The Difference Is Doc

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 13, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — The biggest secret during this year’s NBA Finals was finally revealed during the second half of Boston’s improbable win Thursday night at the Staples Center.

The secret? Much maligned head coach Doc Rivers has been out coaching L.A.’s “Zen Master” Phil Jackson during this entire series. However for most media folks, it took the Game 4 victory to really see it.

The Celtics overcame the largest deficit ever in a Finals game after one quarter (35-14) and an 24-point deficit to stun the Lakers in a 97-91 win. History will say that L.A. relinquished the lead with 4:07 left when Eddie House hit a jumper for an 84-83 lead.

However, the seeds of this victory were planted by the former Marquette star, who many media wags have depicted as the village idiot for most of his tenure in Beantown. ESPN’s “Sports Guy” and Celtic apologist Bill Simmons has routinely used Rivers as a whipping boy for his numerous columns.

Just earlier this week in an article posted on BASN, Washington based sports talk show host Butch McAdams said “Doc Rivers as a basketball coach, he makes a great television basketball commentator.”

Well, guys, while you’re eating some much deserved crow, chew on this as well.

When Kendrick Perkins was injured early in the third quarter, Rivers could have very easily said “Okay, game over. Let’s regroup for Sunday”. Instead, he countered by going with a small lineup.

With a rotation of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and the aforementioned House not only matched the Lakers’ speed, Rivers also made the commitment to defense.

During the half, captain Paul Pierce even went to Rivers requesting that he guard the league’s reigning MVP, Kobe Bryant. Much like the tortoise vs. the hare, Boston would slowly shave L.A.’s lead down.

24 points became 18, 18 became 13, 13 became 7, and a P.J. Brown dunk with a second left in the quarter would cut the lead to two at 73-71.

To many old school hoop fans, the Lakers started looking like the pre-Moses Malone 76er teams of the early 80′s. Grabbing an early lead only to see them physically implode near the end.

The “Zen Master” and his players literally were stunned and not even Kobe (much like Dr. J back in the day) could save them from this loss. Boston outscored the Lakers 31-15 in the third and held them to just 33 in the second half.

For the first time during this postseason, the loss of man-child center Andrew Bynum came back to bite L.A. in the ass.

In fact during Boston’s two previous wins, Rivers has exploited L.A.’s lack of size on the inside. Witness the performances of Kevin Garnett (24 points, 13 boards in Game 1) and reserve Leon Powe (21 points in Game 2) in those victories.

Lest you think this is someone watching this Celtic comeback through Leprechaun-colored eyes, think again. As a longtime Knick fan/sufferer, saying ANYTHING nice about the Celtics goes against everything I stand for.

But seeing some vindication for Doc Rivers (a former Knick) has been very rewarding. Barring a Dallas Maverick-like collapse, Doc will finally get that long awaited championship ring he missed out on while serving as a Knick back in 1994.

To be honest, if it weren’t for a few dubious calls during L.A.’s win in Game 3, this might have been a sweep for Boston. Much like when Detroit defeated the Lakers for the crown a few years back.

Hmmmm, Lakers and referees. Where have I heard that conversation before????

Oh, well…..That’s another story for another day.