“Obviously were not playing great,” Rivers told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger and Mazz on Wednesday. “Going through injuries and change of team, it just takes a little bit of time. It clearly threw us off our rhythm but I’m not concerned about us getting it back. I’m think we will, I think we’re going to work our way back from it.”
Listen: Doc Rivers Joins Felger & Mazz
The Celtics have just nine games remaining until the NBA playoffs begin, a short window of time to correct all that has gone wrong during a recent 5-7 stretch that included embarrassing home losses to the Clippers and Bobcats.
“It happens,” Doc said of the recent struggles. “It was the worst time for it to happen as far as playoff positioning, but as far as being ready for the playoffs, it’s a big deal, but I’m not that concerned by it.”
Although it looks as though the Celtics have been sleepwalking for weeks, Rivers knows his team will wake up. The veteran squad will soon start feeling the sense of urgency that this could be their last shot at a championship run together.
“It is for me, and it should be for us because you can never take for granted that you’ll be able to do it the following year,” Doc said. “When you have a shot, you go for it. We have our shot this year and we have to give whatever we have to try and get it done. I believe that we’re going to be very good when this all starts. We’re not there yet but I think we’ll get there.”
Rivers and the Celtics are banking on their duo of O’Neal’s to make major contributions in the playoffs. Jermaine O’Neal, out for over two months after undergoing knee surgery, will return Thursday night against the Spurs. Shaquille O’Neal has been out nearly as long with a sore Achilles, but Rivers hopes to have him back next week.
Doc would love to have both of the big men on the floor, but is less concerned about Shaq needing time to get his rhythm back than he is about Jermaine.
“JO needs to play because he doesn’t have the size,” Rivers said of Jermaine. “Shaq at the end of the day, when you put him on the floor is still seven-foot whatever, weighs whatever, and he’s big. He’s a presence. That’s going to be a factor. JO on the other hand needs his skill, needs his timing.”
Rivers did admit that trading away center Kendrick Perkins was a risky move because of the chemistry he had with the rest of the team. Perkins spent eight seasons in Boston, and thrived most alongside Kevin Garnett. The Celtics long touted that their starting-five of the 2008 championship season had never lost a playoff series.
“The gamble is the chemistry gamble,” Rivers said of the trade. “You know what works and you know chemistry when you have it. Sometimes you don’t know how you get it, but you keep it. “
Still, Rivers likes his current team. Trading away Perkins was a risk, but the Celtics 33-10 start during his recovery from ACL surgery showed a healthy Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal could be just as viable an option.
“We’ve proven we can win, and Shaq was the big in most of those games early on,” Rivers said. “With Shaq and JO we have the size we need. Without either one of them we become a small team and we’re less effective. That’s where the Perk trade hurt us because we didn’t have either one of those other guys.”
Rivers is confident his team will turn things around once the postseason begins, much like the team that went to game seven of the NBA Finals last season. Once the playoffs start the Celtics rotation will shrink to eight or nine players, whoever earns it over the next nine games.
A former point guard, Rivers sees the recent struggles of Rajon Rondo as growing pains, and may not be terrible for his team’s floor general.
“I think in some ways it’s a good thing, Rivers said, also adding that Rondo’s troubles are not related to the Perkins trade. “I view it as a learning tool for a young player. When things go wrong you fight your way through it and think he’s done that. I’m really happy for him and I think it’s worked out for him.”
While Rivers stews about the present, many are worried about the coach’s future with the team. He is the perfect coach for the Celtics, but is also a family man. His son Austin is in his senior year of high school and has committed to play at Duke in the fall. Doc was able to get away to Chicago to see him play Wednesday night, much like he has throughout the season. There was fear Doc would retire to see his son play at the end of last season, and summer could be similair.
So far, Rivers has put any thought into it.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can tell you this place is the best. Working with Danny Ainge and (Celtics Owner) Wyc (Grousbeck) and that group, I can’t get a better group. It would be very difficult for me to ever leave this situation.”
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