Glenn Anton “Doc” Rivers is a name that many basketball fans will be familiar with from his days as a player. He had a respectable but not spectacular career with the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. Having now transitioned to being a coach in the NBA Rivers has established himself as a solid Head Coach in the league. He has received a number of accolades, but how many NBA Championships has he won as a Coach? Below I will look at his career as a coach starting out at the Orlando Magic, through Boston with the Celtics, The Los Angeles Clippers and now with the promising Philadelphia 76ers.
How many NBA Championships has Doc Rivers won as a coach?
Despite some personal accolades, Doc Rivers’ has only actually won 1 NBA Championship. This came in the 2008 season when he was the Head coach of the Boston Celtics. The team featured hall of fame candidates such as Boston legend Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the then young Rajon Rondo. The Celtics were not Rivers’ first NBA team as a coach. Below I look at his coaching journey and how Rivers made his way to Boston and ultimately to an NBA title.
“Doc” Rivers’ journey to the NBA Championship
Rivers started his coaching career in 1999 as the Head coach of the Orlando Magic. He was taking over a team of relative no-name players. The Magic had traded away their remaining superstar name “Penny” Hardaway and were beginning a rebuilding phase. The team, which featured Darrell Armstrong the previous seasons 6th man of the year and most improved player, a young Ben Wallace and Bo Outlaw, became known for their slogan of “Heart and Hustle”. They ended the season with a respectable 41-41 record narrowly missing the playoffs and earning “Doc” Rivers Coach of the Year honours. Over the next few seasons Rivers would continue to improve the Magic, acquiring stars such as Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. However, during the 2003 – 04 season, following a 1 – 10 start Rivers would be fired from the Magic and spend the rest of the year as a commentator for TV network ABC, actually calling the 2004 Finals with Al Michaels.
The Boston Celtics Years
Rivers would be hired by the Boston Celtics in 2004. He came into a team that had been swept by the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs the previous season and featured a very promising roster of players. Rivers would build a team featuring the likes of Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Paul Pierce. Despite a mediocre record in this first season of 45-37 the Celtics would win the Atlantic division and earn 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. They would once again be eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, however taking them to seven games this time around. Rivers would continue to build and tweak his team over the next few seasons. The Celtics would miss out on the playoffs in 2005-06 and 2006-07 as Rivers experimented with new players and new tactics unfortunately with limited success. In these 2 seasons I feel Rivers had the talent on the team but was missing an “X-factor” that would gel the team and make them contenders, but following the 2006 – 07 season the Celtics would make moves to fill in the missing pieces to this puzzle.
During the off-season before the start of the 2007-08 season the Celtics would make a number of big trades and acquire some All-Star and future Hall of Fame talent. They would trade for 3-point dead eye Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics. Then, following this acquisition would make a mammoth trade for Timberwolves Big man Kevin Garnett, a player I believe to be one of the most versatile big men in NBA history. Garnett, it could be argued, was one of the first of the new generation who began the evolution of the centre/power forward position from players just “banging” around inside to big men who could dribble, pass and step outside to shoot a 3 if needed. These two players would form a Big-3 core along with perennial Celtic Star Paul Pierce. Due to the massive outlay of salary to acquire these players the rest of the Celtics roster would be made up of promising young playmaker Rajon Rondo and a group of solid veterans including PJ Brown, Sam Cassell, Kendrick Perkins and James Posey.
The Celtics would execute what would come to be seen as the “most dramatic NBA turnaround” finishing the season with a record of 66 – 16, having the previous season only managed a win/loss record of 24 – 58. Danny Ainge would be honoured with the “NBA Executive of the Year” award but, other than coaching the East at 2008 All-Star weekend, Rivers would not receive any accolades for this achievement. Boston would claim a convincing 1st Place in the Atlantic division and secure the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs, pitting them against the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
Although they had the Eastern Conference’s best record Boston’s path to the Finals was anything but straight forward.
The Celtics needed 7 games to dispatch an under-rated Hawks team, featuring players such as talented point guard Mike Bibby, reliable forward Joe Johnson, developing youngsters Josh Smith and Josh Childress and Al Horford in his rookie season. They would then move on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers team and would again need 7 games to overcome the LeBron James led team. This would then set up an Eastern Conference finals match-up with the 2nd seeded Detroit Pistons. Detroit, always historically, a tough team would feature Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, an aging Rasheed Wallace and the versatile Tayshaun Prince. However, the Pistons had lost their defensive power house and, arguably the best undrafted player in NBA history, Ben Wallace a couple of seasons before and were, in my opinion, 4 years removed from winning the title not the fearsome defensive power they had been previously. This would prove true as Boston would take the series 4 – 2 and advance to the NBA Finals.
In the Finals they would meet with the Los Angeles Lakers and reignite one of the NBA’s greatest rivalries. This would be the first time the Lakers and Celtics had met in the NBA Finals since 1987 and the Magic-Bird era.
Despite being the number 1 seed in the West the Lakers season had been characterised by injuries and trading players to build a team. They would trade away the unpopular Kwame Brown and pick up the versatile centre Pau Gasol, setting up a Spurs like “twin-towers” front court with the surprising Andrew Bynum and giving Kobe a big man to compliment his exceptional talents.
Boston would begin the series at home taking both games and travel to LA with a 2-0 lead. Whilst in Los Angeles the Celtics would win game 4 opening up a 3-1 lead in the series and a historically commanding position to have in the Finals. The Lakers would close the gap in game 5 but with a 3-2 lead going back to Boston the Celtics would need to win 1 game at home to claim the NBA Championship. Up to this point it had been a relatively close series, neither team had won a game by more than 10 points. With a home record during the 2007-08 season of 35-6 the Celtics were in an obviously favourable position. Despite setting a record for most playoff games played in a season (26) the Celtics would blowout the Lakers in game 6 of the finals by a score of 131 – 92 and claim the franchises 17th NBA Championship and the 1st since 1986.
What has happened in “Doc” Rivers career since his Championship win?
Rivers would continue as the coach of the Boston Celtics, leading them back to the NBA Finals in 2010. They would once again face the Los Angeles Lakers but would this time round lose in 7 games.
Rivers would be acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers in June 2013 and during his time in Los Angeles would receive various added responsibilities. Initially becoming Senior Vice President of Basketball operations and then later promoted to President, giving Rivers the final say in all basketball related matters at the Clippers. He would give up this position in August 2017 but remained active in the front office. Although he had some successes and moments of personal history, Rivers became the first NBA coach to coach his own son when he blooded Austin Rivers in a game, unfortunately, his time with the Clippers was not without controversy. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racially insensitive remarks, banned from the NBA for life and forced to sell the team. The Clippers were also fined $50,000 following comments from Rivers himself regarding Kawhi Leonard that were deemed to violate the league’s anti-tampering rules.
Rivers would step down from coaching the Clippers after their loss to the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 Playoffs. Los Angeles had been up 3-1 and lost the series 4-3, making “Doc” the only coach in NBA history to lose a series after leading 3-1 with three different teams. My personal feeling about his time at the Clippers is one of unrealised potential. He had a Championship calibre team, containing incredibly talented players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, Paul George, Lou Williams and Kawhi Leonard but never managed to take any combination of them all the way to a Finals appearance.
The Philadelphia 76ers picked up Rivers as their head coach in October 2020 and, as of writing, they are looking a strong contender.
Can “Doc” Rivers Coaching Career be considered successful?
It is difficult to argue that Rivers’ career has not been successful. He is 10th on the All-time coaching career wins list, he turned the Celtics from a losing team into a Championship team and consistent contenders, a position they have maintained since his departure, he helped make the Clippers a powerhouse in the West and no longer just “the other LA team” and his now with a team considered a serious contender for the 2021 NBA Championship.
But with only 1 Championship win in his now 20 year coaching career has his success come at the right times and in the right way?