Doc Rivers rises above two seasons of criticism

Jim Fenton

 One season after ending an 86-year drought with the 2004 World Series championship, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona found himself targeted by critics.

 Talk shows took aim at him when the Red Sox struggled in 2005, questioning his moves and strategy.

 "I think Boston's a very opinionated city with a lot of its coaches,'' said Rivers. "I saw that early on with Francona, who I think is the best manager in baseball.

 "Every day, I was hearing about what he wasn't doing, and I was like, 'Wow, he's only won the first World Series in (86) years and the guy still gets questions?'

 "So when we were not winning (the past two years), what do you expect?''

 With only 57 victories combined in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, Rivers heard plenty of criticism.

 Never mind the fact he was coaching a roster full of inexperienced players who were being asked to do too much, but Rivers was given no leeway.

 "I would get the silliest questions about who are you playing (in the rotation), everybody wants this or that,'' said Rivers. "When we were young, it was like, 'Why doesn't he play, why doesn't this one play?'

 "It's funny, all those guys who should have played, half of them are out of the league and not playing now. But at the time it made sense to whoever was making those comments.''

 Even this season, as the Celtics rolled to a 66-16 record, Rivers would hear criticism about the job he was doing. Then his contributions would be dismissed because anyone should be able to win with a lineup of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

 As the Celtics head into the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Lakers, Rivers should be feeling a great deal of satisfaction.

 "I'm doing my job,'' said Rivers. "I was never going to allow anybody to talk me out of that. I didn't change. I've always done what I thought is best for each individual team that I've coached and no one has ever been allowed or been able to talk me out of what I'm doing.

 "Obviously, you would love everyone to love you. That's not going to happen. But we have enough fans out there that support us and I thought during that tough stretch, on the street, there were a lot of people that came up to me and just wished me luck.

 "Those are the guys I will remember and I keep with me. Those are far more important than any of the other people.''

 The talk-show callers and the Internet bloggers who liked to take shots at Rivers will still be on him until a championship is delivered.

 "I always laugh at some of the criticism,'' he said. "I was joking with someone the other day and I told them just answer me this: Why would someone listen to a guy that hasn't played, hasn't coached?

 "Some of the guys have never even been reporters _ they're bloggers. Who's the fool, me or the people listening?''

 Rivers understood that the past two seasons were not going to be easy, not with youngsters like Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Delonte West and Tony Allen asked to play major minutes.

 "I believed in what I was doing,'' said Rivers, now in his fourth season. "I believed in what Danny (Ainge) was doing. I fully understood who I was coaching and the team I had.

 "It doesn't mean losing didn't hurt me as much. It did. I knew going into games it didn't look good, each game. That didn't stop me from teaching them, from staying with them and trying to get them to be better.

 "I've done that and I was happy with that. I thought we got the most out of our guys.''

 The circumstances and cast of characters were different this season, and Rivers has directed the Celtics within four wins of a title.

The Enterprise