MILWAUKEE — On Saturday, as Giannis Antetokounmpo sat in his locker after the Milwaukee Bucks' 141-117 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he put his left hand under his chin and considered the question about his new coach for a few seconds before responding.
This was the first time he had spoken about Doc Rivers in public, and he took the job seriously.
And that seriousness is the same way Rivers told reporters that he would take on the expectations that come with being the head coach of Antetokounmpo's Bucks.
“I've learned that you'd rather have them than not,” Rivers said of expectations. “When I took over Boston (in 2004), I got a lot of calls from coaches telling me not to take the job. 'The expectations are going to be too unrealistic.' I'm like, 'What? That's ridiculous. You want that. You want expectations. And this team has them.'
For those who previously doubted the high level of expectations, the decisions made by general manager Jon Horst since the Bucks' loss to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs last season have shown that winning games is not enough in Milwaukee. Pax is trying to win another championship.
That's why the Bucks fired Mike Budenholzer, the NBA's regular-season coach of the year and the 2021 NBA champion, after a first-round upset last season. That's why the team traded All-Star point guard Damian Lillard in late September. That's why the Bucks fired Adrian Griffin earlier this week after he helped lead the Bucks to a 30-13 record in his first 43 games as an NBA coach. That's why the questions following the Bucks' win over the Pelicans on Saturday night didn't focus much on the win — their seventh in nine games — on Saturday night.
Instead, questions directed at Antetokounmpo and Lillard focused on their thoughts on their new coach and how Rivers might be able to help lead the Bucks to a championship.
After a few seconds of contemplation, Antetokounmpo finally answered his new coach's desire to embrace the expectations that come with coaching this star-studded team with high expectations.
“He talks a lot,” Antetokounmpo said after scoring 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Bucks' dominant win. “You can tell what he's built from. It's hard. It's hard to take this job.”
“If you lose, it's like the whole world ends. You've won five, why not 20? You have Giannis, you have Dame, you have Khris (Middleton). It's difficult. Nothing is good enough. The championship alone is enough. We have reached That point, that's crazy. But I embrace that. I'm okay with it. I can sleep well at night. And I think having someone who, you know, isn't bothered by that, is confident. Having someone like that, I think it makes the locker room environment better.
For Antetokounmpo, part of the confidence in Rivers comes from his extensive resume, as Rivers spent 24 years on the NBA sidelines.
“We know he had tough games,” Antetokounmpo continued. “We know he played in two NBA Finals. Like, he's been there before. We've been there once. We want to go there again. Sometimes, it helps to have experienced people around you.
“When it's hard, when you're facing challenges, when things aren't going your way, you have someone who can say to you: ‘Hey, I've been here before. This is what we will do. This is how we are going to attack it. This is how we should stay together. Don't worry about anticipation. We have to do this as a team. Someone who can give you that guide, that guide, it's always great to have in your dressing room. So, I'm excited because he understands that we're trying to win a championship. “I think everyone in the locker room understands that.”
While Antetokounmpo has told the story before, he reminded reporters on Saturday night that the first NBA game he remembers ever watching was the 2008 NBA Finals game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Of course the Celtics were coached by Rivers and would go on to win the NBA title that season.
“16, 17 years later, he's in the same locker room, and I've got to do what I can to help this team, and I've got to follow in his footsteps,” Antetokounmpo said. “So, I'm excited. He's a legend in this league. He's accomplished great things in this league, and I hope we can accomplish some great things together.”
Like Antetokounmpo, Lillard pointed to Rivers' last four decades around the game as one of the main reasons to rely on their new coach.
“We all know what he brings,” Lillard said. “We've heard his voice, coaching other teams. We know he's had success. He played in this league. He went to school in this city. He's been around a long time as a coach. He's coached a lot of great players. You'd be hard pressed to think of something He hasn't experienced it in this league, from playing to coaching, to talking about the game being broadcast on all the different broadcasts.
“So, there's nothing that he hasn't experienced. And I just think that his voice, and how well he can motivate teams, is a strong voice. He's going to demand more from our team. He's not going to be afraid to challenge myself. He's not going to be afraid to challenge Giannis. He's not going to be afraid to challenge Brock (Lopez) And Khris. And all the way. So, I think when you're dealing with a team full of vets and as talented as we are, I think that's something you need, if you want to get to the level that we want to get to. And I think he's the perfect person for that.”
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As we mentioned in our initial story on Griffin's firing, helping Lillard feel more comfortable in Milwaukee will be a key part of Rivers' job in Milwaukee. Lillard will be a starter in the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, and he's put up big numbers this season (25.3 points and 6.8 assists per game), but more than halfway through their first season together, the chemistry with Antetokounmpo just isn't there. suitable. It was smooth. Antetokounmpo is putting up his NBA MVP numbers again this season (31 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists per game) as well. However, the Bucks have not looked consistent this season.
After exploring the idea after Saturday's game, Lillard felt the Bucks' current situation was very similar to the one Rivers faced in Boston when the Celtics brought in former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett and seven-time All-Star Ray Allen to join forces with Paul Pierce. , who established himself as a star in Boston despite not reaching the NBA Finals.
“I think his greatest success as a coach was in a situation where the expectations were high in Boston,” Lillard said. “You've got Kevin Garnett, who was the best player in the state of Minnesota. You've got Paul Pierce, who's been one of the best players in the league for a long time. You got Ray Allen to come over there. You've got (Rajon) Rondo, one of the best point guards in the league. So, you put Doc there, and you have some expectations.
“They were expecting to win. I've been in the kind of market that people in the city really care about, like here. They want to win. They demand it. And I think it's because of his experience – not just in the high moments, but also in the low moments – in Being criticized and attacked for not being successful, he felt that. And I think any time you experience that that way on both sides, you know how rewarding it can be, when you come out on top. And I think looking at our team, he feels like we have an opportunity to do So, you want someone with that kind of experience to lead your team in that kind of situation.
For Lillard, Rivers' experience with a championship team in Boston, as well as his experience handling situations with multiple stars, will help in Milwaukee if he needs to have difficult or stressful conversations with Bucks stars in Milwaukee.
While both players expressed confidence and belief in their new coach, like Rivers, they were not shy about how much work the Bucks have left to do to become a championship contender this season and how little time they have left to do it before. Playoffs begin.
“I don't assume, I don't expect that the minute he comes, we're going to be up 5-0 or 10-0 or anything, as if it's going to take a while,” Antetokounmpo said. “Are we going to change our offense? Are we going to change our offense the same? Are we going to change our terminology? Are we going to change our adjustments defensively? Are we going to change our practice plan? Like what's practice going to look like? What's the shootout going to look like? All that stuff.”
“Different coach, different routine for everyone, so it will take time. But I think the most important thing he emphasized is working together as a team. The more we are together as a team, the faster we can get to where we want to get to.
On Sunday, the Bucks embark on a five-game road trip that pits them against five talented Western Conference teams — the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns — in nine days. After interim coach Joe Prunty led the Bucks to a 2-1 record through the process of firing one coach and hiring another this week, Rivers will coach his first game against the Nuggets on Monday.
Let the work begin.
(Photo by Jon Hurst and Doc Rivers: Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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