When C's Need a Hoop, Rivers Comes Through in the Clutch

Celtics coach is one of the league's best at drawing up plays

WALTHAM, Mass. - When Doc Rivers appears for a postgame press conference, he has usually ditched his blazer, the knot in his tie is slightly undone a few inches below his neck, and his hands are spotted with green ink.

That ink from his dry-erase board is the remains of his frantic huddles where he draws up a play in the final seconds of a game. Doc's reputation as a master play caller is unquestioned, and if you ask players, both current and former, about his ability to craft a quick play, and you'll typically get the same response.

Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers' ability to draw up plays -- and his team's ability to execute them in the clutch -- has helped the Celtics build a 2-0 series lead vs. the Knicks.Elsa/NBAE/Getty


Through two games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Knicks, the Celtics have found themselves in two situations where they needed one last hoop to get the win. Each time, Rivers came through in the clutch, putting together plays that have earned the Celtics a 2-0 lead as they head to New York for Game 3.

"It's just like football. You have a list and you pick," Rivers said of his playbook. "I've been wrong as much as right, but when you're right and the shot goes in its that much better."

Rivers admitted to getting nervous occasionally when the team needs a last second bucket. "I've drawn up some [awful] plays, and sometimes they work," Rivers said, noting that he typically meets with his staff out at the foul line at the beginning of a timeout to get a chance to draw up the play neatly before he brings it back to the huddle.

"The pen starts to go fast sometimes," Rivers said.

Rivers told reporters that the inspiration for plays typically comes from things he's seen in previous games against the same opponent, or from his assistant coaches. Every now and then, a player even draws up a play in practice and it gets added to the arsenal. Regardless of where the play comes from, the success of said play comes down to execution and trust.

"You see something that you may think will work, then it comes down to trust. They're so good…they trust each other," Rivers said of his players, especially his veterans.

His offense is all about options, and so too are his last-second plays. And why not? With so many weapons to choose from, Rivers prefers to put the ball in his stars' hands and let things develop according to plan.

Such was the case in Game 1, when the C's drew up a play for Paul Pierce at the top of the key. It started out looking like a pick-and-roll between Ray Allen and Pierce, but ended up becoming a back-pick for Allen, springing him for a wide open 3-pointer.

Garnett set the pick that freed up Ray on the left wing, and Allen took the feed from Pierce and canned the jumper to hold up his end of the bargain. The shot stood up as the game-winner and sent TD Garden into hysterics.

Rivers' play at the end of Game 2 was equally impressive, and also relied on trust.

Trailing 93-92 and needing a hoop, Rivers made an unconventional call, looking to feed Garnett in the post. To that point, KG was just 5-of-15 from the floor, but was quietly doing the little things inside, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out six assists. When the Celtics took the floor and Delonte West replaced Big Baby in the lineup, it looked like Doc was thinking perimeter jumper.

Rondo, inbounding on the left sideline in front of the Knicks bench, pump-faked a pass back to Pierce on the perimeter and went to Garnett, who was posting Jared Jeffries on the near block. Rondo then cut through the lane to draw his man with him to the baseline on the other side of the hoop, preventing a double-team and spreading the floor.

"They want to trap, and they couldn't. They'd have to trap off somebody," Rivers said of the play design with Allen, Pierce and West all standing on the perimeter. "We knew we wanted to spread the floor."

Working one-on-one against Jeffries, Garnett backed him down, pounded the ball into the floor and overpowered Jeffries as he backed him deep into the paint. Garnett then turned into a right hook shot and dropped it in with 12 seconds to play.

"We worked on it that morning, and it just all about multiple options. It was either Kevin, or the ball would have gone to Paul, and then there was another option coming," Rivers said. "Our guys do a good job of focusing."

The scene after the basket went in said it all. A satisfied Rivers, with his clipboard in his right hand, pumped his ink-soaked left fist. Rivers' A-Team just executed the game-winning basket, and sealed another victory.

He loves it when a plan comes together.