The NBA has done a great job with Rivalry Week. Sam Presti vs. his mentors in Oklahoma City took a backseat to Chet Holmgren vs. Victor Wimpanyama. This conflict looked like a future NBA final showdown. Devin Booker and Luka Doncic exchanged their usual barbs. However, feeding an already emerging competition was the biggest takeaway this week in NBA action. The Milwaukee Bucks used the competition week as an opportunity to strengthen their bid to catch up with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
It wouldn’t have been complete without the Bucks firing Adrian Griffin to make room for Drug training that is Glenn “Doc” Rivers. In a few weeks, it will be as if Griffin never existed on the Bucks’ line at all. The Bucks certainly didn’t look too bothered in their first game since Griffin’s ejection.
Rivers are revered in Boston. Maybe not as much as Bill Belichick, but on par with Terry Francona. He’s in charge of the Boston Celtics’ most recent championship, and in December, He described his time in Boston as the best period of his sporting careerbefore being honored at TD Garden. For the second time, Rivers will be thrust into an assignment that puts him in conflict with the Celtics. Boston’s stranglehold on the division was amplified by the acquisition of former Buck Jrue Holiday via a third party.
If Holiday’s finish in Boston’s backcourt is the opening salvo in the Boston-Milwaukee wars, Rivers is the escalation. The last time Boston and Milwaukee faced off in a seven-game series, Boston beat Milwaukee in Game 7. This time, it’s personal. A matchup between Lillard and Holiday would be a story that defines any potential series, but Rivers and Holiday make it more complicated than it has been in years past.
At the time Lillard was acquired, Holiday was framed as a replacement for DeMar DeRozan in a trade similar to the Raptors’ 2019 acquisition of Kawhi Leonard. It was a risk to their chemistry, but the hope was that the roster change would inspire Giannis Antetokounmpo to re-prepare for an extension and push a contender who had slipped to the NBA Finals. The acquisition of Lillard provided offensive firepower and a secondary scorer who could ease Antetokounmpo’s load, but Lillard Holiday also weakened a defense that typically ranked among the best in the league during Mike Budenholzer’s tenure.
In the end, their defense in the bottom third played a major role in getting Griffin sacked. This may not have been the only reason, but it was a great motivation. If Rivers had been out of a job a year ago, I would not have brought it up to the Celtics to hire him as Imi Udoka’s replacement once he was suspended and eventually fired before the 2022-23 season for having an inappropriate relationship with an employee.
There is only one thing that can fix both teams. A hypothetical swap between Doc Rivers and Damian Lillard for Joe Mazzulla and Brad Stephens would make both franchises complete. Who says no? The holiday is probably more beloved in Milwaukee than in Boston by far. Now, how is Derek White’s fourth violin? If you asked Bucks fans today if they would trade Lillard again knowing what they know now, half of them would say yes. As for Lillard, he will have to pair with a backcourt partner who can mask his defensive shortcomings. Rivers and Celtic belong together like Bill Russell and Beantown. Boston’s president of basketball operations will return to the sidelines to satisfy a rival’s coaching itch.
Maybe this is something to revisit this offseason if the Philadelphia 76ers finally come out on top and win the East. Celtics ownership won’t hesitate if they can’t get over the championship hump once again. The Greeks had a word for joining forces against a third party: sankritzen. No one except Jayson Tatum is safe on Boston’s passing roster.
Coincidentally, one of the last instances of a coach being traded was the Celtics sending Rivers to the Clippers in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick, who Boston used on a guard out of Georgia State and who never factored into their rotation.
Ultimately, this is very complicated, but think about the positives for both teams. Rivers and Holiday collapsing the arc of each other’s careers in a perfect time loop is an idea so crazy, it might work. The NBA can get weird, so never say never. In the meantime, we can accept the complicated emotions that will emerge from the playoff series between the Celtics and Bucks.
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex