WALTHAM — Celtics head coach Doc Rivers believes he enters the season with the most talented group he’s ever coached, with more depth than the 2008 team that won the NBA title.
“You could make the case the 2008 team had more talent because they were younger. Kevin [Garnett] was at the peak of his health at that point so that has changed just a little bit. We’re hoping that all the guys on the bench are as good as their names. We don’t know that, either.”
One thing Rivers does know is the “O’Neal Brothers” – as he labeled the unrelated Shaquille and Jermaine on Monday – gives the Celtics as much in size as name recognition and the two will fight for the starting center’s job while Kendrick Perkins rehabs his right knee.”
Rivers has Delonte West on the bench. He has Nate Robinson on the bench. He Marquis Daniels on the bench. No team north of Miami can bring the depth to the court that the Celtics will bring this season.
“But I like the group as far as talent,” Rivers added. “A lot of the guys we’ve added, they’ve won. They’ve done a lot of winning if they haven’t been the winner [of the NBA title] and they are tough. A lot of them are tough guys, and I think that is good for our team.”
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said Monday he believes Rivers is the “perfect coach” for the veteran group of superstars he’s assembled to make another run at the franchise’s 18th NBA title. Rivers, Ainge and the rest of the Celtics spoke at Media Day about how ready and primed this group is to make it back to the promised land.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that, that’s for sure,” Rivers laughed when told what Ainge said. “We have a lot of personalities, there’s no doubt about that, probably more than we’ve ever had. Having said that, I also think this is the most talented group we’ve had, as far as deep, on the bench.”
The Celtics are trying to get back to the NBA Finals again next June for the third time in four seasons and avenge their Game 7 loss last June to the Lakers. The Celtics lead the Lakers 17 titles to 16.
Rivers went back with his coaching staff in August and made them all watch just how close they were to No. 18.
“I don’t think you ever get over it,” Rivers said. “I made my staff watch it. We watched it together about a month ago. So, I don’t think you ever get over it. Whenever I see anything [involving Game 7], they always show the damn celebration and all that. That’s not anything I want to watch. Hell, I’m not over Game 7 Celtics-Atlanta Hawks , so I’m certainly not going to be over this.
“It does in some ways. It wants you to get it started again so you can get back there. So yeah, in that way it does. But other than that, you have to move forward. It has to push you a little bit. There’s no doubt.”
One thing Rivers did take from watching again was just how big a role the third-quarter injury to Paul Pierce played in the final devastating outcome.
“It’s easier to watch it the second time,” Rivers said. “It’s still emotional, it always will be. You watch it and you looked at all the opportunities you did have in that in that game. You saw some things you didn’t see. I didn’t realize the Paul injury was bigger, that little injury, was bigger than I thought it was during the game.
“I think [Celtics’ lead] was 12 when he went out. It was only a three-minute period, but when he came back in it was four or six and that was the game. That was in the third quarter and I thought that was the turning point in the game. Nothing in the fourth quarter was different than what I saw. It was more the third quarter I thought changed the game.
In the wake of Game 7 in the locker room, Rivers also admitted Monday that he thought that was it for this group together under his direction.
“Yeah, because I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do at that time,” he said. “I knew Rasheed [Wallace] wasn’t coming back, he told me that before the game. I was, at that time, leaning heavily toward not coming back. Yeah, in the locker room I actually thought that was going to be the last time, at that point, that I would see all these guys together.
“And even if I did come back, I knew it wouldn’t be the same team. I knew we were going to have to make changes. I knew at that time, and no one else knew, the extent of Perk’s injury so I knew he wouldn’t be back until late in next year.”
But he does get another chance to prove – as Pierce believes – that he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Just how many games can this group win this regular season?
“How many games we play, 82? Ok,” Rivers laughed.
Rivers would be just happy with 16 in the playoffs when it matters most.