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Doc Rivers to make coaching debut with Bucks Monday night against Denver Nuggets

For new Bucks head coach Doc Rivers, coming back to Milwaukee is a 'dream'

Doc Rivers speaks after being introduced as the Milwaukee Bucks head coach at a news conference Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

On a normal Saturday morning, storied NBA player and coach Doc Rivers would likely be on the third hole at his favorite golf course. Instead, he was at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, being introduced as the new head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Rivers will make his coaching debut with the Bucks Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.

He didn’t shy away from the difficulty of coming in to coach mid-season at his introductory press conference Saturday — especially with mounting pressure to get back to the NBA Finals.

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“I’ve never done this. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I can tell you that,” Rivers said. 

But it’s a challenge he said he’s prepared for. 

“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s a challenge that I’m running towards,” Rivers told the media.

Rivers isn’t new to Milwaukee — he played college basketball at Marquette University, a place he said “changed” him as a person. And now, he’s come out of retirement as a coach to attempt to mimic the team’s 2021 NBA Finals run.

“Being back here is a dream,” Rivers said.

“Winning it all, it’s like having a blood transfusion with everybody in a group, in an organization, and once you get that in you … you want another one, and that’s my pursuit,” he added. 

LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

The Bucks fired first-time head coach Adrian Griffin last week, a move General Manager Jon Horst said he hoped would maximize the team’s talent. After the firing, Horst said the team identified a small group of coaches to replace Griffin.

Rivers, a veteran coach with an NBA Finals win already under his belt and the ninth most wins in the history of the league, fit the bill. 

“It’s a great roster, high character people, and now we have a really experienced, high character, brilliant basketball coach who’s been here in these moments, and lived through these moments,” Horst said at a press conference. 

Bucks General Manager Jon Horst talks to the press.
Bucks General Manager Jon Horst talks to the press on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Evan Casey/WPR

The Milwaukee Bucks are 32-14 and second in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers. Rivers coached the 76ers for three seasons before being fired last year.

He said the Bucks need to find their identity after struggling defensively all season.

“We know they all can play. But we got to figure out this is the best way for them to all play together and all to be great in what they do” Rivers said.

This season saw the acquisitions of superstar Damian Lillard. The team also extended Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract last year — in the prime of his playing career. 

Milwaukee Bucks celebrate championship
In this July 20, 2021, file photo, the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Milwaukee. Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Before taking the helm in Milwaukee, Rivers was working as an NBA broadcaster for ESPN/ABC. He said several teams contacted him about head coaching opportunities. But he didn’t even take their calls.

That is, until he heard from the Bucks. 

Rivers, who got a standing ovation while attending the Marquette University men’s basketball game Saturday at Fiserv Forum, said he’s excited to coach in the same arena where his alma mater plays.

“Coming back here, to a place that changed me as a literal person, is a dream,” he said.

Tim Braden, a Bucks super-fan from Cudahy, said he was happy with the change in coaches. He said he hopes Rivers will lead the team to success in the postseason. 

“I really, truly hope that we didn’t hire another coach (Budenholzer), because coach Bud was great in the regular season, but the man couldn’t coach his way in the playoffs and make adjustments,” Braden said.

Fans raise their arms to a screen showing the game.
Bucks fans in the Deer District lift their arms as Giannis Antetokounmpo shoots a free throw Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Rivers has a record of 111-104 in the NBA playoffs. However, he’s 16-33 in playoff games where his team already has three wins, according to SBNation. 

“As much as the Bucks needed Doc, I think Doc needs the Bucks,” Jordan Treske, the co-host of the WinIn6Podcast, said.

“This could give him a chance to rectify all the questions about his legacy or what he means as a coach in the NBA,” he added.

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