|Positive road trip gives hope to Celtics’ playoff odds||01.29.15 at 6:21 pm ET|
Last season the Celtics‘ record against the Western Conference on the road was 0-15. If there’s a positive way to spin that, it’s that Brad Stevens certainly left his team with room for improvements on the road for this season.
“It could go a bunch of different ways,” Brandon Bass said as the C’s prepared to depart for the six-game trip through three different Western Conference time zones. Yes, Brandon, it could have gone a bunch of different ways. However, I don’t think many predicted the Celtics would return home to almost three feet of snow with three more victories under their belts.
Finishing the trip with a loss in Minnesota left a sour taste in the team’s mouth, but the trip could have been far less successful in Stevens’ eyes.
“We had our moments where we played well,” the coach said of the road trip after returning home to practice on Thursday. “We won two 1-point games [back-to-backs in Portland and Denver] which could have gone either way. If we’re sitting here at 1-5 because those last two shots bounce in, do we feel worse about ourselves? Absolutely. Is it a lot less of a successful trip? Absolutely. But, because those bounces went our way, we feel better.”
With the unexpected success, the Celtics amazingly sit just two games back of the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference at 16-28. But the C’s haven’t just been getting lucky bounces in their own games lately, they’ve been lucky across the league.
The Pistons had been surging, and sit just a half-game back of Boston in the standings. But Brandon Jennings‘ achilles tear recently ended the point guard’s season, and may well keep Detroit from rolling into the playoffs after their turnaround in the post-Josh Smith era.
The Nets are currently sitting in the nine-seed, but Brooklyn has made it clear that they intend to sell, sell, sell as the deadline approaches. Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are all on the table. If they can find a taker on even one of those players, especially Johnson, Brooklyn could remain looking in from the outside at the playoffs.
The eight-seeded Hornets have lost arguably their best player in Kemba Walker for a long period of time after the UConn product recently underwent knee surgery. Unless they make a trade that brings them back some high-end talent, it would be silly to think that they wouldn’t slip in the standings.
Finally, there’s the Heat. Miami has a grasp on the seven-seed, but with a record of just 20-25, and Dwyane Wade injured again, they are far from untouchable in the standings.
Enter the Celtics. Their goal (or at least Danny Ainge’s goal) might not be to make the playoffs this season. Ainge admitted it wasn’t a goal of his last season. But the Eastern Conference is shaping up in a way that they just may sneak right in, even with a losing record. This current Celtics unit has not been together particularly long — it’s been a season filled with moving parts — but as Stevens said on Thursday: “There’s no better team building activity than winning a close game on the road.”
If the C’s can pull out a couple more close games on the road, then who knows? We might be watching this team compete during the playoffs whether it’s in Ainge’s plans or not.
|Brad Stevens isn’t worried about ‘managing feelings’ anymore||01.17.15 at 9:33 am ET|
There comes a point in time where an NBA coach can’t worry about massaging the egos of his team. That time has come for Brad Stevens.
After another close-but-no cigar special Friday night at TD Garden, Stevens said that he’s seeing some signs of life from his now 13-25 squad. But not enough. The Celtics shot 60 percent in the first half, competed hard for three quarters and even led the Bulls by three at the half. But Boston, as it often has this season, ran out of gas in the fourth and fell, 119-105.
Asked if he’s concerned about his constantly changing roster and the impact it might have heading on a brutal six-game western road swing, Stevens was brutally honest.
“I’m not as worried about keeping them up,” Stevens said. “I think we need to get better off of that. I thought we didn’t have enough ‘ we weren’t as tight as we need to be against that level of talent. We were loose in our coverages and a little loose on the ball and it hurt us. They’ve got some great, great players that stepped up and made plays and really separated the game.
“But even when we were going back and forth I didn’t feel like ‘ I didn’t feel like it was sustainable at that rate, the way we were playing. So, yeah, I don’t know, hey’¦we’re employed to do everything we can, to have everything we have, and to manage the ups and downs throughout a season. Players and coaches. And it’s on us as individuals to be up and ready. And certainly you have to help some guys through that and help manage some of that but, you know, we can’t spend our time managing feelings right now; we have to spend our time getting better.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Brad Stevens credits Gerald Wallace for team chemistry amidst trades; 2 newcomers to be added on road trip||01.16.15 at 7:27 pm ET|
The Celtics have made nine trades on the season, four of them coming in just the last week. Brad Stevens has joked that he asks Danny Ainge to e-mail him the roster every morning just so he knows who he will be coaching. Evan Turner, who enjoys a good laugh, claimed that the C’s had to take attendance at practice this week to make sure all were accounted for. Bodies are flying in and out of the locker room. Stevens informed the media on Friday that the team will be joined in Los Angeles this weekend by both Tayshaun Prince and Shavlik Randolph.
But all kidding aside, Boston’s young coach feels as though 16-year veteran Gerald Wallace is as important as anyone throughout all the changes.
“I’m not too worried about chemistry in the locker room, and large credit for that goes to Gerald Wallace,” Stevens told reporters prior to Friday’s home game against the Bulls. “Because of the way he, at his age, has accepted his role and how he talks to the young guys. It kind of makes everybody else say, ‘I’m going to do what I can the right way every time.’ So I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Wallace is in a unique situation. The former All-Star is not in the C’s rotation at the moment, and when he is he plays minimal minutes, yet is still expected to lead. Not only by his coach, but by his young teammates.
“It’s a challenge for sure,” Jae Crowder admitted after Thursday’s practice about the team’s ability to remain focused. “I think that’s when guys like Gerald Wallace have to step up.”
Turner goes as far as to refer to Wallace as “uncle”, although he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his elder: “You got two types of uncles, there’s the cool ones and the ones that don’t want to be bothered, and he’s the latter.”
So the next time you see a shot of Wallace sitting on the C’s bench, remember that his role is not quite that simple. “G”, as he’s known around the league, is looked up to by Boston’s youthful locker room. That makes him a key contributor to this rebuild simply by example.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success?||01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET|
Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.
One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.
Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.
“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?
“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”
Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.
It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Brad Stevens envies the ‘beautiful basketball’ of the Atlanta Hawks after seeing it up close and personal||at 10:24 am ET|
He thought maybe his team would see how Atlanta (31-8) is playing the game right now for their coach Mike Budenholzer and be inspired. He thought wrong.
Not three minutes into the game, Stevens had to call a timeout to remind his young team, still working to learn each other’s game, that he wants them to run basic offense.
“I thought our offense was pretty poor all night, and I think they’re obviously a difficult-enough offense to guard,” Stevens said. “But when you give them run-out dunks, it doesn’t help anything, and we just turned the ball over too much. Put too much pressure on ourselves to be good in the half-court defensively, and then to come back.
“We had cut it to nine and we were playing with some pretty good energy, but then at the end of the day they made us pay on a few different plays. And they do such a great job of ‘ they don’t over-dribble, you know? They attack, they space, they pass ‘ it’s beautiful basketball. They really move the ball well. And I thought we never really got into anything from a movement standpoint. We got pushed out a little bit out of our space and we fumbled the ball all around as a result of that.”
The Celtics responded in the first quarter and managed a 24-24 tie after 12 minutes. But the roof started to cave in when the shots didn’t fall in the second and they could never really recover from a 57-45 halftime hole. Still, it was the start of the game that stuck in Stevens’ craw.
|Brad Stevens praises Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart after C’s beat Pelicans||01.13.15 at 8:38 am ET|
After a tough road trip filled with trades, the Celtics returned home Monday to collect an impressive victory over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Jared Sullinger was a huge reason why. Sullinger finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, stepping his game up against one of the top young talents in the league.
“I thought today’s a good example of his versatility,” coach Brad Stevens said of Sullinger’s big game. “When we had [Brandon] Bass in the game they usually matched up [Ryan] Anderson on [Sullinger], when we had Kelly [Olynyk] in the game they had to match up [Omer] Asik on [Sullinger]. And so when Asik’s on him he stretched it a little bit, and when Anderson was on him he posted. That’s why, in my opinion, a guy like Jared has to be able to do both if he’s going to be really good. I thought he did a lot of really good things tonight.”
While Sullinger really stood out in the box score, rookie Marcus Smart’s name would not pop if you only looked at the numbers. Smart’s contributions go beyond what’s on the stat sheet. He hit a 3-pointer out of the corner while falling down that clinched the game for the C’s — the most clutch shot of Smart’s career to date.
“He had nothing but zeros at halftime except for two assists and one turnover, and we talked as a staff, we thought he was terrific,” Stevens said of the No. 6 overall pick. “All that other stuff on a stat line isn’t where his impact can be the greatest, and he really made a huge impact, being his hands on balls, being active. I didn’t know coming into the game if he could guard [Tyreke] Evans and I thought he did a decent job on him — he’s a hard guy to guard, too. So he did a lot of great things. And obviously hit a big 3.”
Check out Sullinger’s postgame press conference below, but on a night when his Ohio State Buckeyes won the NCAA football national championship, Sully wanted to be brief so he could rush home for the second half.
When Rajon Rondo was shipped out of town just over three weeks ago, Danny Ainge used a key word to describe why — uncertainty. It also seemed to remain the reason Ainge felt the need to ship Jeff Green to Memphis as well.
“I just felt like [it was] a timeline thing,” Ainge said prior to Monday’s home win over the Pelicans. “The players that we had, the uncertainty of the future and free agency, and [I] felt like we were getting good value in return based on this contract situation.”
The trade doesn’t make this current season any easier on coach Brad Stevens, but the coach understands it’s a process geared towards the future.
“Losing [Green] three weeks after losing your multiple-time All-Star point guard, there’s going to be challenges that come with that,” Stevens said. “That’s why you prepare everyone to play and that’s why everybody’s got this talk about next man up.”
Last year everything was very new to Stevens, especially the trade deadline. Now in his second season in the NBA, Stevens is learning to adapt to what to expect during the rebuild.
“This is about the time last year where we had some – at the time for that team we had some pretty significant moves — with Jordan [Crawford] being traded and Courtney [Lee] being traded,” Stevens reflected. “So there’s a little bit of being able to look back and learn from that. I think I learned a lot from the Rondo trade, just as far as not only losing a really good player, but also trying to bring new guys in and get them up to speed as quickly as possible, but also recognizing that you don’t have to rebuild Rome in a day.”
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