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Boston's Doc Rivers' faith pushes team forward

The coach says his job is to make his players believe. After a 27-27 finish to the regular season and a difficult road through the playoffs, the Celtics are tied, 1-1, with the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

June 07, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

Reporting from Boston -- Give the replay an '80's sitcom laugh track, some Benny Hill-style music, and play it back in fast forward.

That would liven up the clip of coaching brilliance Doc Rivers exhibited Sunday late in his Celtics' Game 2 win over the Lakers in the NBA Finals -- and make everyone laugh at Rivers almost as hard as his players did.

It occurred with the Celtics seconds away from an eight-second backcourt violation with 1:26 left, leading 95-90, when Rivers bolted from the sideline, raced near midcourt and saved his team a turnover by calling a timeout.

Which his players spent in chuckles.

"It's just funny. He ran out there, an old man trying to call a timeout, looking like he was about to hurt himself," forward Glen Davis said.

"You know, it was funny, as big as that little moment was," Rivers said. "I actually thought the bigger moment was all the players were laughing at me and it allowed them to breathe a little bit."

The split-second decision proved crucial and adds to Rivers' lengthy list of coaching moves this season, which may be his finest yet -- even ahead of his 2008 championship considering the aged/injured roster he has guided to the Finals this year.

That the Celtics are here after a 27-27 finish to the regular season and a treacherous road through the playoffs, facing Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, seems remarkable. But Rivers says his job is to make his players believe.

"I'm not in the business of trying to prove to the masses," he said. "I've just got to prove to 15, and that's the guys in the locker room."

During the regular season he kept spirits high with tactics such as collecting $100 from his players and staff and hiding an envelope with $2,600 in the Lakers' visitor locker room with the message that they could get it back if they met the Lakers in the Finals.

Injuries were the most trying issue, though. Rivers told Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen late in the regular season that each had minute restrictions because they needed rest for the playoffs.

Through the struggles, Rivers continually said, "I like our team," even when most others didn't.

"When you look at them, and they're hobbling to the finish line, you're thinking this guy is delusional," said ESPN analyst and former Indiana Pacers guard Mark Jackson. "But he believed in his team and I think that confidence was contagious."

Fellow ESPN analyst and former coach Jack Ramsay said Rivers' belief is perhaps his best trait. Ramsay recalled broadcasting Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals, when the Celtics trailed the Lakers by 24 points, but came back to win.

"We could hear what was going on in their huddles, and he would not let them give up on the game," Ramsay said. "I thought he personally kept his team hanging in the game."

How? Ramsay said Rivers would single out players, even his stars, and look everyone in the eyes.

"He'll never let us relax," center Kendrick Perkins said. "He always keeps us focused."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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