BOSTON -- All it took was one loss for Celtics coach Doc Rivers to decide his squad needed a mild wakeup call. So Friday morning, before his team hosted the New York Knicks, Rivers gathered his troops and explicitly defined individual roles moving forward, handing out a set of marching orders aimed at reminding players what's expected of them this season.
More importantly, it was a reminder that, with such a collection of talent, unnecessary losses would not be tolerated.
Rivers told Kevin Garnett to be more selfish. KG responded by hoisting
17 shots Friday, scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Rivers reminded Paul Pierce that the Celtics thrive when he's active on the glass. Pierce promptly swiped 14 rebounds, easily the most he's hauled in during the Big Three era, while adding a team-high 25 points.
Rivers instructed Rajon Rondo to find a healthy balance between being a playmaker and contributing elsewhere. Rondo proceeded to register a triple-double with an eye-popping 24 assists.
For Boston, it all added up to a gritty 105-101 win Friday. Sure, it was a little too close for comfort at times, particularly as turnovers allowed the Knicks to stay in the game and claw within a bucket late. But the Celtics emerged with a win, something that evaded them Wednesday night in Cleveland.
And wins are an expected byproduct of players performing their roles.
"It wasn't a team meeting really, just a defining of the roles," said Rivers. "I do it every year. I pick and choose the timing, whenever I think the team needs it. The way the day shook out, it was perfect timing. I didn't anticipate that after the roles that we would be rolling in the locker room, but it was clearly the right time."
The "rolling" Rivers referred to was a fistfight between reserve guards Delonte West and Von Wafer following a spirited game of 3-on-3 after the team meeting. It's the last thing the Celtics needed coming off the disappointing loss to the LeBron-less Cavaliers, but by the end of the night it was an afterthought thanks in large part to Boston's strong individual play on the floor.
A two-game sample size might seem small for defining long-term roles, but Rivers said he needed to be explicit about what's expected from players before the season got too far along, especially with so many fresh faces.
"[Rivers] does that at points throughout the season when he notices something," said Pierce. "It was great because, with so many new guys, he made sure everyone knows [their roles]. He's not ashamed to tell you, that's what you love about a coach who's straightforward. Sometimes it's the hard truth, but it's what's good for the team. We respect him for that and it makes us a better team at the end of the day."
To be clear, Rivers didn't beat around the bush with his players. This was no "Hey, Kevin, it'd be really swell if you could be more aggressive on offense" type of conversation. This was a "Shoot the damn ball, Kevin" type of declaration.
According to his players, Rivers didn't care about feelings, he wanted to bring the best out of his team. After all, his players knew most of what he was going to say, anyhow. But sometimes they need to be reminded.
"[Rivers] does what every good coach does: He got in guys' faces and said, 'This is what I need you do to,'" said Shaquille O'Neal. "Nothing more. I think that everything that he said was correct, even with me. He said, 'I'm not looking to get 20 points from you every night, but you gotta be a rebounder and an enforcer. Do a better job in the pick-and-roll and play whatever minutes I put you in for.' That's fine by me."
Shaq chipped in 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds over
23 minutes, filling his role to code. But it was Garnett who clearly took his chat to heart. After taking a combined 19 shots in Boston's first two games, he nearly matched that total against the Knicks.
Garnett took eight shots in the post against a height-challenged New York squad, connecting on five of them. He added five buckets from his sweet-spot in the mid-range. Eleven of his 12 buckets came off assists, and he didn't hand out a single assist, which -- odd as it may sound -- is fine by the Celtics.
"I care about the next person, it's who I am, it's in my I.D.," said Garnett. "In basketball it's very similar and I've never tried to do just one thing [scoring]. ... When Doc asked us about roles, he said he wanted me to be more aggressive; not to be so passive. I'm adjusting. I know I have a barcode over the back of my neck, but I am human. I'll adjust accordingly. Who I am, I'm trying to make the guys around me better, but at the same time I need to be more aggressive."
Because even if it means straying outside your comfort level, it's better than the alternative: another season of disappointing losses, just like the one Wednesday against the Cavaliers.
"We were really disappointed about the loss in Cleveland," said Pierce. "We watched some film and, you know, we didn't want to get into that habit we got into last year where we were losing to teams that we are supposed to beat. Coach just wanted to get a speech in, so that everybody was pretty clear.
"The good thing about this team is that you have so much talent, so many guys can do so many things, but we are actually sacrificing our game for the good of the team. You know, Coach does a good job letting guys know that. Of course Shaq can do more for us; of course, Jermaine [O'Neal] could do more; maybe Kevin or I could do more for this team, but that's not what it's all about.
"Coach just wants to reiterate that because, at the end of the day, it's about us getting a win."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.