- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Some artists dabble in chalk, others in paints. As the Picasso of the dry erase board, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is partial to marker, his fingers often covered with green and blue smears at the end of a night at the bench easel.
The success rate of Rivers' plays coming out of timeouts is so astoundingly high, one can't help but wonder if the Celtics are tempted to use all of theirs early on, simply to allow Rivers to draw up more plays in the first half. And while the players must make the plays on the court, no one puts his troops in better position to succeed than Rivers.
Celtics guard Ray Allen will get plenty of ink, and deservedly so, for his latest theatrics, sinking yet another late-game 3-pointer, this time with 11.6 seconds to play in Boston's 87-85 triumph over the New York Knicks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Sunday night at TD Garden. But Rivers warrants much of the credit for what he scribbled down over the final 37.8 seconds of play.
"You see it for yourself, man," reserve forward Jeff Green said. "The last couple of plays that we ran, he drew them up. It's amazing. Getting the alley-oop for Kevin [Garnett], the 3-pointer for Ray he's an amazing coach."
And like any good coach, Rivers sat at the podium after Sunday's game and heaped praise on all the little things every player on the court for those final seconds did, never invoking his own name. He had every right to stick out his chest after reaching into his coach's toolbox and producing two plays that have had mixed results, but worked when Boston needed them most.
Instead he kept the focus on his players.
"It's funny because we have not been executing great of late," Rivers said. "And all we stressed this week was that it may come down to one play and execution, and our guys did it. So that was terrific."
So was the play-calling. Start with a lob play coming out of a timeout that couldn't have been more ideal for the Celtics.
The Knicks' Toney Douglas had just canned a crowd-silencing 3-pointer to put New York in front, 85-82, with those 37.8 seconds to play. Rivers immediately reminded his squad to avoid looking for a 3-pointer to answer and suggested they go two-for-one, essentially requiring the team to execute multiple offensive plays with a defensive stand in the middle in order to win.
Rivers dipped into his bag of tricks and produced a play that had fizzled against Dallas back on Feb. 4. It's a play in which Allen acts as a bit of a decoy before setting a backside screen to free Garnett for a run to the rim. Against Dallas, the play developed as desired, but Rajon Rondo's lob was a bit strong from the sideline and sailed over Garnett, sealing the Mavericks' win.
This time, with the stakes far higher, the lob was perfect (this after Rondo had been too strong on an outlet pass to Allen a short time before) and Garnett delivered the jam that shaved a mere half-second off the clock.
"We wanted to go two-for-one," Rivers said. "Being down three, the first point I had to make to them was that we didn't need a 3. We needed to score quickly. And the play was for Ray and it was a bad pick, but Ray set a great pick [for Garnett].
"And our belief was that they weren't going to get off of Ray's body because he was on fire and, if they didn't, then Kevin would maybe have a lob. And if not, if they did get off his body, we were hoping that Ray got a shot. So it was great execution for us."
And therein lies one secret to why Rivers' plays are successful more times than not. There are always multiple options, so a play shouldn't fizzle because the defense successfully takes away Option A. Boston thrives by finding Option B (or C or D or E).
Aided by an offensive foul call on Carmelo Anthony at the other end with 21 ticks to go, Rivers called a 20-second timeout for a quick talk about the play Boston would run with the game hanging in the balance. It's one they've gone to countless times over the past three years and, like on the lob play, there were numerous options.
Rivers told his players to react to what they saw, and when Allen sneaked open running a pick-and-roll at the top of the arc with Pierce, he caught the pass back, got another pick from Garnett to slow his defender Douglas, and drilled his latest winning triple.
"[On] the last play, [the Knicks] did a nice thing putting [Jared] Jeffries on Rondo, so we had to change," Rivers said. "But we never changed the play. We could see how they were guarding Ray again. And by Ray setting the pick, we thought it would cause confusion. It did, a little bit. That got the guy off of Ray's body. And Paul [Pierce] made a great pass.
"Ray's the hero with the shot, but to me, Paul's the hero with the pass. That's a great example of not playing hero basketball, just trusting what we drew up."
And why wouldn't they trust the play? Asked what makes Rivers so good at drawing up X's and O's, Kevin Garnett pondered a second before bottom-lining it: "He's the best."
Jermaine O'Neal expanded on the topic.
"Everybody has a job to do on this team," O'Neal said. "So many years I played against these guys in some tough games and you see how they work. Everybody has a particular part to do in this machine."
And when everyone does their job, the Celtics produce the desired result. Pierce and Allen both noted how Boston's veteran experience aided it during the late-game stretch. Not only has Boston been in tight, high-pressure situations before, Rivers constantly works on final possession plays during five-on-five work in the practice gym.
Allen's ability to hit that 3-pointer likely stemmed, at least in part, from the reps running that play against Boston's second team to close out practice last week.
"We've run that play many times in different situations," Allen said. "Sometimes the shot goes in, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes Paul has the ball in his hands and he shoots it and he scores it. There are so many different options off of that play that, when we went to that, we knew exactly what to expect.
"We don't predetermine me setting the screen getting Paul open, sometimes he gets the layup all the way to the hoop. Sometimes my guy switches and I end up being open, Baby or Kevin clean up a guy and I'm open at the 3-point line, or the roll is wide open. It's a play that has so many options and tonight I was just the option."
Which strengthens the argument that it's the coach putting the players in position to thrive.
"It's both [the players and coaches], but it's just [the players] reading [how the play unfolds]," Green said. "Doc is the guy who draws it up and gets both. Doc is the guy who draws up the play and gets it going."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.