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Full Court Press: Does Brad Stevens really want his team swinging for the fences so much? Depends 12.03.16 at 9:24 am ET
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Nov 30, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) takes a shot while guarded by Detroit Pistons point guard Ish Smith (14) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden.  The Detroit Pistons won 121-114. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley is one of the Celtics leading the 3-point barrage this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The 3-point shot is the home run of basketball. It’s a play that can get you back in a game and one that can close the door just as fast. 

Stevens, who earned three letters apiece in high school basketball and track, also earned on in baseball in his days at Zionsville, Indiana. On Wednesday, he used a baseball metaphor to make his point about shot selection and tempo. 

Brad Stevens, the man who wore No. 31 in high school after idol Reggie Miller, certainly saw the down side of it on Wednesday in a 121-114 loss to the Pistons, during which his team took 42 shots from beyond the arc. The Celtics made a reasonable number (15) and percent (35) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His team committed just six turnovers and shot 44 percent. 

“I think we’re taking care of the ball, pretty obviously, really well. I wasn’t overly happy with some of our shots. I felt like some of shots were rushed. But again, when we play good offense we’re really good on that end of the floor. But we have a tendency when teams are making runs against us or things aren’t going our way to try to get it all back at once, and you just can’t do that. You have to keep hitting singles.”

The Celtics are averaging 31.1 3-point attempts a game (making 11.3). The 31.1 figure is fifth in the NBA, just behind Golden State. The three other teams ahead of Boston are Houston (37.0), Brooklyn (34.9) and Cleveland (34.3).

The problem Wednesday wasn’t the 42 threes the Celtics took. It was the 27 misses. Long shots usually lead to long rebounds, and that’s a problem for a team that can’t rebound. The Celtics were battered again on the glass Wednesday (52-33) and many of those were Detroit hauling in the long rebounds from the missed shots. 

While Stevens indicated that he wanted more “singles” after Wednesday’s game, he seemed to clarify that before Friday’s game with Sacramento, suggesting the Celtics were taking the right kind of threes.

“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, we want layups. If we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. The defense shrinks in and you’re able to touch the paint and kick it out, in two of our last three games, maybe three of our last four games, two-thirds of our possessions we’ve touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s kind of our objective. Hey, we’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot, we’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate, and we haven’t scored it in transition so to be able to be sitting where we are, offensively, I think a big reason is because we space the floor.”

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Can the Celtics reel in Marcus Smart? Jae Crowder and Brad Stevens are working on it 11.29.16 at 8:15 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Jae Crowder could see and hear Miami coach Erik Spoestra trying an old trick Monday night to get under the skin of Marcus Smart. 

Crowder and everybody else familiar with Smart knows the third-year guard came out of Oklahoma State with a reputation for letting his intensity turn into anger and frustration, eventually leading to technical fouls or worse. 

“It’s funny because I was telling him [Monday] during the game, Spoelstra was saying, ‘He’s a hothead. He’s a hothead.’ So obviously that was part of the game plane to try to get under his skin a little bit,” Crowder said with a brotherly smile after practice Tuesday.

“A lot of teams know he wears his emotions on his sleeves so they’re going to do stuff like that. And you just have to be more cautious of it and know that it’s just a game they’re trying to play with him. I’m sure as the season goes on he’ll be more aware of it. And hopefully he gets better.”

Tired of getting hacked by Goran Dragic, Smart indeed took a technical foul when he complained about a double-foul with 2:26 left in the game. There’s clearly a fine line for Smart to walk and always has been since he came into the NBA in 2014. 

“I was begging for Spoelstra to get a technical foul because he was saying a lot of stuff. He was everywhere last night, but that’s one of the things he did say. When they went to intentional foul Marcus it was obvious that what they were trying to do was more than just foul. They were trying to get under his skin and play a little physical, and knowing he wanted to retaliate for the most part. So it’s just part of the scouting report on I guess Marcus that he wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

Crowder got his wish when Spoelstra was finally T’d up with 2:11 left as the Celtics pulled away for the 112-104 win. 

“It’s a very fine [line]. He as a person, as an individual, has to control it,” Crowder said. “We as teammates can keep being on him about it, but it’s about him and being able to control it. A lot of players and coaches in this league know he’s an emotional type of guy, so they’re going to try to do everything they can to get under his skin and in his head. But he has to want to put his pride aside and put his emotions aside for the team’s sake. And take care of business.”

Can Crowder see a maturity in Smart?

“Of course. He has not gone backwards in that regard,” Crowder said. “But he’s playing more minutes now than he was when he was a rookie. He’s playing a bigger role now, so we need him to be more locked in on that standpoint. You can’t just give away points at the free throw line on technicals and flagrants and stuff like that. So, we’ll keep pounding it in his head, and he keeps [telling] us he wants to change, so he’ll get better, hopefully.” 

Brad Stevens is also keeping a close eye on Smart’s on-court intensity. 

“I think toughness is such a critical component of a team and everybody brings their own levels of skill to the table and everything else but you have to have a competitiveness and an ability to figure out a way to win that possession,” Stevens said. “He’s able to do that on a lot of possessions.”

There’s an obvious irony to what happened Monday as it’s usually Smart and his intense defense that agitates and gets opposing players out of their game. 

“Well, he plays physical. For the most part, a lot of guys don’t like to play physical,” Crowder said. “They want an easy-flowing game and Marcus don’t play like that. That alone just gets under guys’ skin, just him playing physical and him being a presence on the basketball court with his body and his stature. A lot of players don’t like it. [Hassan] Whiteside is one of those guys who doesn’t like to play that physical. He likes to play physical as long as guys don’t play physical back with him. So, he didn’t like the foul Marcus laid on him late in the first quarter.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra, Jae Crowder
Celtics notes: Al Horford doesn’t ‘really read into’ criticism over paternal leave, Brad Stevens has his back at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM — There were some who criticized Celtics star center Al Horford for taking a one-game leave of absence Monday to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, Alia. Horford clearly wasn’t bothered and had his priorities in line. 

“I don’t really read into anything. I don’t read Twitter and stuff, and the radio and all that,” Horford said after rejoining the team for practice Tuesday. “I just kind of focus on the court, on my job here, and then off the court on my family.

“Everybody has their opinion. I respect anything that anybody has to say. I care a lot about the group and our guys. For my family’s sake, it was important for me to be there for them. Just with our transition and everything. So that’s that. Now I can put that behind me and get focused again on [Wednesday] night.”

The Celtics, the team paying Horford $113 million over four seasons, made it clear Tuesday, the day after Horford missed Boston’s 112-104 win in Miami, that they had no such issues with the one-game leave. 

“I don’t know from a culture standpoint as much as it is just I think our greatest responsibilities are as sons, husbands, fathers. I think that’s your No. 1 job,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’re thrilled for the Horfords and we’re thrilled to have Al back at practice today and be ready to go tomorrow. Obviously, family is really really important.”

Horford and former Miss Universe (2003), Amelia Vega married in 2011 and had their first child, a son named Ean Horford Vega in Feb. 2015.

“It means a lot. My family’s very important to me,” Horford said. “For me. I’m in more of a unique situation because this is our first year hear and my wife, we all moved in the middle of the pregnancy. And just a lot going on. So I just felt like it was important for me to really be there, supporting her. And we have a son as well. So for her, it’s been a lot thrown at her these past few months. So I know that it meant a lot for me to be there with her, and knowing our schedule ahead and everything. So I’m just very happy that the Celtics really take the time and they consider us not only as players but as people. And people that have families.”

And how is baby Alia?  

“Everybody’s healthy. That was the most important thing,” Horford said. “And she’s been great so far. Her and my wife, today she got released so she’s home and resting. The guys were supportive. It was hard for me but I felt like it was the right thing for me to be next to my wife. And they supported me throughout. That’s always helpful. Just excited. Everybody was happy to have me back. And I’m happy to be back here, and we can put everything behind and get looking forward ahead to [Wednesday’s] game.”

Horford did watch Monday’s game, in which Tyler Zeller started in place of Horford.

“I was able to watch it and I was just very proud with our guys, how they responded,” Horford said. “I feel like in our short season already we haven’t been fully available, all of us, through all the games. It’s just impressive to see a guy like Isaiah not making any excuses. And the list goes on. Not only Isaiah. All the other guys, but everybody just making sure they go in and they put in the work. And they don’t make excuses.

“I’m looking forward for us to keep getting better as a group. The encouraging thing is that there’s a lot of room for growth with our group. Now we have some tough tests ahead, and I’m just looking forward to get it rolling. I waited long enough throughout the summer. Now that I’m here, now we can finally really get focused on that.”

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Full Court Press: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, Bill Belichick and link 3 share, Isaiah Thomas ‘a tricky little dude’ and nasty David Lee 11.26.16 at 6:36 am ET
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Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Celtics at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Philadelphia, they “trust the process.” In Boston, where they are light years ahead in the NBA galaxy, it’s not the process but the system that matters.

And Brad Stevens has two mentors that have set the standard in two professional sports.

This past spring, Belichick was the guest of the Celtics and Stevens courtside at the end of the regular season and in the three home playoff games against Atlanta.

In the fall, Belichick invited Stevens to speak at his foundation’s event and said it was actually the 39-year-old Celtics coach who provided “a lot of insight” into coaching. Stevens said Belichick was very supportive and offered advice.

On Friday, one of the people Belichick respects the most in the coaching ranks, Gregg Popovich, was in town. The two have had lengthy conversations in the past about coaching and what it is to manage modern-day pro athletes. Belichick and Popovich are the two undisputed kings of coaching in their respective sports and Brad Stevens has a relationship with both.

Popovich has five rings and six NBA finals appearances with the Spurs, and Belichick has four rings and six Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots.

Now that Stevens — in his fourth NBA season — is the coach of a team with expectations to make a run into the NBA stratosphere that includes perennial power San Antonio, Friday provided a good chance for Stevens to measure up to what Popovich has built over the last 20 years in San Antonio. 

“I talk to him occasionally,” Stevens said before Friday’s matinee. “But I’ve said this before, he’s always been very kind, open and helpful whenever I’ve called or needed something. Couldn’t respect a coach or a person more.

“I just think they have a clear way of doing things with regard to every detail matters, every possession matters on both sides of the ball. They’ve always had an emphasis on skilled players, but sometimes those guys come in different positions. And they’re just outstanding at what they do.”

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Brad Stevens, Celtics get a harsh lesson from Spurs on the art of finishing 11.25.16 at 8:51 pm ET
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There was so much positive to take for the Celtics Friday in the first 46 minutes.

They hung neck and neck with the best road team in basketball and one of the great franchises in all of sports for the last two decades.

They jumped out to a 24-10 lead. They shutdown three of San Antonio’s best players for most of the game, forcing Gregg Popovich to turn to his bench in crunch time against Boston’s starters.

But then the Celtics realized what so many others have found out when playing the Spurs: If you don’t finish, you usually don’t win. And the Celtics lost 109-103 at TD Garden.

In the final two minutes Friday afternoon, the Celtics had the crowd on its feet as they closed an eight-point hole to just three with 90 seconds left. But with just 44 seconds left, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart miscommunicated and found themselves guarding space in the paint instead of Patty Mills. Mills drained the three and it was a six-point game again. Then the Celtics battled back again. They had the lead down to 107-103 with 35 seconds left. Instead of fouling, Brad Stevens decided to have his team play good defense. They did. One problem: They didn’t box out LaMarcus Aldridge, who got the offensive rebound and helped the Spurs kill the rest of the clock.

“Well we didn’t rebound a couple of big shots and then I thought obviously losing Mills in the corner was a big play,” Stevens said. “They’re a hard team to guard. I thought we missed a couple of opportunities on both ends.

“I think home, road, 20 years whatever its been they finish; its who they are, it’s what they do. They have excellent players, obviously and excellent system and style of play and got great play off their bench tonight. I thought their bench was the biggest difference in the game scoring 56 points total and when you combine that with the rebounding when you’re minus 9, which hopefully you can manage that and be a little bit closer even with the size difference. We have to play a little bit better to win that game against a really good team.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Celtics notes pregame Friday: Brad Stevens starting to see what his team is like healthy at 12:53 pm ET
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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins over the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nets to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously, we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

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Celtics pregame notes: Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk will start against Knicks 11.11.16 at 7:12 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

For the first time this season, Brad Stevens will start Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk in place of Jae Crowder (left ankle) and Al Horford (concussion) against the Knicks on Friday. 

Stevens emphasized the importance of getting off to a strong start against New York and said that defense played a major part in his decision to start Smart and Olynyk.

“I thought we started pretty well in Cleveland but we haven’t started well the last two games,” Stevens said. “I think Tyler [Zeller] has actually done some really good things — I think he’ll be able to play off the bench well. I think that Jaylen [Brown] obviously has done some good things, he’ll be able to play off the bench well. But I know that with Marcus and Kelly I think that from my evaluation the other night they were probably our two best defenders in the game the other night so I’d like to start off with that mindset right out of the gate.”

The Celtics are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have gotten out to horrendous starts. They’ve allowed 76 points combined in the last two opening quarters and surrendered their biggest loss of the young season on Wednesday — a 118-93 blowout against the Wizards. Although it’s still very early in the regular season, Stevens understands his team’s performance the past two games were unacceptable.

“I think I have to be able to take a step back and say there’s a lot of games to be played, we haven’t played very well the last couple,” Stevens explained. “We’re far from a finished product and we’re far from a full team. But at the same time these games come at you a million miles an hour and you only get one chance to play each of them. So you gotta put your best foot forward and we need to play better. May not ever guarantee the result you want but we need to play better basketball than we played the last few nights.”

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