WALTHAM - Since the late '80s, the Celtics have employed a succession of basketball coaches who vowed they would make their basketball team run.
what? They might finally have a coach who really means it. Doc Rivers
isn't asking Paul Pierce, Gary Payton, Ricky Davis, and the boys to run,
he's ordering them to run, and if they don't, he's got a nice little
piece of hardwood reserved for them on the sideline.
found himself banished to the bench with 4:45 left in the fourth
quarter of Boston's 101-100 win over Milwaukee Wednesday night after he
failed to fill the lane in transition. This was not a one-time
transgression. Rivers has been hammering his players to push the ball
and fulfill their responsibilities accordingly. Sometimes Pierce does
it, sometimes he doesn't (he is not alone in this regard). Rivers, who
plans on stressing his uptempo style until it's ingrained into the
players' hideous headbands, yanked Pierce with the game hanging in the
balance, and absorbed a string of expletives from his captain as a
result. Pierce, who is supposed to be the leader of this team, then sat
down and sulked while his team kept pace with the Bucks. Then, when he
checked back in less than two minutes later, he drilled a big 3-pointer,
and turned to jaw at his coach again.
NBA player and coach trading barbs in the heat of a game is hardly big
news. In fact, it has been commonplace for decades. Ever catch the
verbiage between Bill Fitch and Kevin McHale back in the day? Or Chris
Ford and Larry Bird, who were once teammates? Surely you recall Jimmy
Rodgers and Danny Ainge butting heads. The dialogue between Rick Pitino
and Antoine Walker was legendary.
telling you right now," Rivers said yesterday, "if you ever put a
microphone on my bench and listened to 'Nique [Wilkins] and [former
Hawks coach] Mike Fratello, you'd have a story every night, and it would
be a hell uva story."
who did not comment following Wednesday's confrontation with Rivers,
tried to diffuse this story yesterday by apologizing to his coach and
his teammates. He addressed the media and accepted responsibility for
the incident, saying, "I wasn't setting a good example. I've got to do a
better job of that."
best player was still steaming, though, over the humiliation of being
pulled out of a 1-point game. You can be sure Pierce is wondering if
Miami coach Stan Van Gundy would ever do this to Shaquille O'Neal, or if
Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich would ever do this to Kobe Bryant, or if
Sixers coach Jim O'Brien would ever do this to Allen Iverson.
the deal on that, Paul: It's irrelevant. You play for Doc Rivers. He's
the coach. He's the boss. He wasn't afraid to challenge Tracy McGrady,
and he won't be afraid to challenge you. Take that the right way, and
you'll both be better for it. Dwell on it and let it linger, and you're
in for another miserable season.
Pierce and Rivers insisted yesterday they are moving forward. Let's
hope they mean it. Their little dust-up is trivial; the larger issue is
whether Pierce's petulance is indicative of a deeper dissatisfaction.
Friends and former teammates claim he is not happy in Boston. He is in
the prime of his career, and he's toiling for a team that is years, not
weeks or months, from being a championship contender. That wouldn't make
me too happy, either. But being unhappy and being so miserable that you
are looking for a way out are two entirely different scenarios.
Pierce is the one marquee name that still puts fannies in the seats of the FleetCenter. If he demanded a trade, the Celtics
would have problems. Aside from the fact he is a supremely talented
player who, for the most part, is hard working, affable and
accommodating, Pierce is also marketable. The current ownership group,
loaded with bottom-line businessmen, have sunk millions into this
venture, and they have the right to expect some financial return. With
Pierce, they've got it. Without him, it starts to get dicey.
that into consideration, you've got to love it even more that Rivers
did what was right, instead of what was safe. What he told Pierce
Wednesday night was that nobody is bigger than the team, not even a
Rivers insisted yesterday he never meant to single out his highest-profile player to make an example of him.
didn't intend it that way, but it probably ended up that way," Rivers
acknowledged. "Now they're thinking, 'He'll take anyone out.' Look, it
wasn't an easy decision. It's a [1-point] game, and I'm sitting there
looking up at the score knowing there's a chance we're going to lose
this game [without Pierce]."
and Pierce still have not sat down and worked through this little spat.
The coach figured it would happen today after the team shootaround.
Maybe he's still waiting for his superstar to cool off. Pierce said all
the right things yesterday, but it was clear he still doesn't agree with
Rivers's decision to pull him for something Pierce termed "minor."
"I've never been taken out of a game for doing something on offense," he said. "This is the first time in my whole career."
still does not grasp this fast-break business. Coaches talk about
running all the time, but it's hard to convince your players to commit
to that style night in and night out. It takes perseverance, and some
discomfort for a while, before teams buy into it. Most of Rivers's
predecessors hung with the plan for a month or so, then abandoned it
when met with too much resistance.
the moment, Rivers isn't budging. He knows he doesn't have the
personnel to play a half-court offense. His best players are all about
the same size, and they are gravitating to the same spot on the floor.
They all want the same kind of shots. If you get those players to run
and stretch the floor, their games will benefit. Pierce, in fact, could
benefit most of all.
Rivers believes Pierce will eventually grow to understand all of this.
the most part, he's been great at it," said Rivers. "But we're not
there yet. Running has to be second nature. We've done it in spurts. We
did it in Orlando, almost for the whole game. We did it almost the whole
game against Miami. But it's different. It's even different for Gary,
and he wants to run."
Pierce was in no mood yesterday to argue the merits of half-court vs. fast-break.
"He's the coach," Pierce said. "Whatever he says, goes. That's it."
should be, anyway. Give Rivers credit for being courageous enough to
take on the superstar to make a point. Give Pierce credit for owning up
to his mistakes.
Give them both another month or so to determine if this was, indeed, much ado about nothing.