This time last year, the NBA’s Doc Rivers declared four-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick the greatest coach of all time, in any sport.
A year later, after Belichick won a fifth Super Bowl last February and reached another next Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Clippers coach is even more convinced.
Last weekend, Rivers watched from afar as Belichick’s New England Patriots produced the same kind of comeback in the AFC Championship Game that beat Atlanta in last year’s Super Bowl.
“I watched at a friend’s house on his big theater screen and it was awesome,” Rivers said. “You knew it was coming. … Everyone knew it was coming, but it was still amazing to watch.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t about to argue much with Rivers, his former boss and longtime friend.
A lifelong Patriots fan, Thibodeau grew up in Connecticut and coached with Rivers in Boston for three seasons while Belichick worked not far away in Foxborough. Two years later, Thibodeau and baseball coaching pal Tony LaRussa spent a day with Belichick at the Patriots’ training facility.
“I don’t know a lot about football other than I love to watch them play,” Thibodeau said. “… To do it the way he has done it for such a long time, he’s an incredible coach. I’m from New England, so I certainly have a great appreciation for it. I know how special he is.”
Like Belichick in many ways, Thibodeau is gruff, driven and disciplined. He also shares with Belichick a building-block belief that winning teams eliminate ways they beat themselves and coaches accentuate their players’ strengths.
Thibodeau studied coaches during a year’s sabbatical after Chicago fired him in 2015 and found certain principles applied whether in basketball, baseball or football.
“When you eliminate ways in which you lose, you really build through the fundamentals,” Thibodeau said. “In basketball, it’s your turnovers, your fouls. In football, it’s the fumbles, the interceptions, penalties. Baseball, walks and error. … His teams don’t beat themselves.”
Basketball is a sport of fluidity and creativity. Football is a sport of precision that Rivers often uses as an example for his players.
“I use football — and not just the Patriots as an example of execution — all the time,” Rivers said. “You think about it: They can’t flinch or it’s offside. Their execution in football has to be perfect. They make passes — and I show film — where the quarterback passes the ball before the guy cuts. He trusted the guy will be there. If you can get your guys to think about executing like that, you can be really good.”
Steve Kerr met with coaches from other sports before he took the Golden State job.
“Every coach said the same thing: Be yourself,” Kerr said. “You can’t come in and try to be somebody else. Me and Bill, we don’t operate the same way at all, but I have tremendous respect for him. Everybody has to do it their own way. But like everybody else, I marvel at what the Patriots have done.”
Thibodeau considers himself fortunate to call LaRussa a friend, to have worked with so many fine NBA coaches as well as college coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, to have spent time, if only a day, with Belichick.
“You can have a great season, but to be truly great you have to do it year after year,” Thibodeau said.
• Headed toward his first All-Star Game as a starter, probably his first playoff appearance come spring and a big free-agent payday this summer, New Orleans big man DeMarcus Cousins’ season ended when he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the final 10 seconds of Friday’s victory over Houston.
Fellow Kentucky alum Karl-Anthony Towns wasn’t watching at home in Minnesota but felt a disruption in the force nonetheless.
“I didn’t know what was up, but I felt like something was off,” Towns said. “When people watch me and Boogie play each other, they think we hate each other. But we’re from the same school, the same family, the same brotherhood and it’s always tough when you see your brother get hurt, no matter how competitive we are.
“I’m wishing him nothing but the best. A speedy recovery, safe recovery. When you see someone get hurt like that, it sends chills through you because it could have been anybody. It’s the worst part of the game.”
• Before his team beat the Wolves last week, Golden State coach Steve Kerr was asked the difference between last season and this one on a team that already had matched its 31-victory total from 2016-17.
“I see a difference now from two months ago,” Kerr said. “When any player goes to a new team, it takes a little while, just like it did with Kevin [Durant] last year with us. … Jimmy Butler is playing at a totally different level. When we saw them the first time, he wasn’t nearly as engaged. It felt like he was trying to feel his way through his new surroundings and now he looks like he’s really comfortable. He’s dominating games.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 6:30 p.m. at Atlanta
Tuesday: 6:30 p.m. at Toronto
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Milwaukee
Saturday: 8 p.m. vs. New Orleans
Mon and Thurs on FSN, Tues and Sat on FSN Plus
Player to watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
Wolves fans get their annual chance to see the astounding “Greek Freak,” whom the Bucks drafted 15th overall in 2013, one pick after the Wolves took Shabazz Muhammad.
“I’m not a huge fan, but the team’s good. The team’s better than those uniforms.”
Golden State coach Steve Kerr when he turned a question about the Timberwolves into a fashion critique of the neon green uniforms they occasionally wear.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves