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‘You learn every day’: Brad Stevens experiment nears end of first year with Celtics 02.26.14 at 11:34 am ET
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HANDS ON HIS KNEES, gasping for air, there stood a teenaged Danny Ainge. Covered in sweat, surrounded by members of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ainge looked up to see the greatest Blazer of all. With his shaggy beard and full head of red hair, there was a smiling Bill Walton.

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

“I’ve known Danny since I moved to Oregon 40 years ago,” said Walton. “He was just in high school in Eugene when we got there. Danny would come up and play with us when he was in high school, and he would do just fine. In fact, he was incredibly fun to play with.”

The young Ainge, still sharpening his teeth as a three-sport All-American at North Eugene High School, would impress his NBA teammates with a strong handle and perfect jumper. The piece of his game that most impressed these professional basketball players was one that still cannot be found on a stat sheet. Ainge’s intelligence put him on another level as a basketball player.

“Danny Ainge is brilliant,” said Walton. “Even at a young age, he was very motivated, dedicated and committed. He’€™s always been a visionary.”

Ainge has always embraced different ideas. Conventional wisdom is not a phrase you hear the 54-year-old utter to defend his thought process. Just as Ainge was dedicated to the idea of playing professional basketball, he’s now applied his drive to his role as a president of basketball operations for the Celtics. And, depending on who is speaking, his latest big idea may be his greatest.

THE BOSTON CELTICS are spitting in the face of history. Luring Brad Stevens away from Butler and flying him first-class to Boston is a daring move even for a team with a deep history of bold moves. The Celtics, after all, hired the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Amidst all sorts of race issues in the United States, this franchise started the first entirely black starting five. The team, led by the undaunted Red Auerbach, was never hesitant. The Celtics thought differently, courageously, unafraid — in 1950, one year before Oliver Brown and friends began their battle against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas — the Celtics used a second-round pick on Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team and the second to appear in a game (one day after Washington Capitols forward Earl Lloyd). Trendsetting rarely has surfaced as an issue at 151 Merrimac Street. Yet with Ainge’s hiring of Stevens, the fabled Celtics franchise is following a trend with an extremely high failure rate. College coaches from the past two decades have not succeeded in the NBA. But here are the Celtics, hiring a 37-year-old coach who never played a second of pro basketball, reintroducing the league to a rather old concept. Not that Stevens will fail, but that the Celtics — led by Ainge — will reset the trend. The rest of the league, pawns outplayed by a dominating queen, will see the Celtics succeed with Stevens.

“Brad is smart, he has great integrity, his teams execute and play hard, and he’s a great communicator,” said Ainge. “Experience as a player can help as a coach, but it’s not mandatory. Experience as a coach in college can make a big difference as well. Coach Stevens has proven he’s a great coach. Coaching in the NBA is different, I understand, but in terms of coaching experience, there have been a lot of guys who have become really good coaches that weren’t NBA players.”

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Tommy Heinsohn on M&M: Paul Pierce ‘just an outstanding guy to be around’ 01.27.14 at 1:28 pm ET
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Tom Heinsohn (AP)

Tom Heinsohn

CSNNE Celtics analyst Tommy Heinsohn talked with Mut & Merloni on Monday about the tributes for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett during Sunday’€™s game at TD Garden. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Heinsohn enjoyed the tributes for Garnett and Pierce, saying it exemplified what they and the team stood for.

“€œLast night with these two great players that brought a championship to Boston exhibited over their careers what the Celtics organization was and has been for many many years; full of spirit, teamwork, and accomplishment,”€ Heinsohn said.

Heinsohn recalled watching how Pierce grew not only as a player but as a person in his time with the Celtics.

“€œI’ve watched him grow as a person, as a player, accept all the challenges that anyone could hope to meet,”€ Heinsohn said. “Take the last shot at games, willingly. Really enjoyed being in that position, and the real tribute to him was when he was named captain and how he went about fulfilling that role. He was a very dedicated guy and worked at his craft all the time. Not just at the basketball end of it, but at the person side of it.”

Added Heinsohn: “He was around all those banners when he first came in, and I coached after the [Bill] Russell era and saw players come in and look up at the banners and the rafters and it became both a blessing and a curse. They feel privileged to play for the Celtics but they also know that they have to live up to the standards, and Paul Pierce certainly did that and recognized what those standards were. Just was an outstanding guy to be around.”

While Garnett was only a Celtic for six years, Heinsohn believes he always had the Celtic attitude and should have his number retired by the organization one day.

“He was totally focused,” Heinsohn said. “When he’€™d come out on the basketball court there was nothing else in his mind but winning a basketball game. And it wasn’t about him, it was about winning. He wasn’t there to score the most points or do anything else, he was there to be the supreme teammate, to excel in what he did best to help win a game and that embodied the Celtics spirit of the teams I played with and coached.”

Added Heinsohn: “€œWhen you see the impact he had on that team, he belongs up there. It was just at a chance that he ended up some place else, because he had the Celtic attitude as soon as he stepped on a basketball court in the NBA.”

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Despite disappointing ending, Rajon Rondo’s return a success 01.18.14 at 1:04 am ET
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Rajon Rondo had an eventful return to the court on Friday. (AP)

Rajon Rondo had an eventful return to the court on Friday. (AP)

Through 47 minutes and 59 seconds there was nothing to complain about regarding the debut of Rajon Rondo.

But it took just a second for that outlook to change.

With Boston trailing by three points in the waning moments, Rondo hoisted a 3-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime at the buzzer. But his shot clanked off the rim, and Boston fell 107-104 at the Garden.

‘€”Just came up a little bit short, but I was glad he had the ball,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

Still, there were plenty of positive takeaways from Rondo’s first game since last January — starting with the fact that he changed the dynamic of the team before the opening tip. Stevens, unbeknownst to Rondo, bestowed captainship upon Rondo before the start of the game. Rondo is the 15th Celtic captain, following Pierce, who reigned from 2003-2013.

“€œI never told him — I mean, maybe it’€™s something I should have done,” Stevens said. ‘”But I think it’€™s something you earn through your effort, through your leadership, through your involvement in the community.” Read the rest of this entry »

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3-day former Celtics reunion tour ends in Brooklyn 12.13.13 at 8:40 am ET
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The three-day former Celtics reunion tour ended Thursday night in Brooklyn, where Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led their Nets to a 102-93 victory against Doc Rivers‘ Clippers, and naturally it was a mutual love-fest.

Quotes courtesy of the New York Post.

Pierce: “I grew under him. I was a young player, played nine years with him, just continued to mature and become a better all-around player under him. Before I was really known as a scorer; now when he took over he taught me the other parts of the game, the defense, the rebounding, the passing, just helped my game grow and mature.”

Garnett: “He taught us a lot about not just basketball and the philosophies of it, but about being a young man, a young black man, understanding your responsibilities, because we were starting our families. [He’s] just overall a great model. No one’s perfect, all humans have their flaws or whatever; but shoot, he’s damn near close to it. I’m just grateful he came into my life and that I had that experience to him.”

Those two remarks offer a reminder of the one significant difference between Rivers and new Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Doc is revered by veterans. Those who know Rivers love and respect him, and those who don’t hear stories from the ones who do. That helps when a team is trying to lure high-profile players. Stevens may get there one day, but it takes years to develop that type of cache, and that’s what the C’s will miss most in Rivers’ absence.

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Doc Rivers on Boston: ‘It’s such an amazing fan base’ 12.11.13 at 10:56 pm ET
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Doc Rivers held back tears as he addressed the media after facing the Celtics for the first time.

“I’m still emotional. I though the fans were … it was just a really nice day. It’s just such a classy place here. So, it was really nice when I walked out — and I’m not used to walking out on that side — and all those people lined up. I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game, I thought.

“It was just nice. It didn’t surprise me, because that’s just the way they are. You’ve got to live here to understand it. It’s an amazing fan base. It really is. And I just want everything to go well for them.

“That was hard. That was hard. Every time they were taking the ball out, one of their guys — Jeff [Green] and everyone — was talking to you, and you’re trying to keep focus. It’s funny. I told my coaches I needed halftime far more than the players, and I think they sensed that. You could see at halftime CP [Chris Paul] was like, ‘We got it. We got it.’ He kept saying that. So, I think they sensed that a little bit from me, and that was nice.

“I’ll tell you: Boy, this is such a neat place. I tell people all the time — people don’t get Boston. They really don’t. They don’t understand. And I think you have to be a part of it to get it. I really do. I don’t think you can get it from the outside. It’s just a special, different place. People are born here and raised here, and they cheer for their teams, and they love their athletes. And it’s just a great place to be. The best decision I ever made was 10 years ago, when I decided to come. That was the best decision I ever made.”

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Fast Break: Doc Rivers’ Clippers hand Celtics another reunion loss at 9:57 pm ET
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Clippers coach Doc Rivers acknowledges the Boston fans during Wednesday night's game. (AP)

Clippers coach Doc Rivers acknowledges the Boston fans during Wednesday night’s game. (AP)

Celtics fans thanked Doc Rivers with a standing ovation during a video tribute after the first quarter, and how did he repay his former organization? Guiding his Clippers to a 96-88 victory in his first game since leaving Boston.

Jeff Green (29 points), Brandon Bass (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Jordan Crawford (20 points, 9 assists) all had themselves a game against their former coach, but it wasn’t enough to help the Celtics avoid a second straight loss.

Not the greatest reunion week for the C’s, who drop to 10-14 and watch their Atlantic Division lead dwindle to a game over the idle Raptors.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The usuals: While the Celtics played stout defense, Clippers stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got theirs, combining for 40 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists on the night. Meanwhile, the C’s held Los Angeles’ remaining three starters — Willie Green, Jared Dudley and DeAndre Jordan — to 22 points, 13 boards and two dimes. The strategy that probably wasn’t a strategy at all nearly worked.

Jump shoot: While Avery Bradley‘s jump shot has vastly improved since last season, Wednesday wasn’t his night. He didn’t connect on his first jumper until midway through the fourth quarter, although he did throw down this impressive one-handed alley-oop from Crawford early. His first connection from long distance, though, did give the Celtics a lead back after Los Angeles started the second half on a 15-4 run.

Benched: For the second straight night, Celtics coach Brad Stevens got little contribution from his second unit. With Kris Humphries nursing a bruised right knee and rookie Kelly Olynyk (ankle) missing his ninth straight game, Vitor Faverani was the lone big off the bench, and he put up zeroes again. The C’s reserves didn’t score their first points until Gerald Wallace‘s layup with 1:54 remaining in the third gave the C’s a 63-60 lead. And somehow Courtney Lee fouled out with all of zero points in the 15 minutes of action.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Steez: The legend of Crawford continues to grow with each passing game. Facing Paul, the best floor general in the business, Crawford held his own in the first half. The Celtics point guard entered the break with nine points, five assists and just one turnover — respectable numbers opposite Paul’s 15 points, three assists and two turnovers. Meanwhile, the C’s assisted on 12 of their 18 first-half field goals to take a 45-39 lead.

Motivation: Two of the Celtics most scorned by Doc’s departure, Green and Bass, came to play against their former coach. When Rivers left, admitting an unwillingness to go through another rebuilding process, that had to sting for the players left on the roster. Bass tallied his second double-double of the season in as many nights, and Green netted 20 points for the first time this month, including this monster dunk.

Defense: Through three quarters, the Celtics held the Clippers to 66 points on 43.1 percent shooting (40.9 percent in the first and 40.0 in the second), staying within two when the C’s themselves were shooting just 39.1 percent from the field. Los Angeles came into the game shooting 46.5 percent on the season and scoring 105.1 points per 100 possessions, both top-five marks in the league. Unfortunately for Boston, the aggressive defense led to 17 personal fouls and 34 free throws for Los Angeles (as opposed to 19 free throws for the C’s).

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Celtics pay video tribute to Doc Rivers at 8:26 pm ET
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Between the first and second quarters of Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics and Clippers, Boston paid tribute to the coach who led the franchise to its 17th NBA championship with a video on the Jumbotron. He received a standing ovation from the Garden crowd. And the Celtics led 28-25 after one.

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