BOSTON — Doc Rivers still knows how to get turbulent, but at 61, with 13 years as a player and 24 as a coach (seriously? 24? damn), there is a peace about him.
Certainly, his mood was lightened significantly by his Sixers‘ 119-115 Game 1 victory over the Celtics as he paused to chat in the hallway following his press conference. He is, he said, almost immune to the obstacles and attendant weirdness of the NBA. Joel Embiid’s absence for a right knee sprain didn’t give him an ulcer. He simply drew up some other stuff and said, “Let’s go.”
And he’s as likely to roll his eyes, shrug and move on when the circus calliope is within earshot.
“Maybe I’m older, I don’t know. I love coaching, but it’s different now,” he told Heavy Sports. “I’m different. I swear to God. You can see it, and the guys talk about it. I’m just oblivious to a lot of the small stuff. You know, just do the job. Just coach.”
Doc Rivers New Mantra: ‘F*** It’
Doc is reminded of President Obama’s 2015 speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner when he said he didn’t have a bucket list for the remainder of his term, but rather something that rhymed with that.
“It IS like that for me now,” Rivers said with a bit of a laugh. “Actually I say it all the time, ‘F*** it. The f*** with everybody.’ We’re good, I’m good. I love what I do, and I know that I’m good at it. And let’s keep doing it, you know?”
After 54 regular-season wins — third-most in the NBA, but, alas, third-most in the Eastern Conference — the 76ers kept on trucking through a first-round sweep of Brooklyn.
Rivers then weathered the potential storm of James Harden slipping off to Las Vegas last week after cutting down the Nets — and getting caught on video arguing outside a nightclub with a member of his group before slapping the guy. Doc didn’t get distressed.
“It’s funny,” he said. “James called me before he went, and I was like, ‘So what? Do it.’ Dennis Rodman went to Vegas. They asked me about it, and I said, ‘We had three days off.’ I told them to do whatever they want. He’s a grown man. I didn’t care.
“Don’t hit anybody, but, you know …” Rivers added, trailing off into a laugh.
He acknowledged that younger Doc wouldn’t have found any of it so amusing.
“Oh, yeah, I would have overreacted to that, all of it. But, you know, it’s funny to think about it now. Just years of coaching adults and watching ‘The Last Dance,’ all that stuff doesn’t seem as big. You just get older and more experienced, man. And you know what I’ve learned? Some guys are who they are. Let ’em be that.”
Sixers Needed to Get Bigger, Longer
Who the Sixers were last season was not entirely what Rivers wanted or what was required. They went out in the second round of the playoffs, falling to the Heat by 35 and nine in the last two.
So P.J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton were acquired last summer, and Jalen McDaniels arrived as part of a four-team trade at the February deadline. He knew the gauntlet the Sixers had to run.
“Those were people we just needed, but knowing the Celtics and the Bucks are the two biggest, longest teams in the NBA played a part, too,” Rivers told Heavy. “We talked about it. You had the Celtics and the Bucks, and we lost to Miami because they were just bigger and tougher than us.
“Literally after the last game in Miami, I went right to our guys and said, ‘If we don’t get tougher and more athletic and long, we can’t win.’ And the biggest thing is the guys we got are all two-way players. Jalen can play offense, Melt can play offense. When you have one-way players in the playoffs, it doesn’t work.”
While Daryl Morey is the executive in charge, Rivers said his voice was heard.
“Oh, yeah, we hand-picked. We went through them all,” he said. “The Melton thing was literally a godsend. Like they called us, and we were on it. That was the quickest trade in NBA history, I’ll tell you that. We had to get tougher, and we did.”
Rivers, as well, has had to get tougher over the years. There were rumors he was bound for the Lakers last summer, and there is talk in the industry that his Philly future could be in jeopardy if these Sixers don’t make it to the NBA Finals.
Doc insists he’s good with all that.
“You’ve got to have confidence,” he said last night. “I know I’m doing the job — and that still doesn’t guarantee you win. I know that. That doesn’t mean you deserve to go anywhere, but if that’s what happens, I’m like, OK. That’s how I look at it.”
“Once you set a goal and where you want to be, then nothing else can affect you,” Rivers said. “That’s how I live my life now — and it’s been great for me.”