Coach as star: Rivers shines vs. Knicks

191544.jpg

Coach as star: Rivers shines vs. Knicks

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM In Boston's two playoff wins over New York, the Celtics' ability to execute in the closing moments has stood out.

Just as important has been Celtics coach Doc Rivers' uncanny knack for knowing who to go to, at just the right time.

You put it all together and you have a tightly contested series that, in terms of winners and losers, has been decisively lopsided.

The C's hope to keep the series like that moving forward with Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

Rivers said his formula for play-calling success in tight games is pretty simple.

"It's all about multiple options," he said.

For most late-game plays, Rivers will call a play in which either Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce will be the player they're looking to for a basket.

In Boston's 87-85 Game 1 victory, the C's trailed 85-82 with less than a minute to play.

Coming out of a time out, Rivers called for a lob pass to Garnett.

The play completely caught the Knicks off guard.

After a turnover, the C's called another time out.

Again, there were a number of options on the play. The ball ultimately wound up in the hands of Allen who calmly sank the game-winning shot.

"It's like football. You have a whole list, and you pick," Rivers said. "I've been wrong as much as I've been right. But when you're right and the shot goes in, it makes it a lot better."

A big part of the Celtics' late-game success is the fact that this group has been through so many trials and tribulations. It's given them a certain confidence that regardless of what the call is, they can make it happen.

"They've been together for a while and they understand what they have," said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. "They've just got so many weapons and it's tough."

But it's still on Rivers to make sure he puts his players in the best position possible.

And part of that involves coming up with plays that completely catch the opposition off guard.

In Game 2, Garnett put the Celtics ahead by one point and then forced a turnover with about four seconds to play.

The Knicks were planning to foul immediately.

Rivers had the Celtics inbound the ball to Delonte West, which was a surprise to the Knicks.

It took New York nearly three seconds to foul West, who went to the line with just 0.6 seconds to play.

"Doc Rivers drew up a hell of a play," said New York's Carmelo Anthony. "A lot of us thought that the ball was coming in the front court, he threw it in the backcourt, it took a lot of time off the clock. You have to take your hat off to Doc for drawing up a hell of a play like that."

But a play is only as good as those who execute it.

And for the Celtics, that starts with point guard Rajon Rondo.

Because of the bond that he has with his coach, Rivers won't hesitate to call a play with several options and be confident that Rondo will make the right read on the play.

"I guess he trusts me," Rondo said. "I've earned his trust, I guess."

And it's true.

The NBA is indeed a player's league.

But those players need direction and guidance, especially down the stretch in close games.

We've seen that up-close in the Celtics series, one that Boston leads 2-0 in part because of Rivers' ability to make the right call in the closing moments of games.

"He does all the plays," Rondo said. "We don't have anything to do with it. We just execute them, I guess. Obviously, we didn't execute them well in the regular season. But these last two games, we've done a pretty good job of executing plays."

Said Allen: "As a coach, he's watching. Doc has watched numerous hours of film. When you see kind of what's happening, you adjust to it on the fly. We have a play for almost everything. He knows who we are; what we're good at."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

boston-celtics-brad-stevens-2016-camp.jpg

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

Click here for the gallery. 

BOSTON – As has been customary with the Celtics in recent years, their open practice on Friday night featured a pair of 10-minute scrimmages pitting the “Green” team of starters against the “White” team of reserves.
 
The White team, which apparently has been kicking the Green team’s butt for a good chunk of camp, emerged with a 33-26 win. And the Green team had to rally to win the second scrimmage, 24-18.

Similar to summer league, you can’t read too much into what happened and what didn’t happen on Friday night.
 
That said, there were a number of clear and undeniable positives for the Celtics to take from the game and hopefully build upon them going forward.
 
 
5. Al Horford's leadership established
 
The first player’s voice that the 6,000-plus fans at the TD Garden heard from was Al Horford and don’t think for a minute that was just happenstance.
 
For all the scoring and rebounding and defending that the Celtics will look for Horford to do, it is his ability to lead this team that separates him from most of his NBA brethren.
 
The fact that he’s a four-time All-Star speaks to what he has done in this league as a player. But even more telling is that was the fact that he’s been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA. And during that span of nine years, he has been pivotal in leading Atlanta beyond the first round – a primary goal for him and the Celtics this season – five times.
 
 
4. Celtics defense could be an elite unit this season
 
The Celtics were a top-10 defensive team last season, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be even better now. Boston has a trio of Pit Bull-like defenders on the perimeter in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and All-NBA first team defender Avery Bradley. Throw in Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility at the wing along with a pair of upper echelon rim-protectors in Amir Johnson and Al Horford and the Celtics no longer are a team that can put a couple good defenders on the floor at one time. They actually have the depth now to go with a ‘Big’ all-defensive team or a ‘small ball’ all-defensive team which provides the kind of versatility that should result in Boston being a top-3 defensive team this season.
 
 
3. Marcus Smart poised for breakout season
 
Smart seemed about as comfortable as we’ve seen him on Friday, showcasing his range as a shooter while still being able to get after it defensively. Based on what he has done in terms of improving his game, Smart seems more likely to play off the ball than on it. With his size, strength, athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Boston does indeed have one of those magical-type seasons, Smart is a player that has the potential to help significantly. He understands the Celtics’ system inside and out, and is doing what young players on the rise should do – show growth as a player.
 
 
2. James Young playing best basketball at right time
 
These are some pretty stressful times for James Young, but you wouldn’t know it by the extremely cool demeanor he has exuded. Although it has only been a few short days of training camp, James Young has stepped up his game knowing anything less than his best could result in him being waived and potentially on his way out of the NBA. During the first Green-White scrimmage on Friday night, Danny Ainge said there were five guys essentially fighting for two roster spots. He didn’t single out Young specifically, but it’s no secret that the 21-year-old who is heading into third NBA season is among the players in that group. To Young's credit, he's doing a lot of those little things such as playing solid defense, getting deflections and making "hockey assists" to show he belongs in the NBA and more significantly, should remain a Celtic. 
  
1. Terry Rozier's tremendous strides
 
Rozier was the star of the two scrimmages the Celtics put on in front of about 6,000 people at the TD Garden Friday night. He scored, got assists, rebounded … he did it all. What impressed me the most about him was his defense on Isaiah Thomas. Rozier loves Thomas and respects the hell out of him. But Rozier  has made no secret about wanting to get more playing time this year, and is out to snatch some of the minutes from anyone ahead of him, Thomas included. We saw the tenacious potential Rozier has as an on-the-ball defender, but he seems to have taken that up a notch from his rookie season. And the confidence he has in his shot-making is undeniable. We saw that in summer league and it’s good to see that he brought it with him into training camp. Ditto for his decision-making and leading of the team at the point which are also areas in which he has improved but still needs to continue to get better at on a more consistent basis. There’s no doubt at this point Rozier will play this season and likely get a lion’s share of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner’s departure to Portland.