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Doc has the right Rx

04.08.09 at 11:35 pm ET
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In his long NBA career, Mikki Moore has seen his share of coaches come and go. He has seen the NBA world from all angles — as a starter on a playoff team, as a reserve, as a deep reserve and unfortunately as a forgotten man on a team going nowhere. Moore possesses the kind of perspective on life in the League that has to be lived  in order to appreciate the situation he finds himself in now and the coach he is playing for, Doc Rivers.

“Doc is a player’s coach,” Moore said. “He knows how to relate. Some coaches are just good X’s and O’s, but he’s good on both sides. He knows how to sit down and talk to you and let you know exactly what he thinks. And take your opinions. There’s nothing hidden. He’s not playing with your mind. I’ve been through all of that. It’s straight cut and dry. He lets you know how he feels. (He) respects your opinion, but this is what I need done. That’s what I like.”

It sounds so easy, so refreshingly straight-forward, but it’s a big part of the reason why the Celtics have such respect for their head coach, and conversely, a big reason why so many other coaches fail. You can draw up the best out of bounds play known to man and Hubie Brown, and Rivers is very good at that particular aspect of his job, but if you can’t get your players to buy into what you’re selling you’ll find yourself watching games with a headset and a mic instead of a dry-erase board.

As NBA awards season begins to dawn, Rivers has received scant attention for the job he’s done this year. He is on the verge of another 60-win season, which was expected, but it’s the unexpected–the myriad of injuries that have plagued the Celtics since the All-Star break, and the job he’s done piecing together lineups, that has not received enough attention.

“Doc’s been our leader,” Leon Powe said. “He puts his team out there, whatever we’ve got. If somebody’s hurt we don’t make any excuses. If somebody’s hurt, somebody else has to step up. As a player, you respect that.”

If Rivers’ name hasn’t been bandied about for Coach of the Year, it doesn’t affect him. He’s won it before in Orlando and all that got him was a pink slip a few years later. Just like it got Sam Mitchell in Toronto and Avery Johnson in Dallas and on and on.

“Stuff like that doesn’t even bother him,” Moore said. “Both as a coach and a person. Some guys, they hit adversity they start acting differently. He’s just the same cool cat.”

On Wednesday night against New Jersey, Rivers left his second unit on the floor deep into the fourth quarter. They had been playing with energy and were responsible for the lead, so he left them in the game. (Click here for a recap). There were two methods at play with this decision. One, it was a good chance to see how the bench would do in that situation, and two, they were just playing well.

But then Rivers brought the starters back in to finish the game and someone asked if it was a message, which it was, to a point. But the important thing was it wasn’t a hidden message.

“I thought they hadn’t played well enough to sit,” Rivers said. “So that’s really why I played them, because I just didn’t think they had played well enough to sit. I thought they needed to play.”

To say NBA players appreciate such candor is a little like saying LeBron James gets some calls. It’s part of the reason why Rivers relates so well to a team full of veterans and young players with their heads in the right place. Take Powe, a thoughtful young man who hasn’t had to endure Moore’s vagabond life to appreciate life in an NBA locker room devoid of the usual craziness.

“It makes it easier for us,” Powe said. “It makes it easier to focus on basketball. That starts with the head man and his character. It trickles down to the veterans and then down to the young guys. KG, Ray and Paul showed us and now we’re showing the young guys how to act on and off the court.”

Or take Kendrick Perkins who has developed under Rivers and his staff into a very good NBA big man. “He’s great,” Perkins said. “Not only does he help the team, he’s helped me a lot. He’s not only a good teacher on the court, but off the court too. He’s got a really good mind for basketball, he puts his time in. The thing about Doc that most coaches don’t do is, he’s open. It’s not always his way. He’s open to suggestions. You don’t find that too often.”

Rivers was asked before the game if the injuries have been a challenge for him this year. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess it’s a challenge. For me you grab the numbers you have and you make do with what you have. It’s become more difficult because you would like to get your rotation in your mind set for the playoffs.”

The injuries and the lack of practice time have forced Rivers and his staff to adjust on the fly, often during games. He hit on having Stephon Marbury and Eddie House handle the backup guard minutes, but he’s still working through how best to use Tony Allen and how his big man combinations will play out once Garnett comes back.

Those are tough decisions and bound to leave somebody feeling left out, but don’t count on anyone complaining to the press about it because 1) that’s not the way things are done with this team and 2) everyone in the locker room will know why the coach is doing what he’s doing and they will respect it.

“We’re a pretty open team,” Perkins said. “When we have a problem we deal with it. We don’t have to go to the media. That’s one thing Doc stresses.”

Rivers may not be Coach of the Year, in fact he probably won’t, but he’s done as good a job as can be expected under the circumstances and more importantly, he has his players’ trust and respect.

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