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Paul Pierce will get the headlines. Paul Pierce will be the topic of conversation. And Paul Pierce will get the majority of the credit for the Boston Celtics’ game two victory over the Atlanta Hawks yesterday. None of this is undeserved. Pierce had a classic game that reminded me of his time with Boston prior to the big three era, dropping 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a game that the Celtics were absolutely supposed to lose. Pierce was furiously active from the tip and never relented. After putting the finishing touches on the game with some clutch shots, Pierce did something that may garner more attention than his play, Tebow-ing on the Hawks logo for the second time of the night.
But for all that Pierce did, the person that locked in yesterday’s Celtics victory to me was none other than Doc Rivers.
Here’s a coach with a team that could have imploded at any time this season that he’s kept from falling apart. Here’s a coach with a point guard that has a quick temper and has been constantly bandied around in trade rumors that he has kept engaged. Here’s a coach that just had a playoff game without that point guard (because of his temper) and without the best three-point shooter of all-time and squeezed everything out of his role players in order to get a win. Here’s a coach with an old and slow roster that has every excuse to decline defensively but instead is coming off of it’s best season in years.
If were ignoring records and focusing more on how they controlled the lockerroom, you could make a very strong case for Rivers as the Coach of the Year this season. The Celtics have been absolutely on fire since the all-star break and now they’ve stolen homecourt advantage from the Hawks in a gut wrenching win without two of their four best players. Rivers has done a tremendous job with this group, one that is very limited offensively and is filled with some defensive players with less than stellar reputations.
The Celtics only allowed 95.5 points per 100 possessions this season, the second best mark in the league behind Chicago, reprising the performance of those vaunted Boston defense from a couple of years ago that none of us expected to return. Even more impressive is how Doc has his players defending on an individual level. Of players with at least 447 defensive possessions this season, Brandon Bass ranks first in the NBA at 0.673 points per possession allowed. Kevin Garnett ranks second at .694 PPPa. Rajon Rondo ranks fourth at 0.739 PPPa. Avery Bradley ranks fifth at 0.742 PPPa. Ray Allen ranks 13th at 0.763 PPPa. Paul Pierce ranks 31st at 0.80 PPPa. Of big men that have played 240 defensive possessions against the pick and roll, Garnett is tops in the league in PPPa.
Everyone on this team defends relentless, a quality that we didn’t expect from an old team in a lockout shortened season. And last night Rivers plucked Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Hollins and Marquis Daniels out of the purgatory of irrelevancy and had them playing big time defense in big moments, and moving to the rights off the ball to take advantage of an uninspired Hawks defense. Pietrus didn’t look engaged in the first half of this game and it led to an in-huddle tirade from Rivers blasting him for his effort. According to reports from those at the game, Pietrus was ticked and on the edge of becoming indifferent, Ray Allen took him aside to chat and Rivers trusted him enough to put him back in the game. He preceded to play some big defense in the final minutes of the game. Just another example of Ubuntu.
At halftime of this game I didn’t think the Celtics had a chance of winning not only the game but also the series. But Boston fought back and took the will right out of the Hawks. Now I have a hard time seeing Atlanta recovering from this and with a weakened Chicago team or a starless Philly team waiting in the next round, Boston has a good shot at the Eastern Conference Finals. And though Pierce is the one with the impressive statline next to his name, don’t forget how key Doc Rivers was in all of this for the Celtics.