Posted Jun 11 2010 8:26PM - Updated Jun 12 2010 9:47AM
BOSTON -- Few coaches in any professional sport stroll in to face the media after a tough playoff loss on their home floor and crack jokes.
Most coaches aren't Doc Rivers.
Good luck finding a team where the starters and reserves are virtually interchangeable on a given night, where the first five cheer and wave towels during a late-game rally towels harder than the second or even third five ever could.
Most teams aren't cut like that.
But most teams aren't the Boston Celtics, a motley crew of future Hall of Famers (Kevin Garnett), potential Hall of Famers (Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) and budding stars (Rajon Rondo) mixed in with a cast of carnival characters (Big Baby Davis and Nate Robinson), specialists (Tony Allen), career enigmas (Rasheed Wallace) and high-paid locker room attendants (Brian Scalabarine).
When Rivers left his reserves on the floor in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's crucial come-from-behind Game 4 win at TD Garden, they rewarded his faith by out-hustling, outworking and outplaying the more celebrated Lakers to tie this series at 2-2.
It was the picture of this team stripped clean of all the extraneous parts.
"It is," Rondo said. "We played great as a team. Not one person won the game, and that's what it's going to take to win this series."
The tea and crumpets crowd is on the other sideline, the Hollywood crew with the glossy image to match. The Lakers are the grown ups in this series, the straight-laced bunch with the global pedigree and the well-read coach that loves to spin yarns about philosophy and other Zen-related topics.
Yet it's Rivers that has pushed all the right buttons in this series to keep his team even. Sure, you might not want the Celtics crashing your daughter's Sweet 16 party, but if you need a blue-collar effort on the basketball court, this is your bunch.
When they cranked the meter up, it goes all the way up, as it did in that fourth quarter of Game 4 behind the play of the 6-9, 289-pound Davis and the 5-foot9, 180-pound Robinson -- "Shrek and Donkey" as Robinson coined them after he rode to the bench during a timeout on the back of a drooling Davis during that electric stretch.
"I just think you can't scout energy," said Robinson, cast off by the lowly Knicks earlier this season only to resurface here with huge games in not only this series but also with a monster half in a crucial game in the conference finals against Orlando. "Something my college coach used to say is that the more energy you bring, you'll be surprised what the outcome of the game will be. Just play as hard as you can for as long as you can. I think our bench -- our team, but mostly our bench, that's what we try to do when we're in there. We try to play as hard as we can for as long as we can, play through the mistakes, play through the calls, play through everything ...
"And the world is just opening their eyes now to see how we've been playing. We've been playing like this since rookie year. But of course, now, it's at the highest level, so now people are starting to open their eyes and see the players that we're capable of being, and we showed them."
Robinson has a penchant for embellishing even the smallest details, he's only been with the team a few months but he's talking about the things "they've" been doing since rookie year.
But that's part of what makes these Celtics so entertaining. They cover all the bases on and off the court.
Pierce is the travel agent, though he's taken a break since predicting this series wouldn't go back to Los Angeles after the Celtics' Game 2 win in Los Angeles. Davis and Robinson provide the stand-up and they even have their own buttoned-up members, Allen and veteran Michael Finley take care of the mature big brother roles rather nicely.
"We got all the bases covered," Tony Allen said when describing the team earlier this week before a practice session. "We've got the vets, the stars and then we've got the role players and everybody else. We've got it all on this team and we all know our roles. We know exactly what we have to do as a unit to make things right."
It helps having a ringleader that knows exactly what buttons to push and when. Rivers is as demanding a coach as you'll see. But he also has just the right touch with each and every one of his guys, especially his most outrageous characters. All the technical fouls, the trash talking and the celebrating, he deals with it all in his own way.
Most coaches would have cringed at the sight of Davis parading down the floor with Robinson hanging on his back and the drool flying all over the place.
"I've seen that action before," Rivers said smiling. "It's usually after we run in practice. I didn't see it but all the guys were talking about it, so I'm sure I'll get a good laugh when I'm watching it. And you know, that's who he is. He has a lot of passion. I mean, there's times you love him and times he drives you nuts. But overall, his heart is in the right place and you just take that."
Again, most coaches aren't Rivers.
And most teams aren't cut like these Celtics.
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