By and large, Doc Rivers is a beloved figure in this town. Most of his players will run through a wall for him. At this stage of his career, Kevin Garnett will only play for him. Rivers is a pleasure to work with for the media, giving substantive answers, rather than the non-responses we’re accustomed to in Foxboro and other parts of town. He’s done a great job the last few years and he deserves credit for everything he’s accomplished.
With that noted, we have a problem in this Celtics-Knicks series beyond just the players on the floor; a problem most Celtics fans hadn’t anticipated.
Mike Woodson is outcoaching Doc Rivers, and he’s doing it by a healthy margin.
Woodson isn’t doing anything special with his Knicks team, as they’ve turned to their usual isolation and drive-and-kick offense, along with a pressuring defense they rode to an Atlantic Division title. He has a collection of veterans he can trust in the starting lineup and off the pine. He’s had his team prepared and has gone away from All-Star players (Tyson Chandler) when they haven’t looked helpful out there.
On the opposing bench, Rivers appeared to be overmatched. The biggest problem is his offense. I covered a lot of my complaints in this department in my column yesterday. It’s ugly, predictable, ineffective and did real damage to the Celtics’ chances of winning the first two games.
Rivers’ isn’t solely responsible for the offensive woes. Players are missing open jump shots. He’s also not the one out there making lazy passes, turning over the ball, and not executing play calls.
The one thing he does have control over is making adjustments, and his inability to do so over the first two games of this series is troubling.
But it’s not just the offense. My other main gripe with Doc has been his rotation. The Jordan Crawford/Courtney Lee situation I can’t really disagree with. Lee hasn’t made open jumpers consistently in the last couple months and Crawford does make the Celtics’ offense more unpredictable, something they desperately need right now. Lee will probably be back in action at some point, but he’s doing nothing to earn a spot at this stage.
Doc’s refusal to go deeper in his bench, especially when his team appears physically and mentally fatigued from the challenge of containing an explosive Knicks offense, has been maddening. Paul Pierce is carrying a heavier load than he can handle, Jeff Green played close to 45 minutes and worked his ass off on both ends in Game 1, all while Doc’s chosen reserves proved ineffective. He stuck with his guns and it burned him.
Little changed in Game 2. Chris Wilcox (!?!) somehow got the nod over Shavlik Randolph for a couple minutes in the first quarter before being pulled. Randolph had a cameo later in the half, but only played real minutes in the second half when the game was already decided.
I think Doc’s unwillingness to go with a rebounding presence like Randolph is beyond questionable. Why? The Celtics are missing lots of shots. You know what’s available when you miss a lot of shots? Rebounds! Somehow, the C’s have collected a tiny 9 percent of those second chance opportunities in this series (down from a league worst 20 percent in the regular season). They’ve gone from really bad to historically bad in the first two games against New York with a lack of an inside presence. Brandon Bass is another guy who can hit the offensive glass when asked, but he’s been resigned to guarding Melo most of the time, focusing (wisely) on getting back in transition.
Am I saying Randolph will be the savior? I am not. However, would it hurt Doc to roll him out there for six minutes against Kenyon Martin to see what he can give the Celtics? I see absolutely no harm in that, since it’s clear the C’s performance couldn’t have been in any worse in the second halves of these first two games. Randolph may not have been in the gameplan, but that’s an adjustment that Doc has been unwilling to make when things have gone awry.
Another guy I wouldn’t mind seeing out there is Terrence Williams, who is (supposedly) Boston’s best point guard. He’s collecting dust on the bench. Like Crawford, Williams has the potential to get to the rim, make smart passes, and at least hold his own on the defensive end. His size and above-average positional rebounding ability make him an asset against a team like the Knicks when Crawford or Terry aren’t cutting it.
Unfortunately, despite some solid performances the last couple of months, Doc doesn’t trust these Randolph or Williams. He trusts his guys, even when they are showing no signs of life. I know it’s tough when both of these players haven’t been on the roster all season, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
All of this could and should change tonight. Doc and his staff have had a couple days to review the tape and see the same things most Celtics fans are seeing. A few things that need to happen.
1. The offense must get more unpredictable. Pierce should be counted on as a distributor, not just a creator. He’s been at his best this year when he’s dishing the ball in the pick-and-roll, not in isolation situations.
2. Shavlik Randolph needs to play 10-15 minutes per game to give the team some second chance opportunities.
3. The rotation must be adjustable, when things aren’t going well. Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford make mistakes offensively? Doc can’t be afraid to pull them.
Doc Rivers is still a good coach. C’s fans should still have faith in him. But his time is now. Things need to change in Game 3 and it needs to start at the top, if this team wants to come back.