BOSTON — Doc Rivers is like an umpire or referee.
We only realize he is the head coach of the Boston Celtics when his team lays an egg.
The Celtics are ahead, 1-0, in the Eastern Conference finals and everybody is happy, which means Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the best.
That is today. That could change about 11 p.m. tonight if the Celtics lose to Detroit. Then Rivers will be mincemeat.
"I'm a genius one night and a dummy the next," said Rivers. "I understand. It goes with the territory. I can live with it."
Rather than wait for the NBA Finals, I will say this now: I like Doc Rivers, the basketball coach. A lot.
Unlike many coaches at this level, who simply give in to the "this is a players' league," which technically it is, Rivers is not afraid to throw around his two cents. And those two cents hurt some times.
"Doc tells the truth," said Pierce, whose nickname coincidentally is "The Truth." "If he doesn't like something or thinks you did it wrong, he tells you about. You don't always like hearing it, but he's usually right."
It's called coaching and Rivers ranks among the NBA's best these days.
He has made more adjustments the last month than you typically see from his good friend, Bill Belichick, who had a front row seat for Game 1 on Tuesday night.
Whether it's Eddie House or Sam Cassell, or P.J. Brown or Leon Powe, players who have appeared and disappeared a few times over the last month, Rivers has been spot on most of the time.
The fact that Cassell, who is a noted hothead, is with-the-program is as much a testament to Rivers as it is the Celtics' winning ways.
"Doc is an expert at communication, with the players, with his staff and with the media," said ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy. "I don't know if there is a better coach at getting his message out."
Van Gundy is not objective. He was an assistant with the Knicks for two years when Rivers played there (1992-93, 1993-94).
While Kevin Garnett and vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have received the lion's share of the credit for the worst-to-first metamorphosis, Van Gundy says Rivers deserves to be at the top of the list.
"Think about what he did. He got all of these new players, a few great ones and he got them to play together," said Van Gundy. "The fact that they won 66 games, the third most in Celtics history, is amazing.
"They dominated the West. They dominated the East. They dominated everybody in the regular season. Doc has done a great job."
Not everybody is to quick to credit Boston's fourth-year coach. He caught a lot of heat when Boston was pushed to seven games by lightly regarded Atlanta and the critics wonder why Boston can no longer win on the road (0-6 in the playoffs).
"There are four teams left right now," said Van Gundy. "That's a fact. It doesn't matter how you got there. I look at their homecourt advantage. They've used it wisely. They've earned that right because of their dominant regular season."
It could be argued that the Celtics' best games were the last two they've played — Game 7 against Cleveland and Game 1 against Detroit.
And remember, the third cog in the Big Three, Ray Allen, didn't hit a 3-pointer in any of those games, despite Rivers trying everything to get him untracked.
The Celtics are in great position, which means Doc Rivers is going about his job with little fanfare.
That's OK. Maybe they'll acknowledge him at the parade.
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How he became Doc
Glenn "Doc" Rivers can't heal the sick, but apparently he's pretty good at healing things on the basketball court. But his ability to fix things on the court has nothing to do with his nickname.
He earned the nickname from then-Marquette assistant Rick Majerus, now at St. Louis University, when he wore a "Dr. J" T-shirt to a summer basketball camp. Majerus immediately called him "Doc" and the players at camp did the same. It has stuck every since. And several years later, Rivers signed with Marquette.