Lakers vs. Celtics. It’s the NBA’s legendary rivalry. Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. Magic vs. Bird. Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant. It is the balloons in the rafters of the Forum. It is the baby skyhook.
It is not what Doc Rivers wants his Celtics focused on.
With the Lakers pickups of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash they are back in the contender conversation, which leads fans to think Lakers/Celtics. But Doc Rivers said that should not be the Celtics primary concern — Miami must be. Rivers spoke at an event for Action For Boston Community Development’s Hoop Dreams event, agreeing to be interviewed by legendary Boston sports columnist Bob Ryan and here is what he said (transcription via Celtics Blog, more video below).
Honestly, I don’t care about the Lakers…I have my eye squarely on Miami. I come up to my players during the year-they’re in the facility now-I bring up Miami every single day to them. I want them to hate them. I want them to beat them. That’s gotta be our focus.
To be fair, Rivers did talk Lakers/Celtics a little. He liked the idea of the Lakers running Princeton offense sets because it would require Kobe to pass the ball and things are better when it’s not in his hands. And he talks about what a challenge Andrew Bynum was, not Howard.
But to face the Lakers in the finals the Celtics have to get past Miami. And Rivers talked about how to get past Miami as well.
We have to get to the foul line because when you get to the foul line-that’s one of the big things now in our league-if you can get to the foul line, you can become a dominant defensive team because you get to set your defense every single time.
If you keep missing shots against Miami, you’re going to let them run back and forth. I told our guys, “I’m smart enough to know that if we get in a track meet with Miami, they’re probably going to win, but if we get in a thinking meet, we will win that game.”
We want them to think. We want them to play under thought, not with their instincts.
Sentences that will end up on the Heat’s white board in the locker room this season include “if we get in a thinking meet, we will win that game.” LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t see it that way.
But Doc Rivers is right about the big picture — being ready to beat the Lakers doesn’t matter if you can’t get out of your own conference. The Miami Heat are the best team in the NBA, they are the defending champions. They are the hurdle. The Lakers are another problem for another day.