Training Camp is for the Coaches, Too

Kevin Garnett, Armond Hill

Armond Hill, who served as head coach during the second half of Tuesday's loss to the Nets, has been one of Doc Rivers' assistants for eight seasons.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

BOSTON – Doc Rivers watched the second half of Tuesday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets from the locker room, not due to an ejection, but as a personal choice.

Rivers watched the final 24 minutes unfold on television because he wanted to use the second half as a training tool for his coaching staff.

Assistant coach Armond Hill, who assumed the head-coaching role during the second half, elaborated on Rivers’ thought process.

“He just came to me and said, ‘Armond, you’re coaching the second half,’ “ Hill explained while also taking over Rivers’ postgame press conference. “He always said that as much as players are in training camp, so are the coaches.”

And with that, Hill was put on the spot to handle everything in the second half. He had the final say on rotations. He was the man with the clipboard in the huddles. He made decisions on when to call timeouts and what sets to run on offensive possessions.

That’s a lot to handle out of the blue, but that was the exact reason for Rivers’ decision. He wanted to simulate what may occur in the regular season.

“What happens if he gets thrown out, something like that?” Hill asked the media after the game.

The answer is exactly what happened Tuesday night. Hill would presumably assume the head coaching responsibilities and everyone on Boston’s bench would answer to him.

Rivers did still manage to give Hill some direction before the second half began. This also simulated what could happen during a regular season game. If Rivers were to be ejected during the first half of a game, he would still have the opportunity to communicate with players and coaches during halftime. On Tuesday, Rivers laid out a plan of attack for Hill to follow in the second half.

“Doc was, as far as the game plan, wanted us to go to KG (Kevin Garnett) early in the second half,” Hill said. “Then when KG goes out go to Paul (Pierce) and keep (Rajon) Rondo in the mix. He wanted to play Rondo a little bit in the fourth quarter and Rondo was begging for more time, but we said two to five minutes and he played five minutes.“

As Rondo’s time on the court came to an end, Hill was forced to make a difficult lineup decision. He wanted to get his core players out of the game get his youngsters some playing time. The problem is, with Boston’s roster cuts earlier in the day, there were no young players available to run the offense.

“As far as at the end, I put all the guys in and I didn’t have any point guards in,” Hill said.

It sounds as if Rivers questioned that decision from the locker room, at least until he spoke to Hill after the game.

Said Hill, “Once I explained that Courtney (Lee) was cramping up a little bit, he understood.”

Hill’s decision to replace his five veterans with four youngsters and Jason Collins wound up losing the game for the team, but that really wasn’t the big story. What the Celtics, and Rivers in particular, will remember is that they excelled during the first 20 minutes of the second half under Hill. Had this been a regular season game, they would have easily won the contest.

But it wasn’t a regular season game, and that’s exactly why Rivers decided it was the perfect opportunity to give his coaching staff some real-life training.

“I can only thank Doc for giving me the opportunity to coach,” Hill remarked. “That’s what we’re all here for. He’s taught me and I’ve been with him and he continues to teach me and he’s given me another opportunity.”

Hill’s most recent opportunity could wind up being a game-changer if Rivers happens to get into a tiff with a referee at any point this season.