Blakely: Rivers remains constant for changing Celtics

Blakely: Rivers remains constant for changing Celtics
June 11, 2012, 2:35 am
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BOSTON When Doc Rivers shed tears following the Boston Celtics' season-ending loss to the Miami Heat, his players shared in his pain and suffering.

What he feels, they feel.

For NBA veterans such as Keyon Dooling who has played for a number of coaches throughout his career, the bond that forms so quickly between Rivers and his players is unusual.

But after spending a few months with Rivers on a daily basis, Dooling gets it.

"We love Doc," Dooling said. "He takes care of us. He's got it figured out. These young coaches who feel like they have to be Caesar on steroids, one of these dictators. It's such a waste of time and energy. Doc takes care of us. He respects us as men. He appreciates what we do. He demands a lot out of us, though. It's a healthy respect. He's figured it out. He's a flawless, coach. Straight up. I can't say that of any coach I've had. He's flawless from a coaching standpoint."

Having such reverence for Rivers is among the reasons why the Celtics fared so surprisingly well despite a season filled with heartaches and hardships.

Through all the turbulent times, Rivers never swayed from his belief in this team that they had so much more to give than anyone - outside of himself - believed was possible.

That's why he was willing to go to bat for this crew to stay together when the trading deadline came near, knowing C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was as open as he's ever been to making moving members of the Big Four.

"I kept telling him (Ainge), do what you think is best for the team. But if you don't think it's best for the long run, short run I want to stay with this group," Rivers said. "Make no short run moves involving them."

Ainge kept the group intact, to the relief of Rivers.

Throughout the season, players would speak about the positivity that Rivers was constantly filling them with, but at the same time not allowing them to wallow in self-pity when things didn't go their way or get too high or too low.

Rivers was the steady hand behind the wheel, constantly driving this team to be better than they were the day before.

And while Rivers has maintained how special a team this Celtics group was, he has often compared it to the 2003 Orlando Magic team he coached.

That group failed to make the playoffs, but their postseason fate wasn't decided until the last day of the season. And that team on paper at least, had no business being in the playoff race.

The key to that team's unexpected success?

Doc Rivers.

Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace was a member of that Orlando Magic team. He recalls one of Rivers' greatest traits being his ability to get those he coached, to elevate their play without realizing they're being nudged in that direction.

"Doc's a great coach," Wallace told CSNNE.com earlier this year. "He makes you believe sometimes when you don't want to. He has a way of seeing some things in you, in a team, that nobody else does. That's why he's such a great coach."

Said a Western Conference front-office official: "Doc didn't have to do anything this year special to be considered one of the best coaches in the game. But that team, all that they lost, to get all the way to the Conference finals and actually have a shot, a good shot at winning the series? Hands down, the best job he's done in Boston. Maybe the best job he's done ever."

Moments after the loss, Rivers acknowledged he couldn't yet fully appreciate all that the Celtics accomplished this season.

"I'm sure at some point I'll look back and say what a great run," Rivers said. "Right now, I'm just too competitive to see that."

And it is that competitive drive that you see in his players, a drive that allows a 26-year-old rookie center (Greg Stiemsma) from the D-League not only make the roster, but develop into one of the top first-year centers in the NBA this season. It infuses a player like Mickael Pietrus who was tossed aside by Phoenix, with the kind of confidence to be one of the Celtics' better on-the-ball-defenders.

"He (Rivers) took me under his shoulder and treated me like his son," Pietrus said. "That is why I was so grateful to the Boston Celtics this year."

But as much as players trust in Rivers, it is his trust in them that fuels the most storied franchise in the NBA.

Near the end of his post-game monologue on Saturday, Rajon Rondo came on to the podium to join Rivers.

Rondo sat there, attentively, as Rivers answered a couple more questions.

As Rivers' press conference came to a close, he applied a firm father-to-son-like grip on the back of Rondo's neck, and said, "I'm going to give it to this guy (Rondo). Like I said earlier, he's wonderful."

And so Rivers, clearly fighting off his emotions, walked off the stage and into an offseason of change for the Celtics.

But the one steadying force that's guiding it all - Rivers - will be back.

And if you're not sure as to why, here's a clue - He's a Celtic.