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Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success? 01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET
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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.

After the C’s loss on Wednesday, Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley all referred to the Hawks as a “machine.” So what is it that makes this particular machine so good?

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

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Brad Stevens remains obsessed with Spurs 12.01.14 at 12:57 pm ET
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The defending champions came into Boston on Sunday and blew the doors off of the struggling, young Celtics. The Spurs scored 66 points in the second half en route to a 22-point victory after the C’s led by four points at the break. It was a dominant performance, and Brad Stevens took notice.

“I told the guys in the locker room, it’s probably the best basketball team that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime, as far as how they’re coached, how they play, their understanding, their roles,” the Celtics coach said. “And you can hear them walking back in their locker room. There’s a reason they’re really good. They’ve built a bond and a trust that is very special.”

Stevens has admired the Spurs since he joined the league following the Spurs’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. He often spoke of them as a model of success, and then even more so after the Spurs were able to dethrone the Heat in convincing fashion in 2014. During draft workouts and summer league practices in Waltham this past offseason, Stevens seemingly was obsessed with finding anything he could steal from Gregg Popovich to incorporate into success for the Celtics.

The 38-year-old Stevens even reached out to the 65-year-old Popovich to pick his brain — something the Spurs coach was asked about before Sunday’s game.

“He didn’t find much,” Popovich offered (with his typical smirk while speaking with media members).

“It’s both flattering and embarrassing [that Stevens looks up to the Spurs], in a way,” Popovich added. “We’ve been so fortunate over the years with the people we’ve had. As I’ve said often, who wouldn’t want to follow David [Robinson] by drafting Tim Duncan and go from there. Your biggest job is not to screw it up. And we haven’t, we have not screwed it up. That’s the credit that we deserve. But that good fortune, anybody would like to start a program that way. I’m flattered by what he said. We do try and do things in a certain way. I think a lot of the things we do are pretty universal, but we make mistakes, too.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich,
Kevin Garnett’s future determines Celtics’ ability to be competitive next few seasons 05.10.13 at 10:27 am ET
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If next season’€™s Celtics team does not start Kevin Garnett at power forward, prepare for a long, dark stretch. Without KG patrolling the middle in green and white, feel free to reintroduce yourself to the lottery, long losing streaks and the empty promise of rebuilding.

While you miss the scowls, intensity and blocked shots after the whistle, remember that the decline of the Celtics is more complex than the team simply aging. The major problem is the Celtics actually ask Garnett to do more now than they did during the NBA finals run in 2010. Despite his age (37 on May 19) and contract (2 years, $24.3 million), Garnett still is a premier power forward and a critical piece for a team chasing a championship.

‘€œBack in Minnesota, Kevin used to say, ‘€˜I want to live beyond my contract,’€™ ‘€ new Timberwolves president (and former coach) Flip Saunders told ‘€œThat meant whatever he was getting paid, whenever someone would see him in a game or in a practice, he wanted to live up to that contract and then play beyond that.’€

Garnett has done exactly that in his six seasons in Boston. His playoff averages (35 minutes, 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, his highest playoff average since 2004) against the Knicks also demonstrated that quality basketball remains afloat in his veins. Surrounded by the right players, Garnett still can help Boston contend for a championship. After watching Garnett for 18 seasons, Kevin McHale — who drafted Garnett in Minnesota with the No. 5 pick in 1995 — still is amazed by his former student. Garnett was the first player in 20 years to go directly to the NBA from high school, and McHale recently reminisced about Garnett’€™s rookie training camp in Minnesota, when the 19-year-old was only a couple of months removed from his senior prom.

‘€œI loved the kid the first day of practice,’€ McHale said. ‘€œHe laid on the floor after his first training camp — laying on the ground with nothing left — and I said, ‘€˜We’ve got to go again tonight.’€™ He went, ‘€˜Huh?’€™ I said we did two-a-days, and he was like, ‘€˜Oh my.’€™

“But that night he came and he laid it on the ground, played on the line, laying on the ground, playing on the line. At the end, he was laying on the ground, and I said to him, ‘€˜Now we do two again tomorrow.’€™ He looked up at me and said, ‘€˜Man, this is going to be a job.’€™ He hasn’€™t changed since then, he’€™s just got better.

“His ability to compete at a high level for such a long time, his love of the game, his competitive nature,’€ marveled McHale, ‘€œit really is fun to watch.’€

Competing at a high level for an extended period of time in the National Basketball Association takes a rare talent. It is a skill that is difficult, but far from impossible. The highest standard of excellence has been set by the Spurs, a team with an aging superstar in soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. Far from the best of friends, Garnett and the 37-year-old Duncan share very similar basketball philosophies, a fact not lost on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

‘€œThey can look in the mirror and realize they’€™re both the same in so many respects as far as how they run their lives in the NBA and how they’€™ve run their careers,’€ Popovich said during his last trip to Boston. ‘€œThey’€™re both competitive as hell, they both understand the game, they both love being on the court, and neither one of them is really that excited about the hoopla that is all around it, but they’€™ve also endured by taking care of their bodies and what they do in the summertime to take care of their bodies.’€

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Flip Saunders, Gregg Popovich
Doc Rivers really feels for Gregg Popovich and the $250,000 fine 11.30.12 at 7:06 pm ET
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Doc Rivers admitted before Friday’s game with the Blazers that he didn’t like the $250,000 fine handed down by NBA Commissioner David Stern Friday night against the Spurs for sitting four of their stars and sending them home for Thursday night’s game against the Heat in Miami.

Gregg Popovich, a close friend of Rivers, did not dress Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green for the game on national TV Thurday night, sending them home on a Southwest Airlines flight. Popovich said he did what he needed to in the best interest of his team, which was playing a brutal stretch of four road games in five nights and finishing up a road trip.

Stern said in a statement announcing the fine that the Spurs did a “disservice to the league and its fans.”

Rivers said he understood but sympathized more with Popovich.

“I don’€™t like it,” Rivers said. “I do get the other side of it, but it’s a tough one. You’€™ve got to coach your team to win in the long run.”

Rivers said Stern and the league made a big deal of it when it happened right away, when the league issued a statement Thursday night.

“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said in his statement Thursday. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Rivers thought that was a bad move.

“I think it was an action and a reaction personally, and I think the reaction was probably overdone [Thursday], and then all of a sudden you have to have an action,” Rivers said.

Rivers was asked if he’d consider a similar move to rest veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We’€™ll do it when we want to do it and we should be able to do it,” Rivers said.

Read More: Boston Celtics, David Stern, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich
Pierce: Doc is one ‘cool customer’ 05.31.10 at 5:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Two of the most-respected coaches in the NBA also happen to have the most rings.

And Celtics captain Paul Pierce would love to give Doc Rivers the chance to join Lakers coach Phil Jackson and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich as active coaches with multiple rings.

But whether the Celtics win another title or not in the next month, Paul Pierce believes he is playing for one of the best coaches of his generation. Pierce said Monday following practice that Rivers deserves credit for keeping the team focused on the task at hand and never showing panic through the course of a long season filled with many ups and downs.

“He’s definitely taken my career to the next level,” Pierce said. “You have to put him up there with the top-five coaches with Phil, Gregg Popovich.”

It wasn’t always that way as Pierce admitted earlier this season when he said his relationship with the Celtics and Rivers was sometimes like when a couple goes through growing pains early in their relationship.

Sometimes you come close to “breaking up” Pierce said but in the end, you work things out.

Such was the case, even this season, when the team went 27-27 to finish the season, losing at home to teams like Washington, New Jersey and Memphis. When the team was battling to find itself in January and February, Pierce said it was Rivers who kept things loose and easy.

“I think it’s everything to this ballclub,” Pierce said. “You can see at times when you play for coaches when things aren’t going right it just seems like the practices get harder and the yelling becomes louder and Doc is a cool customer.

“He didn’t panic, he didn’t get louder. He just stuck with the game plan. A lot of times, when you go through a stretch we went through like five games out of six, seven-out-of-10, you can tell from a coach’s body language that things are going downhill. You never really saw that with Doc. He came in and said, ‘Alight, we’re going to get back to work the next day.’ He always stayed positive and encouraged us and I think that was big for us throughout the year.”

Jackson has an NBA-record 10 titles as head coach while Gregg Popovich is second among active coaches with four. The Celtics are making their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years with Rivers as the coach and he is trying to join Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and K.C. Jones as Celtics coaches with two titles in three seasons.

Read More: Celtics, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Lakers
Doc on the Spurs: ‘What we want to be’ 03.28.10 at 9:36 pm ET
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Doc Rivers remember playing for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But not how you might think.

Rivers was the point guard for the Spurs between 1994-96 when Popovich was the general manager.

Then Rivers retired the season before the Popovich fired Bob Hill for a 3-16 start and took over as head coach.

Four NBA titles later, the man with the second-longest head coaching tenure in the NBA is the envy of the league – including Doc Rivers.

“Well, he’s earned it,” Rivers said of Popovich’s tenure. “Pop’s been phenomenal. He’s not only been a coach but he a built a whole program. San Antonio has always been very good. They just could never get over the hump. When I played there, we made it to the Western Finals against Houston and they had been there before.

“Pop came in and not only took them back there, but took them over that and he did in the right way with character players. The organization is first class and no one would have thought 10 years ago that San Antonio would be the organization that most of the league, and not just in basketball, would model their teams after and they do.”

So it’s no surprise that after titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Spurs have the kind of resume that others in the league want to copy – even the mightiest of all NBA dynasties with 17 banners already hanging in the rafters.

“Well, we would like to be,” Rivers said of the desire to copy the Spurs’ way. “And that’s what we want to be because they’ve been consistent with it and have done a great job with it. Everyone has their own way but there are a lot of things that I do as a coach and there are a lot of things we do as an organization that we got from them.”

Read More: Celtics, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, NBA
Pop on Finley: ‘I don’t blame him’ at 7:55 pm ET
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An hour or so before Michael Finley was set to play his old team, Gregg Popovich reflected on how it all went down. Finley had been dropped from the Spurs rotation and was looking at spending the rest of the season watching instead of playing. So, the veteran made the unusual decision to ask out of one of the best situations in the NBA.

The two talked it over in Popovich’s house where Finley made his request and they decided to part ways.

“I made a decision to play other people and we honored Michael’€™s request to seek another team,” Popovich said. “He asked and he decided to do it. And to do it the right way, to do it before the cut-off date so that he could go with a team that he could play with in the playoffs.”

Finley ultimately signed with the Celtics where he is on way to earning a spot in the playoff rotation. Doc Rivers all but confirmed that he was leaning that way Friday night when he noted Finley’s shooting ability and veteran presence with the second unit.

Since leaving San Antonio, Finley has been nothing but complimentary about the Spurs and his time there. Popovich returned the favor Sunday night.

“Everybody asks about it and I was surprised when he asked that,” Popovich said. “I didn’€™t think that would be something that Michael Finley would ask to do. One has to be realistic and put oneself in [his] shoes. If you are toward the end of your career and somebody’€™s not going to play you and you still want to play more basketball, what’€™s wrong with asking to play elsewhere and trying to play as long as you possibly can?

“That’€™s what he did and I don’€™t blame him for that a lick,” Pop continued. “He’€™s one of the greatest guys I’€™ve ever coached, but he wanted to keep playing. He didn’€™t want to it there on the bench for the rest of the season. Nothing wrong with that. He wanted to play.”

Read More: Gregg Popovich, Michael Finley, Spurs,
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