It is conceivable that the Celtics will linger around .500 into March, then finish with a hot streak to enter the playoffs with momentum. But it's not going to happen unless the players establish an identity for themselves, independent of Pitino's. While college basketball is the province of marquee coaches, charismatic players dominate the NBA. Knowing when to back off and let his players play is a skill Pitino, a compulsive micromanager, has yet to learn.
Last week his Celtics held Cleveland to four second-quarter points en route to their first road win of the season. Not only did they fulfill his wishes defensively, but they also swung the ball crisply at the other end of the court. "That's it! Nice pass!" Pitino cried as he watched a series of dishes set up forward Eric Williams for a three-pointer. The coach hopped, swung his fist and shouted, "That's basketball!"
A moment later the fan behind the Boston bench said in a loud voice, "Rick, you sound like Al Gore, for God's sake." Pitino snorted. Smiling, he looked at the heckler and admitted, "I don't mean to."
Those may be, for Celtics fans, the most encouraging words ever heard from Pitino.
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