6.25.2008

Did Rivers Outcoach the Zen Mistress?

It is simplistic to conclude, as many did, that Rivers outcoached Jackson in the series, thus preventing Jackson from earning his 10th ring and surpassing the total of Red Auerbach, the Celtics' patriarch, who died in 2006. Outcoached is one of the most overused words in our sporting lexicon. Good coaching (and bad) manifests itself over time. Rivers juggled his backup guards (Eddie House, Sam Cassell and Tony Allen) according to no formula that I could discern, yet got strong performances out of all of them at one time or another; Jackson, meanwhile, had no idea what he was going to get from his bench and ultimately got very little. So is that one guy outcoaching the other?

But there is this: In six third quarters--the period that some say is the most important, when a team can build a lead and crush the opposition's spirit or render its strong first-half effort meaningless--Boston outscored L.A. by an average of 7.2 points. Let's put it this way: In these Finals, the Rivers way was superior to the Jackson way. Rivers roamed, Jackson sat. Rivers lit a fire under his players, Jackson asked his to figure it out on their own. Rivers acted glad-to-be-here, Jackson came across as this-is-my-11th-time-here.

When Rivers got the Boston job in April 2004, he embraced the burden of history, inviting every living former Celtic to attend practice. He also consulted with Auerbach, who gave him two pieces of advice: "Be the agitators; don't be the retaliators" and "Get the ball; don't give up the ball."

Rivers connected his players to the franchise's illustrious past while keeping them in the present. Something that backup big man P.J. Brown told me during the Finals stuck with me. Ainge signed Brown in late February--it was P.J.'s fifth stop in a 15-year career--to provide maturity and toughness. I asked if he had made an immediate assessment of Rivers when he came to the team.

"Most definitely," said Brown. "Doc had the team. You can always tell that right away. He just had the team."

--Jack McCallum

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