Doc Prepares for Emotional Night at Garden
BOSTON – Doc Rivers kicked his feet out and leaned back against the scorer’s table at TD Garden Wednesday morning. He donned white sneakers with blue accents while relaxing in a gray sweatshirt that read “LOS ANGELES BASKETBALL” across the chest.
The man is still the same, but his colors have changed. It became abundantly clear to Rivers shortly ahead of 11 a.m. that TD Garden is no longer his home.
“I’m used to coming in the other doors and going in the other side,” Rivers said.
Rivers entered the Garden from that unfamiliar door for his team’s morning shootaround. He is now the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, and he was on the parquet floor preparing for a game against the Boston Celtics.
“This may be my first shootaround ever at the Garden in the last 10 years at least,” he said, “so this is strange already.”
Strange is just one of the words that could be used to describe Rivers’ return to Boston. It is also emotional. It is unique. It is, truthfully, a homecoming.
Rivers steered the Celtics' ship for nine years. He won 474 games as the team’s head coach. He helped restore the franchise to glory with a 17th world championship in 2008. This is where Rivers became the coach he is today, and returning to his former home has already stirred his emotions.
“It’s been nice to be back,” Rivers said. “I love it here, obviously, and it’s really nice to see all the new friends and old friends. But this is unusual for me. I’ll have to be careful during the game to have my emotions in check because it will be hard not to be emotional.”
Rivers seems to have already conceded to the fact that he won’t be able to control his emotions in the heat of the moment. When he takes the floor at the wrong end of the court, and when he likely receives a standing ovation after an expected “Thank You” video, Rivers’ mind will be far from thinking about the game’s next play.
“It’s going to be a hard night,” Rivers acknowledged. “I already told my coaches that it’s just going to be hard.”
Rivers continued, “You don’t spend nine years in one place and win a title and have the emotions that you have toward the city and the fans and be normal when the game starts. It’s just not going to happen, at least I don’t think so. So I’ve already prepared my coaches to be good coaches tonight, because it’s just going to be tough for me.”
He expects this to be a difficult night despite the offseason departures of longtime Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Rivers shunned the notion that the absence of those two players will make things easier on him tonight.
“I guess, but the building is the same,” he said. “The Celtics are the same, you know what I mean? So that doesn’t go away.”
And neither do the relationships he developed with the people he worked with and around during his nine years in Boston.
“I swear, I think when you know you’ve had a fun ride, a career, is when you know all the other people, not the players,” Rivers stated. The players are great, but when you know Don the security guard, and (Celtics Vice President of Media Relations) Jeff Twiss and all of those guys… those guys are part of your life for the rest of your life and for me that’s nice.”
Rivers, who joked that he still wears his green ties because he’s too cheap to replace them, will certainly have a difficult time handling all of his emotions tonight. He is also preparing for the difficulty of handling his former players when the ball is tossed up shortly after 7:30 p.m.
“Players tend to want to beat their old coach,” said a wary Rivers. “I know that from when I went to different places and I would play Mike (Fratello) or Larry Brown. I loved them, but I really wanted to beat them. I’ve got a feeling that will be the case with our guys, but it will be emotional for all of us.”
When asked Tuesday night about playing against their former coach on Wednesday, Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green both admitted that it will be emotional. Those two view Rivers as their second father, a man who helped to guide them in the right direction in this league.
Unfortunately for Rivers, he may have guided them a bit too well. Green and Sullinger are each having outstanding seasons and have pushed the Celtics to the Atlantic Division lead. As Rivers admitted, they are leading a team that is more than capable of beating the heralded Clippers.
Rivers is smart, and he’s also realistic. For more reasons than one, this is not just another game for him.
Maybe that’s why the jovial coach, who leaned back against the scorer’s table in his sneakers and sweats, didn’t seem all too comfortable. He’s wearing the wrong colors in TD Garden, and he knows it.