Post-game Reactions

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.

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Brian Robb

Brian Robb co-founded CelticsHub in 2009 and is the currently editor-in-chief. He is a producer and reporter at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston and also contributes to Boston.com and Bleacher Report among other outlets.
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  • Pauper

    I agree with most of this post. It is desperate times so we need some desperate measures. If we got no shot at winning this series and any other without surprising contributions, call me crazy but it's impossible to surprise if you aren't playing.

    1) Give Randolph a shot!
    2) See if T Will is a better pick and roll and/or passer into the post than our other options.
    3) Either sit Terry or let him play to his strength which is playmaker. Enough parking him at the three point line waiting for the nonexistent Pierce penetration. No knock on Pierce but he's not driving the hole when he's asked to bring the ball up, get 6-7 rebounds, and score 18 pts.

    There's no comeback from 3-0 so let's put it all out there! Unlike others, I think we are the better team in this series but we're playing our stars are better then yours and that's a losing bet at this point of their careers.

  • Josh_5

    1. Agreed.
    2. Agreed.
    3. Agreed.

    I vented about these very issues a few posts ago, but I truly believe these are 8th grade reading level adjustments. How can Doc be so blind to these (seemingly) obvious adjustments. I hope to God he makes the correct calls tonite because I love Doc as a coach, but Woodson is working him over right now.

  • Bev

    If Rondo is calling the offense from the bench (and we've seen it), he's only going to call plays for those players that he trusts and that's not the new guys! Leave the coaching to Doc, let the players play as the player they are and stop trying to make them play like Rondo when THEY CAN'T!

    • GymRat

      You're seriously trying to blame Rondo for the teams problems? Seriously?

  • tbunny

    Yes, I was just thinking this will be one of the biggest individual games in Doc's career as a coach. I think the main problem is that the team hasn't found an identity and I put that mostly on the coach.

    • janos

      hi bunny
      are you enjoy playofs nba so far? i am prefer us win but is usual good game al around leage

  • CG12

    Yep. Doc's most distinguishing feature as a coach is his determination to stick with "his guys" and "his stuff" no matter what. It has made him look great the last few years, when people have been throwing dirt on the team, and he just wasn't buying it. And I backed him up at those times. But now I think he is just getting it wrong. Pierce and KG cannot carry this team any more, and Doc is still trying to make that happen. His one wrinkle appears to be to give more responsibility to… Jason Terry! Another old guy who may have lost his fastball. My fear (and expectation) is that the C's are going to crash and burn out of the playoffs with little fanfare. I hope that doesn't happen, but it is what I expect to see, sadly.

    • CG12

      Regardless, the team's ownership and management need to go back to the drawing board in the off-season and put the post-New New Big 3 transition plan into effect right away. We have some pretty nice pieces on the roster as it is, and I would feel pretty good about taking the guys we have, giving them time to gel, maybe pick up one impact FA, and roll that out there next year. I believe KG will retire. This needs to become Jeff Green's team. He is currently far and away the team's most talented and most effective player. Doc has always wanted to play fast; next year is his chance. And he has the guys to do it – Crawford, Rondo, CLee, Bradley, Green, TWill, and (yes) Randolph are all guys who would do great in an up-tempo system. Small ball is the future, so let's embrace it.

      • GymRat

        I agree with you it's time to rebuild, but Green is will never be a superstar or a franchise player. He just doesn't have the personality or mental toughness. And what supports your statement he is the "most effective player"? He's nowhere near as consistent as PP or KG and doesn't have the overall impact of either of them even at this stage in their careers. He's also nowhere near as talented as Rondo. He's (at best) a good 3rd option, and I'd be happy to trade him to bring in the superstar to pair with Rondo this team really needs.

  • Had22B

    I think we need to go back to the starting lineup we had in Feb after Rondo went down, because it worked (remember the winning streak). Bring Lee back in the starting 5, he looks good with Bradley on the floor, then have Terry and Jeff come off the bench. Because right now, the current lineup or something(else) is obviously not working and we have to figure out what it is before it's too late.

  • hax

    Tonight is win-or-go home except multiplied by ten. They will lose 4-0 or 4-1 if they lose tonight. Garnett and other older players will be much easier to trade this offseason if they warrant it by doing poorly in theseplay-offs. And garnett will only waive his no-trade if pierce is gone so we would lose the truth as well.

  • Jacob

    Terrence Williams just may be the most talented player on this team. When given the chance to play 25-30 minutes a night, he will stuff a stat sheet. He did it when given the chance in NJ and in Sacramento. He and Avery Bradley would compliment each other wonderfully. Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford just are not cutting it. Doc needs to give someone else a shot to have a chance to win this series.

  • Morpheus

    I want to see T-Will get some burn tonight. This guy has potential to be a triple double threat, Doc just needs to trust him. Shav should be the 1st big off the bench. Do or die time.

  • morey

    Are you crazy. How the hell is he being out coached. Because he is losing. So if he is winning he is out coaching the other guy. Anyone that says this knows nothing about the NBA. I love the Celtics. The Celtics had a terrible year, almost worst in the NBA w/injuries. It takes time for new guys to get chemistry. We had to do it twice in one year and we are in the NBA playoffs. Of course we are going to play a strong team. You knew after twice it would be a struggle even to make the playoffs and we did it, actually he did it too. Listen pal, I do not want to teach you about how this works, but he is not being out coached.

  • guest critic

    This is a great post. Provocative, but it gets the conversation going and crystallizes our suspicions, at least for some of us. I suspected Doc had a hand in Celtics' inconsistency this season, but I liked him too much to air it out or call him on it. Here's one illustration of how Doc doesn't seem to have figured out how to use the talents of his players to best effect: Watch CLee in offense — he almost always goes to the corner and then just kind of stays there. Watch videos of CLee when he played in Houston or Orlando, and he is definitely not so passive. In fact, on those teams, he carried the offense with one or two other players. I can only suspect that Doc continues to draw plays that keep CLee and everyone else rather passive and stagnant and tragically underutilized. That's a misuse of CLee, who has speed and can drive to the basket. Terrence Williams is being tragically underutilized too. Yes, every team has a "system," and this may be Doc's system, but he is keeping the tightest reins on his players who have talent, while giving plenty of playing time to some individuals who might be a little overrated in some situations (Bradley, Terry).

  • Jusafan

    This is exactly what I've been saying. I agree with this post and some of these comments. I love Doc as a coach (he's a great coach) but sometimes he comes off as a spectator. He needs to make those calls that are sometimes the most difficult to make. Terry can not continue to put up 3's when he's off if they are hurting the team. Bench him for a bit and let him take another crack at it later. CLee can't continue to run to the corner for a 3 — when he can do more than that. Draw up some plays for him. He is more than capable of slashing to the basket. Jeff G played 45 mins in Game 1 — that should be a concern for anybody with a heart problem. KG can't be the only one grabbing offense boards. Once he puts up the shot nobody's down there to grab it. Doc and his staff control these things unless the team is doing whatever they want. It seems like some of the shots are forced or rushed. In each game only a few players strengths are being utilized.

  • Jusafan

    Yes things would be different if Rondo were in the game but he's not so there's no point in talking about it. We just got to buckle down and share the ball. Make subs when it's necessary. These men are in the NBA (supposedly at the top of their game) It shouldn't matter who you put in the game, they should be able to play and handle the pressure or they shouldn't be in the league. Don't be afraid to use them. It's frustrasting to see a team you love crumble and look disoriented and I'm sure it's frustrating for them to. It's not all Doc or the coaching staffs fault, It's just lazy or careless passes, and settling for tough jumpers. I don't think "we are right where we need to be". Playing from behind is never good. Hopefully we can get it done on Sunday… or it will be a long summer for the C's.