- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Earlier in the day Wednesday, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers learned he had been named Coach of the Month in the Eastern Conference for the 30 days of November. He's now won six COM awards in Boston -- all other Celtics coaches, combined, have won four since the award originated for the 1982-83 season.
In the "Making My Day" department, the award probably came in a distant third to (a) beating the Portland Trail Blazers 99-95 and (b) being able to spend some quality time with son Jeremiah, in town with the Indiana Hoosiers. Come to think of it, the award probably dropped to fourth after Rivers' postgame repast. Maybe even fifth, depending on the dessert. (We won't go into the wine.)
The Celtics' victory Wednesday night showcased the team Rivers now has, and it is a spiffy 14-4. Or, as Shaquille O'Neal noted, "Even though we've lost four games, no one has beat us yet."
There's a grain of truth to that.
But there also is plenty of room for improvement. Mimicking their performance from Opening Night, the Celtics got a big lead and then went into fingernail-scraping mode down the stretch to pull out a game that had no business being that close.
"We won,'' Rivers said with a sigh. They had been up 16 with 5:10 left.
In the end, a guy who hadn't been able to make anything all night made the big basket off a pass from a guy who hadn't been able to miss all night.
On the final play, Ray Allen making the 3-pointer off a pass from Paul Pierce, vividly illustrated Rivers' overarching coaching principle on offense: Share the ball and trust your teammate. It's a Rivers' version of the wand maker, Mr. Ollivander, in the "Harry Potter" series. The ball, if properly passed, will always find the open man. The wand, when properly handed, always finds the wizard.
"It's trust,'' the coach said.
The Celtics were 13-4 through November, tied with Orlando for the top mark in the conference. (Insert your favorite Miami joke here.) Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was a logical choice for COM, as well. But if you take the overview, it's hard to not make the case for Rivers. He's still waiting for a full deck that may never, ever come to pass.
The one thing the 2010-11 Celtics supposedly had, more so than any of the three previous teams in the new Big Three Era, was depth. They had Mariana Trench depth, with three to four point guards, four centers (and that didn't include Kendrick Perkins, still on the mend) and versatility at the wing positions.
What a grand team it is -- and maybe Rivers may actually see it one day. He hasn't yet. And he won't for a while.
The depth at point guard? Rajon Rondo played 44 1/2 minutes Wednesday night because Nate Robinson had a sore foot. And while Robinson could have played more, Rivers was reluctant to rest Rondo lest Rondo's testy hamstring act up. That's the same hamstring that forced Rondo out of three games. The other point guard option, Delonte West, had right wrist surgery on Tuesday and is out indefinitely; he had already missed the first 10 games because of a suspension. A fourth possible option at the position, rookie Avery Bradley, isn't ready because he missed a lot of training camp and the beginning of the season with a left ankle injury.
"The injury thing is really starting to creep up on us,'' Rivers said. "But it is what it is." (Gee, where have we heard that line before?)
The center position has been almost haunted since Day One. The Celtics signed Jermaine O'Neal in the offseason, despite knowing that O'Neal is an injury waiting to happen. And it's already happened; he's played in seven games and might not be back for a while because of knee woes. It was deemed to be newsworthy that Rivers and J.O. actually had a phone conversation Wednesday. In other words, yes, he's still alive and kicking. Somewhere. We think.
Shaquille O'Neal missed five games with a knee injury. That has forced Rivers to give time to rookie Semih Erden, who sometimes looks like the Turkish Luc Longley and other times looks like, well, a rookie from Turkey who was picking olives last year. Wednesday was more of the latter (5 minutes, 2 points, 1 foul.)
The one, undeniable bright spot in the middle has been the encouraging play of Glen Davis. Big Baby came up big on Opening Night and vowed after that game to be more professional this season and try to be a reliable, consistent performer. For the most part, he has. He gave the Celtics 16 points and 7 rebounds Wednesday, and they needed all of them. He had a double-double the night before.
Davis is one of six Celtics to have played in all 18 games. The others are Robinson, Marquis Daniels and -- surprise, surprise -- the actuarial anomalies heretofore known as The Big Three.
That's right. Neither Allen, nor Pierce, nor Kevin Garnett has missed a game (though until he made that big 3 on Wednesday, it would be fair to suggest that Ray's Evil Twin had donned No. 20 for the night. He not only couldn't shoot, he got abused on defense by, um, Wesley Matthews.)
Pierce has been sensational. Garnett is miles ahead of where he was last year, which, given that he has two legs working instead of just one, maybe isn't saying all that much. But KG has "it" back. He definitely did not have "it" last year. Allen is beginning to look like he'll be the NBA's Jamie Moyers.
And overseeing all of this is Rivers. He was asked about being named Coach of the Month before the game and said the award usually goes to the guy with the best players. There's some truth in that. There's also little doubt that the coach upheld his end of the bargain in November.
One of these days, he must be thinking. One of these days maybe I'll have the team I thought I'd have. Until then, he will do what he does, and so far, he's done it pretty well.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.