BOSTON - Doc Rivers pensively glanced across the hall at the 76ers locker room. He knew Maurice Cheeks wasn't in there.

Strange not see Cheeks preparing to coach against his Boston Celtics last night?

"And sad," Rivers said, before the Celtics won their franchise-record 19th in a row, 110-91. "I've been around him my whole career. He's just one of the more upstanding guys around the league, ever. Obviously, as a player, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame; that's always overlooked."

Rivers also referenced Cheeks, as the Portland Trail Blazers' coach, helping teenage singer Natalie Gilbert get through the national anthem before a game in the Rose Garden. And then he referenced Cheeks' exit news conference last week in the Wachovia Center.

"You don't see that in sports, you don't see that in business, you don't see it anywhere," Rivers said. "But that's him. It wasn't an act. It's just who he is. He's a bigger man than me."

On Dec. 13, Cheeks became the fifth NBA coach fired this season, followed 2 days later by the Sacramento Kings' Reggie Theus. *

- Phil Jasner