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Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Celtics and head coach Doc Rivers have agreed on an extension that will keep the coach with the team through the 2010-2011 season. Rivers, who made $5 million during his championship season, is set to make $5.5 million per year with incentives totaling up to $7 million annually.
It wasn’t long ago that media and fans alike were calling for Rivers’ head on a platter. Following a dismal 24-58 season, including a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak, Rivers’ future in Boston was no doubt in jeopardy… pending the bounce of a ping-pong ball.
When it was revealed that the Celtics were stuck with the number five pick, Boston fans everywhere felt a brutal blow to the stomach (similar to the one we all felt this past Sunday). Everyone was waiting for the savior, whether it be Oden or Durant, but neither would be flying into Logan anytime soon. Tommy Heinsohn’s face would have made you think that David Stern had just kidnapped the Redhead from Needham.
It was back to square one for the rebuilding Celtics. Though Al Jefferson’s play was consistent, along with Rondo and Ryan Gomes showing flashes of great potential, the losses far outweighed the positives. Fortunately for Rivers, Danny Ainge knew that Doc’s future wasn’t the only one looking grim. Ainge was on the ropes as well, and he came out swinging.
When trading the number five pick, Delonte West, and Wally Szerbiak to acquire Ray Allen, Celtics fans had something to look forward to, though a championship was still a pipe dream. Just a few weeks later, Ainge gathered all his chips in front of him. Knowing that time was running out, he went all in. It was Gomes, Big Al, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliffe, and 2009’s first round draft pick in exchange for the Big Ticket, 2004 MVP, Kevin Garnett. The choice was clear for Doc: win or be fired.
Everyone spoke of how difficult a task Doc had in front of him. How was he supposed to keep three superstars grounded? How could they play together? Who is going to play defense? Who takes the big shot?
Before long, the Celtics would stand as the last undefeated team in the NBA. The offense was clicking on all cylinders. They’re bench was scoring when called upon. They’re defense was, as Iron Mike would say, impregnable. Suddenly the Garden was packed and rocking game after game. Rivers could breathe a little bit. Coaching a basketball team isn’t quite as daunting of a task when you have three coaches running the floor.
Despite having the best record wire-to-wire last season, Doc’s coaching was still questioned. Hell, I went to about 35 games and even I didn’t remain standing and clapping when Doc was announced during starting lineups. It wasn’t until the Celts came home from the west coast after sweeping Texas that I conceded to my buddy in Section 303, while remaining on my feet, “OK, love for Doc.”
The strongest criticism Doc endured during the year was probably after the Celtics acquired Sam Cassell. Fans across the city were split on whether Cassell was a worthwhile pickup. Rondo had already turned into a stud amongst all fans, both real and bandwagon alike. Eddie House couldn’t effectively handle the ball (especially against a press), but his instant offense had put him in the good graces of the Garden faithful. Cassell was a threat to both of their playing times and it was no secret.
Cassell did have one big game shortly after to coming to town, but it turned out to be a rare sight. After struggling in the last few weeks of the season, he failed to shoot over 42% in any series during the playoffs. Fortunately, Doc let Sam play most of defense on the bench, yelling in the ears of the likes of Joe Johnson, Tayshaun Prince, and Sasha Vujačić.
Doc’s other questionable strategies affected one Leon Powe. Powe didn’t have the minutes you’d get from a well seasoned veteran, but the youngster from Cal had also become a fan favorite with his hustle, physical play, and humble persona. He never wasted minutes. Powe proved himself as a solidified banger. He ended up as the most fouled player per 60 minutes in the NBA. Apparently Phil Jackson didn’t get the memo. Jackson was left at the podium wondering how a guy named “Pow” (I think Pau’s on your team Phil) had been to the line more than his whole Laker squad. Anyone who followed both teams all season knows it’s a simple answer: toughness.
Despite having very few mental mistakes during the course of the season, Powe only averaged more minutes per game than Cassell in one playoff series. One would think it must’ve been versus the Lakers, the team in which Powe mopped the parquet with in Game 2, but it was actually against the Hawks in the first round. He continued to make the most of his minutes, but the minutes just weren’t there.
Despite the amazing season, Doc still had his critics. Nearly all the credit for the Celtics’ new and improved defense was given to Defensive Player of the Year Garnett and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Doubters were far from silenced when the Celts needed seven games to finish the Hawks and then seven for the Cavs. After a convincing series win over Detroit, the Celtics managed to somehow go into the Finals as underdogs.
It wasn’t until the late hours of June 17th that Doc found sweet redemption. The real party started early in the third quarter. The balcony looked like the Celts had just set off more pyrotechnics, but this wasn’t the smell of some fireworks you can get by traveling 60 miles north on 93. This was the sweet smell of success: the sweet smell of cigars, of Red.
As the Celts poured it on the Lakers, the Truth poured it on Doc. It’s almost as though that red Gatorade was washing the monkey off Doc’s back. He’s coaching the best basketball team in the best basketball league in the world. Now he has a new ring, a new contract, and a new goal: defend the crown.