Commentary

Celts mailbag: Is Doc the problem?

Trying to explain team's inconsistency, fans throw blame toward coach

Updated: April 8, 2010, 8:17 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

After the Celtics lost to the Rockets last Friday, a follower on Twitter sent a message asking why I hadn't criticized coach Doc Rivers more this season.

To be honest, I'm simply not sure he's been the problem. It's hard to blame Rivers when key acquisitions like Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, and Nate Robinson have all underwhelmed. I think Rivers has strived to establish a rotation, but the lackluster and inconsistent play of some of his reserves has forced that unit to be in constant flux.

And I don't notice anything glaringly awful about Boston's play from an X's and O's standpoint. Sometimes it just seems like the players aren't executing what's being asked of them. They admitted as much during their struggles since Christmas.

But in a mailbag overflowing with finger-pointing this week, Rivers finds himself in the crosshairs of a number of readers, so that's where we'll start:

Q: I see that Doc Rivers has decreased the playing time of Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson. Question is: What is he thinking? If you should decrease someone's minutes it should be the worst Celtic in the team's history (Rasheed Wallace). Robinson didn't come to Boston to sit on the bench, he came to give Boston some energy and a spark. You can't do that on the bench. I question some of Doc's coaching moves, rotation wise. -- Chase (Logan, Ohio)

[+] EnlargeRasheed Wallace
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWhile Doc Rivers has been patient with Rasheed Wallace, many fans feel it's time to decrease his playing time.

A: I'll grant you this, Chase, it is a bit curious that Rivers has given Wallace so much rope, while he's been a bit quicker with the hook on guys like Daniels and Robinson. But here's my take: Rivers knows that for his team to be successful in the postseason, it needs something from Wallace. The Celtics can get by with the Tony Allens of the world at the guard spot given the invisible play of Daniels and Robinson, but they desperately need Wallace to at least be a potential frontcourt threat in the postseason.

Q: What's your opinion on Doc Rivers' coaching performance thus far this season? I know he's had to deal with injuries, but I feel like he hasn't settled on a regular rotation of guys off the bench. He played 12 guys against Houston. At this stage, he's gotta stick with something so guys can get adjusted to their roles for the playoffs. -- Joey (Providence, R.I.)

A: Rivers extended the minutes of his starters and shortened the rotation against the Cavaliers, then suggested that's what we'll see more of in the postseason. There's no need to do that against teams like Houston and New York, and while it's absolutely no excuse for those losses, you can make the case that Boston probably doesn't fall to those opponents if they use their playoff rotation.

Q: Chris, I've been a Doc Rivers loyalist all season, but I think the time has come to point the finger. When a team this stacked underperforms the way it has and the top reasons we cite are "laziness" and "lack of focus," you have to look at the coach. Motivation is his job. Doc's a one-trick pony (see "Ubuntu") and his trick was great for the 2007-08 team that just couldn't lose, but the going's gotten tough this year and peace, love, and rainbows aren't cutting it. He should have A) gotten mad, B) locked down a rotation and C) benched Rasheed the Weed over a month ago. Jerry Sloan or Pat Riley would've had this team fighting the Cavs for the No. 1 seed. Instead we're Fearing the Deer. Blame Doc. -- Ben (Somerville, Mass.)

A: I don't necessarily disagree with your plan of attack, Ben, but, as stated in a previous question, I'm not sure it's as simple as you laid it out. It comes down to underperforming players, and the Celtics' bench is filled with them right now. You can even make the case that Glen Davis is underachieving given what we saw from him in last year's playoffs. So that's four of the five guys you were counting on to solidify the playoff rotation and -- of all people -- it's Tony Allen providing the only consistency. Who would have ever thought that? To me, Rivers is doing the best he can with the cards he's been dealt. Could he have acted on Wallace earlier? Sure, I'll grant you that. And while motivation has certainly been an issue for this team, I just don't get the sense it's due to Rivers' lack of trying to get this team focused. You can have the best coach in the world, but at the end of the day, it's up to the players to produce on the floor.

Q: Soooooo, what was the point of the Celtics getting Nate Robinson? Sure, he scores in bunches at times, but is that what they really need at point guard? I like the rotation used against the Cavs, but I think Marquis Daniels should play backup PG, while Michael Finley and Tony Allen play the 2 and 3. The players say that Daniels is very skilled; do you think Rivers has given up on him or will we see him during different matchups? -- Kenyatta (Jackson, Miss.)

A: The fact that Marquis Daniels has plummeted so far on this depth chart is by far the biggest surprise of the season to me. It's clear how valuable he can be, but his confidence is absolutely shot and, therefore, Rivers has no confidence to put him in the game. With Robinson, it was a risk-reward situation. Given Eddie House's early-season struggles, I don't think you're missing anything from that trade (and please don't anyone start with the "If Bill Walker had gotten some playing time...")

As for Tony Allen, while I'm not in love with the idea of him as the backup point guard in the postseason, let's remember two things: 1) Rajon Rondo is going to play in the neighborhood of the 42 minutes he logged against the Cavs on Sunday, so there's maybe six minutes you don't have a pure PG on the floor; and 2) there will almost always be a starter on the floor in the postseason rotation, meaning Paul Pierce or Ray Allen will assist TA with ball-handling duties.

Q: Is Nate Robinson showing he's somewhat un-coachable now that he's fallen out of Doc's rotation and was not used in the Cavs game? -- Mike (Westport, Conn.)

A: I'd like to give Robinson the benefit of the doubt and say it's a struggle with picking up the offense, but he's been in Boston for nearly two months now. When his perimeter shot isn't falling, he becomes very quiet offensively and he's simply not finishing near the rim when he actually gets there. And he's still a bit hesitant, trying to balance being his normal aggressive self with trying to be a playmaker. To me, it's very simple for Rivers. Tony Allen and Michael Finley are giving you more -- and more consistently -- than Daniels and Robinson right now. It will be interesting to see if either player can do enough in these final five games to warrant time in the postseason in a non-emergency (foul trouble, injury) situation.

[+] EnlargeMarquis Daniels
Getty ImagesOne of the biggest surprises this season has been Marquis Daniels' underwhelming play and his drop on the depth chart.

Q: I just wanted to know your thoughts of maybe starting Tony Allen at the 2 for his defense. He got five steals against Houston. Paul Pierce talked about the "bigs" having to help because of all the penetration. Do you see moving Ray Allen to the bench to help spark the second unit (which has had a hard time providing points regularly) as a good idea? With TA at the 2, perhaps the on-ball defense would be a bit better and the "bigs" wouldn't have to help out so much. -- Jason (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

A: When Boston was at its lowest point, we did suggest a similar Ray Allen-for-Marquis Daniels starting lineup swap. But two things have happened since then (besides Daniels' disappearance): 1) Ray Allen has heated up and not only does he have to be in the starting lineup, he actually needs more shots moving forward; and 2) the bench has solidified itself a bit with the emergence of TA. I think the dribble penetration issues the Celtics have dealt with are more reflective of Rondo's inability to stay in front of ball-handlers at times, but he's a good enough defender to pick up that aspect of his game in the second season.

Q: Paul Pierce was beaten by the buzzer on three end-of-quarter shots against the Rockets on Friday. He was late even on the shot to win the game (I'm almost certain it would have been overturned had it gone in). Is this a record? An isolated Paul hasn't looked sharp since his knee was drained. Is it time to admit that Paul can't get his own shot as well as he once could? Is it more advantageous for the C's to protect Paul's pride by giving him the ball, or is it time for Paul to spread the floor for a much quicker Rondo (who seems to have better clock awareness, anyway) to get his own shot when it matters most? Come playoff time, every Eastern Conference team we face will have someone who is capable of creating their own clean look on a buzzer-beater (whether that is Dwyane Wade, John Salmons, Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, or, of course, LeBron James). I fear that the Celtics may be at a disadvantage late in close games. -- Rory (Minneapolis)

A: I love this question. I think it's a story line that's floated under the radar a bit this season thanks in part to Rondo, who has actually been very, very good at end-of-the-quarter possessions. Pierce has come through in this role so many times that absolutely no one is surprised when he gets the ball in ISO situations late in games. But I wholeheartedly agree, it's been a while since he's actually hit one of those shots, and Boston needs to utilize all of its weapons to keep teams from keying on one play. I like that the final play against New York was drawn up for Ray Allen, but hate the fact that Boston didn't appear to have any sort of backup plan when Danilo Gallinari jumped out on Allen preventing a pass from Rondo. Needless to say, I wouldn't be surprised if Boston spent a lot of practice time on situational basketball in the break before the postseason.

Q: In obvious situations when the opponent has to foul Boston late in the game, why do the Celtics not run any inbound plays to get Ray Allen the ball? He is one of the greatest free-throw shooters of all time, yet Doc Rivers continues to draw up plays for Paul Pierce to get the ball. Pierce is notorious for going 1 for 2 in those situations. His misses cost them playoff games against Chicago last season. It happened against Cleveland on Sunday. I don't understand why you have a 90-percent free-throw shooter and not use him in those end-of-the-game situations. -- Edwin (Yonkers, N.Y.)

A: If you know it Edwin, so do opposing teams. And opponents work like hell to ensure that Allen isn't the one catching those inbounds passes for the very reasons you state. Given the free-throw woes of guys like Rondo and Perkins, the Celtics' best bet at times is getting the ball to Pierce.

Q: Why does Kevin Garnett swat the ball long after the whistle? -- Joe (Boston)

A: Tsk, tsk. Someone hasn't been reading our Celtics Blog. A while back we posted a video from ABC, which did a segment on this during Boston's visit to Cleveland last month. Long story short, it's an intimidation thing. Garnett doesn't like to let opposing shooters get a rhythm by shooting at the basket after the whistle, so he simply knocks the ball away. As the video showed, it can get in an opponent's mind and, after all, much of this game is mental.

And now it's time for Roberto's premature optimistic e-mail of the week!

Roberto is a frequent contributor to the mailbag and we love his passion. He tends to get a little too high and a little low with this year's team, so we've started posting his reactions to gauge the optimism level around this team.

Roberto was a bit despondent last week after losses to the Spurs and Thunder, but he sent us this note after reading our response last week:

OK, after reading your new mailbag I've decided to calm down. I'm not planning to go out on the building's ledge for a while, and right now I'm just going to relax. I think you're right about taking these last two weeks easy and "enjoying the ride." I think they've got the spirit to make it far in the postseason. I've taken a couple deep breaths and lied on the bed for a couple hours to get me into my Zen mode. Celtics can do it, Celtics can do it, Celtics can do it... -- Roberto (New York City)

And even after we cautioned him, Roberto couldn't help but get excited about Sunday's win over the Cavaliers...

Normally I wouldn't be one to jump on the optimistic bandwagon this quickly, but they did it!!! The C's are kings of the world again! Now I can see a title. After all, with Ray's resurgence in that game, I can see a bright future since it seems that they have all the pieces to make a run for it. If one falls, there's another four to make that journey to No. 1. Say goodbye to LeBron, Cleveland!!! -- Roberto (New York City)

A: Oh, Roberto. The playoffs can't arrive soon enough for you. Or for the rest of us.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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