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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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IMG_1573

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. 

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 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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Celtics notes: Brad Stevens gives ‘thought’ to lineup change, Al Horford cleared for non-contact, doubtful Friday 11.10.16 at 3:55 pm ET
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WALTHAM – The Celtics have been without Al Horford for four games now. The likelihood that streak goes to five is very high as Brad Stevens said it’s doubtful that the big man still in concussion protocol will be able to take the court against the Knicks Friday at TD Garden. 

But the Celtics did get good news on the Horford front. Horford, who did not travel to Washington for Wednesday’s blowout loss, did return to the court with the team for practice Thursday. 

But the practice was not one of high intensity and he has not been cleared for contact or physical work. 

“He did some light stuff with us, so he was cleared to go through some of it,” Stevens said. “We didn’t do anything contact, physical, competitive, so I don’t know where that puts him in the protocol. I haven’t gotten the update of what’s next. But he is progressing, He’s feeling a lot better.”

Stevens and Horford spent about 15 minutes talking after practice Thursday. 

As for his chances of playing Friday?

“I don’t know, but I would say that would doubt it,” Stevens answered. “But I don’t know what the official diagnosis is, as far as I don’t know the official next step.”

 Jae Crowder has missed three games with a sprained left ankle. Crowder was not with the team at practice on Thursday. 

“I would doubt we see him until maybe next week when we get back home,” Stevens said. “That’s not for sure either, but that’s roughly the time line we’re looking at, best case scenario.”

It’s no secret the Celtics have been getting their collective doors blown off in the last two first quarters of their last two defenseless losses to the Nuggets and Wizards. Against Denver they allowed 24 first-quarter points to Emmanuel Mudiay and fell behind 42-23. Wednesday in Washington was even worse. They were blown out 34-8 and lost, 118-93. 

What are the chances Stevens breaks up the lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller?

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Brad Stevens on Donald Trump’s victory: ‘It wasn’t my vote’ at 8:28 am ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, while saying he is hesitant to discuss politics, felt strongly enough about the results of the Tuesday’s presidential election to reveal his view of Donald Trump.

“It wasn’t my vote,” he told reporters Wednesday in Washington, where his team was preparing to be routed by the Wizards. “Let’s put it that way.”

The Celtics learned of Trump’s upset victory while in the nation’s capital, and Stevens said he had to address it in an attempt to refocus his team.

“I think you have to be able to compartmentalize,” Stevens said (via MassLive.com). “We talked about that this morning, and that’s a hard thing. Everybody is — because it’s such a passionate topic right now, every team’s going to be feeling that this morning. It’s not going to be one team and not another.”

“I think the whole world’s talking about it and has been talking about it for quite some time,” Stevens added. “I read somewhere last week that the campaigning is double what it used to be. The coverage is probably 10 times what it used to be. The predictions are probably worse than they used to be. So I think that there’s a lot of discussion about it, there’s a lot of talk about it, there’s a lot of empty space, empty minutes of your day, that you’re turning on whatever and it’s constantly being discussed. So everybody was talking about it. I don’t think that was just our locker room or just anywhere else.”

All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas also tried to keep his comments to a minimum, although he previously had made it clear via Twitter that he opposed Trump.

“It was a rough night,” Thomas said of watching the election results. “But hopefully he’s good. That’s all I’m going to say.”

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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Brad Stevens on defenseless Celtics: ‘You could see it coming’ 11.08.16 at 10:19 am ET
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Nov 6, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson (1) shakes the hand of Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after defeating the Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics coach watched Sunday as Jameer Nelson (1) and the Nuggets ran Boston out of its own building. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM – The 3-3 start by the Celtics, featuring woeful defense, has caught many off guard.  

But that group would not include their coach. Brad Stevens could see cracks in the team’s defensive foundation in training camp. He could see some bad habits forming and now the coach is showing the players, in brutal regular season game detail, what he was trying to get across in camp. 

If you’re not in position to defend, you won’t. That was never more clear than in Sunday’s 123-107 loss to the Nuggets at TD Garden, a game they gave up 42 points in the first quarter and trailed 77-52 at halftime. 

“You could see it coming, but we also lost guys that I thought were pretty good defensively. ” Stevens said after Monday’s practice.

Stevens did cut his team some slack, noting that Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Marcus Smart haven’t been on the court together at the start of the season, and that does nothing to help team chemistry and rhythm on the court, not to mention spacing. 

“Losing guys out of our lineups, obviously Jae and Al and Marcus — we haven’t had all three of those guys in one game; those are three of our best defenders.

“But the reality is that even with that, even with the idea that one, two, or three of those guys are out at once, that we should be better than we’ve been. I don’t think the group that’s played will necessarily be, especially with the group that we had out last night, I don’t think we’re going to be a top-10 defense. But we can be 12th or 13th, right at the end of the season, that’s for sure.”

Stevens has some history to draw upon to think things can get better. Asked Monday what it will take to get better, he referenced his first Final Four team at Butler in 2010. 

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