Brad Stevens saw a lot in his first season in the NBA as a head coach.
After the 57th and final loss of the season, he gave some insight as to what he learned from his maiden voyage in the pro ranks of basketball.
“I think the best thing I learned is that this is not fun to not win but it doesn’t define who you are or how you go about your business. One of the things that I’m probably most happy about with our team is that they didn’t change necessarily who they were. They didn’t let the losing or the multiple losses affect them or their approach, and I hope that I was the same way.”
The best advice for what would be a long season came at the start of the season, when Celtics assistant coach and long-time NBA veteran coach and scout Ron Adams offered some perspective on patience.
“I learned a lot about the NBA game and how it’s played,” Stevens said. “It’s a different kind of basketball. Ron Adams told me at the beginning of the year, ‘If I went and coached high school after 22 years coaching in the NBA, I wouldn’t know what’s going on. It’s 32 minutes, no shot clock. I’d really have to adjust to that.’ I think that’s probably true no matter which way you go. But it is an adjustment. The part I felt most comfortable was in the game, once we got used to the time outs, the 24-second clock and all that other stuff.”
All that other stuff for Stevens starts and ends with better and more consistent defense. It’s what separates talented teams from winning teams in the NBA. It’s what separates teams that can close out games and protect leads from those – like the 2013-14 Celtics – who lose close games time after time down the stretch. Stevens very rarely called his team out after games of this lost season, with a notable exception coming after a lackluster home loss to the Sixers on April 4. But after the final game Wednesday, a 118-102 defenseless loss to the playoff-bound Wizards, he delivered a clear and present message to any player that might return next season.
“So there’s a couple different ways to look at it: are you going to get better in your role, or are you going to expand your role? What I mean by that is: are you going to get better at what you do well, or are you going to get better at some other things that make you, that give you the chance to instead of be the eighth guy be the fifth guy, instead of be the fifth guy be the third guy. We have a lot of great data to be able to share and subjective thoughts as well, and I think we can get better with the guys in the room. I think we clearly are going to need to add to our team to be better, but I told them at halftime, I said, ‘We can start it on October 1st or we can start it right now.’ That is, we’ve got to have a defensive DNA to start next season at a little bit different level than I thought we did at the end of this season. I thought we tried to compete defensively early-on in the year; I didn’t think we made the strides that I would’ve liked to have made.”
Stevens took the time Wednesday at halftime of a game in which they surrendered 38 points in the first quarter and 68 points in the half to remind his team of exactly what he will expect going forward.
“At halftime, I was obviously disappointed in our defensive effort,” Stevens said. “I knew, just look out there, we were undermanned a little bit, but I thought we could play better defensively and it thought we came out in the second half with a great deal of spirit and fight, a little bit more aggressiveness, and it was great until we were worn out. And I thought we wore out and we didn’t have any juice in the last 10 minutes or so, prior to that little run at the end. Credit them; they put us in a world of hurt in a lot of different match-ups. It’s a good basketball team who’s playing well right now, who, as I said earlier, is really sitting pretty for the future because they’ve got really good players at the one and the two that are both very young, that have a chance to be elite at their positions.”