about the aggrandizement of kobe. jordan’s infamous practice fight with steve kerr was mj’s way of finding out if kerr was literally tough enough. and kerr proved it on that day. and again later when he hit the championship clinching shot, on a pass from jordan, who had the requisite confidence in him to give the ball up to the wide open man.

    does kobe have that sort of confidence in any of his teammates? would kobe’s ego allow him to pass the ball to a teammate in that situation? i have my doubts.



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