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MIAMI (AP) — Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers probably needs hours to explain everything he’s learned from Miami president Pat Riley over the past three decades.
Or I could sum it up in three words.
“God, everything really,” Rivers said.
Some elements of this Philadelphia-Miami Eastern Conference semifinal series — the Heat’s 2-0 lead before Game 3 on Friday night — date back to this season, or last summer, or any time recently. They date back to 1992, when Riley was coaching the New York Knicks and they traded Rivers to take over their offense.
Rivers, who had already been in the league for nine seasons, most with Atlanta, including an All-Star year in 1987-88, immediately became a disciple of Riley. And even though they’ve been on different sides of the battles for years – this is the fourth time Rivers has faced the Heat in the playoffs since Riley arrived, with Miami winning two of the previous three series – clear respect remains. born from the time they spent together long ago.
“I’ve been around some pretty good guys,” said Rivers, whose former coaches also include names like Mike Fratello, Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich. “But Riley clearly had the biggest impact. He’s not even close. I mean, he had no thoughts of coaching until I played for Pat Riley and the way he did it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ ”
Riley was the last coach to use Rivers as a starting point guard in the NBA. They were together for parts of three seasons in New York; Perhaps ironically, their last game together was a loss to Miami in December 1994. Rivers was traded to San Antonio, Riley ended up leaving the Knicks for the Heat less than a year later.
Both have been champions since, Rivers with the Celtics in 2008, Riley with the Heat in 2006, 2012 and 2013. And here they are again.
“Doc always played like he was a coach on the court,” Riley said this week. “That’s how he played in Atlanta, that’s what I saw in him, and I just believed that he had the qualities to enter the coaching profession.”
For Riley, that was not an idea.
He made it a requirement.
When Rivers retired from playing, he began working as a basketball announcer. Riley didn’t exactly approve of that development, letting Rivers know that when his former player was working on a playoff series, Riley was training.
“I didn’t like his comments or his criticism of me, his former coach,” Riley said.
Turns out there was also a bigger reason for Riley pushing Rivers from the broadcast location back to the bench. He continued to believe that Rivers had the background, knowledge and temperament to be a winner off the bench.
“When I did television for three years, every day he would call me or challenge me,” Rivers said. “He literally put me down. … I used to think I was wrong. He ended up being right.”
There is no discussion on that point. Riley was right. Rivers was meant to train. He is ninth in all-time wins, fourth all-time in playoff wins, has reached the NBA Finals twice, won the title once and was Coach of the Year.
And when Riley heard Rivers thank him earlier this week for planting those seeds, he appreciated it.
“He’s turned out to be one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Riley said. “I was proud to have trained him. And I’m proud of what he’s saying here.”