Celtics’ Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce play it cool


Reporting From Boston -- Do the math.

Or, in this case, don’t do the math.

Doc Rivers was asked about coaching against the Lakers’ Phil Jackson in the NBA Finals, as the Celtics fielded questions Monday afternoon at their training facility in woody, suburban Waltham, Mass.

Rivers chuckled.

“Oh, like I’ve always said, I don’t even look at that matchup,” Rivers said, a few hours before the team departed for Los Angeles.

“You’re comparing me to Phil … we’re in trouble. He’s got 10 rings. I’ve got one. Obviously, you go by his record, he’s the best coach to ever coach the game.”

But two years ago, Rivers was at zero. Two years ago, one of the Lakers’ biggest edges against the Celtics was supposed to be in coaching. Six games later, and one more Celtics title, that dissipated.

Now, there were practically tremors in the basketball world (location, Boston) when the notion surfaced before the playoffs about the possibility of Rivers’ stepping aside next season.

Paul Pierce was asked about just that Monday.

“I hadn’t really thought about that. Are you concerned I’m going to leave?” Pierce responded.

Now that would be quite a headline to kick off the Finals.

One of the lines of questioning with Pierce had to do with Rivers’ stabilizing force as coach, the ability to stay unruffled when things were at their darkest for the Celtics in an injury-riddled second half of the season.

“You can see, at times, you play for coaches when things aren’t going right,” Pierce said. “Practices get harder and yelling becomes louder.

“Doc is a cool customer. He didn’t panic. He didn’t get louder. He just stuck with the game plan. A lot of times when you go through a stretch we went through — we lost five games out of six, seven out of 10, you kind of tell through a coach’s body language that things are going [poorly] … you never really saw that with Doc.”

Pierce thinks Rivers deserves to be in the conversation when talk turns to the top NBA coaches.

“I think so,” he said, “I’d put him right up there. He’s definitely taken my career to the next level. You’ve got to put him up there with [the] top five coaches — you gotta say, Phil [Jackson], [the Spurs] Gregg Popovich.”

The coaching acumen of Rivers was only one of many topics in a limited media session featuring only Rivers and Pierce. It was the first availability with the Celtics since the Lakers joined them in the Finals, beating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Saturday.

Rivers said point guard Rajon Rondo, who went down hard on his back in Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals, went about “75%-80%” of the practice Monday. Rivers remains concerned about Rasheed Wallace (back), who was not allowed any contact in practice.

Naturally, there was plenty of talk about Kobe Bryant. Interestingly enough, though, the second-most-talked-about Laker happened to be Ron Artest.

“I think that’s the one thing that’s been overlooked,” Rivers said “I’ve heard all year how Artest hasn’t fit, and I’m thinking: He’s been perfect because it’s allowed Kobe not to have to guard the best player every night.

“It’s clear, you can see it in Kobe’s offensive numbers. He’s as fresh as I’ve ever seen him in the playoffs, and I think it’s due to Ron Artest. So that’s where he’s been perfect for them.

Does the addition of Artest make the Lakers tougher?

“He makes them tougher,” Rivers said. “[ Andrew] Bynum makes them tougher. I think winning makes them tougher. In ‘08, you had two teams that hadn’t won. You’re still trying to find your way. We found our way and then last year they found their way.

“Now you have two teams that know how to win a title and they’re going to play against each other.”

And speaking of Bryant …

“You love him if he’s with your team and you don’t like him when he’s on the other team,” Rivers said. “He has the ability to drive himself and will shots. Watching the ending of Phoenix, those shots, I mean, I don’t know how those things go in. Because it’s him — you don’t even think it’s a bad shot. It’s just what he does.”

Meanwhile, Pierce, the L.A. native, had other concerns.

“The only negative thing about it is tickets for me,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty expensive.”

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