Celtics  coach Doc Rivers  joined the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the NBA finals  against the Lakers. Rivers said his players do not view themselves as underdogs. “We don’t think that way,” he said. “We don’t care what others think. We believed going into the playoff rounds that we could get here and win it. We thought we needed to be healthy, and we did get healthy. I don’t know how healthy we are now, but we’re getting closer again. That was key for us. We just believe that the 23-5 team was the real team, at the beginning of the season. The 27-27 the rest of the way was due to different circumstances that had nothing to do with basketball. And we believe that as a group.”
Rivers talked about the respect he has for the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. “It means a lot,” he said. “I know the history. I love the history of the game. To be part of it is huge for me, personally. But you feel a responsibility. You don’t want them to beat you. And that’s just the bottom line. Let’s say you were playing Phoenix. You still would want to win the world championship, obviously. But you’re playing the Lakers, and it’s like you’re thinking more about you want to beat them and less about wanting to win the title. And that’s probably good.”
Following is a transcript. To hear the interview, click on the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page .
What is your schedule?
The schedule is we’re practicing at 11 o’clock. And then right after practice we’re jumping on a plane and flying out a day early — just with the time change and stuff. Then we’ll practice at UCLA tomorrow. Then we’ll have that league-mandated practice on Wednesday that I love so much.
Was that Nate Robinson’s 15 minutes of fame, or are we going to see more of Nate Robinson ?
I think you’ll see more of him. It’s funny what you learn in losses. Nate Robinson didn’t play because we needed him in Game 6. Nate Robinson played because he played so well in Game 5, the game that Orlando beat us. It wasn’t the offensive end, it was the defensive end. He was doing all the things that we needed him to do, that we worked with him on. You could see that he had bought in. I remember turning to our bench early on and saying, “Hey, Nate’s going to help us.” I didn’t know he was going to do that, obviously, offensively or anything like that. If he can continue to do that, then yeah, he has a chance to help us.
If he had just done nothing more than not screw up and you just maintained, would you have been happy with his contribution in Game 6.
Yeah, but he does have a gift defensively if he wants to use it. And that’s one of the things we told him when he first got here. He has speed, he has strength, he has the ability to get through screens. And it was amazing how he did that against Orlando. And I think the light came on for him for the first time: “I really can be a good defensive player.” And I thought that was really important for us.
Now that you’re in the finals, does your job get easier or harder as a coaching staff?
I’ll let you know in a week. You don’t know. You never know how guys handle this. Whether they’ve been through it or not, you just don’t [know] until it starts. You prepare them. I will say this about this group of late, at least. Their focus has been terrific. Two days off, guys are coming in and getting shots, they’re getting treatment. This is not a celebratory thing for us to make it to the finals. We were happy about it, but I don’t think this is what the guys want. They want more, and you can sense that. And that’s good for me.
I’m going to guess that your players would recoil at the idea of ever being considered underdogs.
We don’t think that way. We don’t care what others think. We believed going into the playoff rounds that we could get here and win it. We thought we needed to be healthy, and we did get healthy. I don’t know how healthy we are now, but we’re getting closer again. That was key for us. We just believe that the 23-5 team was the real team, at the beginning of the season. The 27-27 the rest of the way was due to different circumstances that had nothing to do with basketball. And we believe that as a group.
Glen Davis  ‘ can you speak to his value to your team at both ends of the floor?
It’s huge. Offensively he’s really coming into his own. He’s starting to figure out what he can do. He occasionally tries to do too much still. That’s just more him being young still. Defensively he can guard 5s because he has a lower center of gravity. He can guard 4s because he has quick feet. He makes the extra effort. He’s our best charger-taker on the team, clogging up the lane. He does a lot of little things. He has what Red Auerbach  would say, “He’s an agitator.” You want agitators on your basketball team. I remember one of the last things Red told me: “If you can get 12 of them, get them. Get as many of them as you can get.” Because they’ll swing games or you, and Glen does that.
I would imagine Lamar Odom does the same against you [creating matchup problems].
He’s tough. He can play the 3 full-time if he wants to. That’s the speed that he has. You know where he concerns us the most is on the rebound breakout. He’s one of the few bigs in the league that rebounds the ball, brings it out and then leads to their break. That’s a very difficult challenge for us. It creates mismatches. It ends up where a guard has to take the ball. Now we have bad matchups around the floor. He’s been very effective against us doing that. That’s our big concern with him.
Have you yet begun to figure out why you have been so ineffective at home this year?
No. Obviously, we’re been better in the playoffs. We’ve had better focus, obviously. I don’t think we take it for granted anymore. I don’t know why we struggled all year. Part of it was the second half of that year. But even when we were playing well, we lost a couple of key games early. I think when we go on the road we have unbelievable focus because we know that it is very difficult to win on the road. I thought it was as simple as — early on, at least — that we just felt OK, we’re at home, everything will take care of itself. We did close out two big series at home, Cleveland and Orlando. So, home court is starting to prove to be very important for us again. And thats good, because we’re going to need it.
This rivalry — what does it mean to you?
It means a lot. I know the history. I love the history of the game. To be part of it is huge for me, personally. But you feel a responsibility. You don’t want them to beat you. And that’s just the bottom line. Let’s say you were playing Phoenix. You still would want to win the world championship, obviously. But you’re playing the Lakers, and it’s like you’re thinking more about you want to beat them and less about wanting to win the title. And that’s probably good.
This is phenomenal, isn’t it?
It really is. And it’s what both teams wanted. Two years ago, I think both teams wanted to win the world championship, if you know what I’m saying. And we did, and it happened to be against them, and it made this rivalry bigger. Last year, we weren’t healthy and they won it, so give them all the credit. But I think at the start of this year when we started out hot and they started out hot, I think both teams — I know we did, we thought, “Let’s get back to them.” I think they thought the same way; at least, that’s what I’m hearing now. It’s happened, and we’ll be ready for it.
Kobe Bryant  — is it the same defensive strategy that it’s team against one?
Kobe, he’s special. He’s the most skilled of the group. LeBron’s the best athlete, you can say, which made him the best player during the regular season. But I’ve always thought the most skilled players are the most dangerous in the playoffs because they can create shot and make shots. And Kobe is the most skilled player that we’re going to play through these playoffs, there’s no doubt about that. He’s probably playing better now than he has all year, which makes him even more dangerous. It’s going to be a tough task.
Listen, LeBron had some big games against us. A couple of them he did struggle, and we won those. And [Dwyane] Wade  the same way, the same with Dwight [Howard ]. And I’m sure Kobe will have a couple. One of the things we talk about with our guys is we have to beat them when Kobe has a great game, and we have to try to shut him down at the same time. We have to be prepared to still win the game when he does have a go-off game. That’s what the challenge will be.
Are you confident that [Kendrick Perkins ] is going to keep the cool that he needs to keep?
I am, but It’s so tough. You know what’s going to happen. The Lakers are going to want to prove to us they’re physical. You know that. And the refs are going to want to prove that they can keep the game under control. Perk and [Andrew] Bynum  will get tied up. And even if you walk away, they’re going to give you a double tech. That’s a concern.
I still don’t agree with this whole seven-tech thing, as you know. I think it’s a horrendous thing. Because three or four of them are always going to be double techs. And if you have a physical player — and if you just have to be a physical team — the longer you go, the chances are you’re not going to just have one, you’re going to have one, two, maybe three guys close to the number. And in the officials’ defense, they should try to keep it clean. A great way of doing it is by doing the double technical thing. I don’t think guys should miss games for that.
It’s not about individual matchups. It’s about my collective vision of defense and offense vs. yours. Am I correct?
You’re 100 percent correct. We’ve talked about throughout the playoffs. They’re going to throw up if they hear me say that one more time. I’ve told them from Game 1 against Miami: We’re not better than Wade. We’re not individually better if you go man to man with Cleveland and Orlando. We’re not that. We’re not going to beat the Lakers in individual battles. But we have proven, when we play together, defensively when everybody’s on the same page and does their role, offensively when no one cares where the ball goes, that we can beat anybody.
Our team’s strange in that way, as you’ve seen. They buy in and they buy out, is what we call it. I actually thought the Game 5 in Orlando, where we clearly didn’t do that, and then Game 6 where we clearly did it — offensively, if we kept playing we could have had as many points as we wanted to in that stretch. Same thing defensively. I think it’s great for them to see. We have it on record now. They can see what looks good, what doesn’t look good. And I think they’re starting to understand it more and more.
When Doc Rivers’ memoirs are written, how much space will be devoted to the life and times of Rasheed Wallace ?
That’s a chapter [laughs]. … You will get a good laugh out of that chapter, I’ll tell you that.
Rasheed and Ron Artest  — neither one of these guys were in the series two years ago.
I think, obviously, they both were brought to each team for this reason. Sitting at home watching the Lakers win it last year, the thing that kept popping out of the screen to me was size. We needed size and skill. We needed a guy that could stretch the defense, a guy that could post the defense and a guy that was 7 feet tall, with experience. … That was Mr. Rasheed Wallace.
You look at the Lakers, that’s what they have. They have unbelievable size. The Lakers, on the other hand, looked at Artest, they wanted a stopper besides Kobe. They looked at Kobe as a great defensive player, but if he’s trying to stop the best player every night, then that hurts his offense. I think that’s the underlying theme here that no one talks about, is what Artest has meant to the Lakers for Kobe. Kobe is scoring better than he’s scored in years in the playoffs, and I think it’s because he doesn’t have to guard the best guy any more. And I think it’s been huge for Kobe.
Have you thought about your future leading up tho this, and when will you start thinking about your future?
I haven’t thought about it much at all. It’s been brought up lately a lot. Obviously, because you’re playing in the playoffs still. But I really don’t think about it a lot. Danny [Ainge] and I have had some discussions on the golf course about it. But other than that, no, I don’t think about it. You both know this: You can’t make any decisions during the season. I always joke, even recently, I decided after Game 5, after the Orlando game, I was going to stay at home. I decided after Game 6 you’re going to coach forever. It’s an emotional game. This has been an emotional season — not emotional, just tough. I think you just wait and relax, and go to Legal Sea Food or wherever and decide later.
I guess that’s something you’ll deal with when it’s all over.
Listen, then is — and I don’t say this because I’m here, and I didn’t know this until I got here: You can’t get this anywhere else. And I really believe that. There will be a day when I’ll walk away or they won’t want me, and I’ll have to go somewhere else. But you cannot get what you get in Boston. And I didn’t know that before I came here. But I know it now. And you don’t take it for granted, you really don’t. Not only just the ownership with Wyc [Grousbeck] and [Steve Pagliuca] and those guys. I have a friend that’s a GM, and he just happens to be my boss.
But just the whole Boston thing, you don’t get it [anywhere else]. I’ve played in some great markets, and it’s neat. Playing in New York was really neat. But because of the smallness of Boston — if you know what I mean, as far as the town, the city — and the understanding of sports, it’s just different. I tell coaches that all the time when I speak. I say, “You don’t get what you get in Boston anywhere else in this country.” And so, that’s important.
What are you up against when you go into battle against a Phil Jackson-coached team?
The guy’s won 10 titles. I’ve won one. So, I give him all the respect in the world. And what he has done he’s done in two different places. He has a great way of getting his guys to buy into their system and to think freely on the floor. That’s a gift that he has. So, we know we’re up against it in that way. And he has a way of instilling confidence in his team. So, we have to deal with all that, and we have to somehow shake that confidence going in. His confidence, Phil’s, won’t be [shaken]. But some of his players, maybe you can get to them. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.
There’s a lot at stake for a lot of people in this postseason. Will you play to that at all when you motivate your team. Or do you not even have to say anything about what it will mean to win another championship?
They know. I realized midseason that this is not the visionary group. Two years ago, they were. It’s amazing. Two years ago, they really were. This group is more a single-minded, single-game team. It’s amazing, it’s almost the same group but they’re different in that way. When we can focus game to game, we’re so much better that way with this group. The 2008 group, we could talk about five-game segments, history. This is not that type of group here. In some ways, that’s fine.