Do not ever think Brad Stevens can’t roll with the punches.
On the third of three off days between Games 2 and 3 of the series against the Cavaliers, the Celtics head coach spent 18 minutes on a conference call, answering everything from handling crowd noise on the road to coaching tough defense to whether or not he seriously thinks he’s coaching for his job in the playoffs.
Yes, that last part was actually asked. Without batting an eye or hesitating, Stevens slam-dunked the answer.
“I don’t ever really think about it,” Stevens replied. “This is one of those things where when you’re in coaching, you get into coaching knowing that it’s probably not going to end well and there’s only so much you can control. You just try to enjoy being around the players you’re with, and the coaches you’re with and the front office you’re with and everybody else you’re with, the ownership, and just try to enjoy the experience and try to have as good an experience as we all can have and when it comes to an end, it comes to an end.”
The final question concerned whether or not Brad Stevens had any feelings regarding LeBron James and his potential dip into free agent waters this summer.
“Can’t talk about that stuff,” Stevens said.
With that the moderator – understandably – ended the call.
“I’d like to thank everybody for the call.”
In between, Stevens touched on a wide range of subjects, including
Featuring international reporters from Australia and South Africa, Friday was as far-reaching an in-season interview as Stevens has ever offered.
Asked about the character of the young players on his roster, such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, Stevens went back in time to his days at Butler and his former head coach to offer perspective.
“A phrase my old boss at Butler – (head coach) Todd Lickliter – used to use was ‘put your signature on everything you do.’ That’s always been very meaningful to me. I think whether young, old, coaching, playing whatever our role is, we all want to be able to put our signature on that. And I think to do that, you need to feel some ownership in it. You need to feel like you’re really invested in it.
“Our young players have been great about not only getting better and working hard to get better but being willing to say things, being willing to lead through their own authentic ways. But then also to be coached by the older players, by the assistant coaches and everybody else. We’ve got a really good group. We’re thankful for all the growth of the young players. I think Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, when you have older guys like that and obviousy Gordon and Kyrie, we’re so young they fit into the older category at 25 and 28. When you’ve got guys like that, it’s pretty easy to learn the right way to do things.”
A reporter from South Africa noted there are three players of African descent, Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye. The reporter asked Stevens about his trip in 2015 with the NBA to South Africa to coach in the NBA Africa exhibition. Stevens served as an assistant to Brooklyn’s Lionel Hollins on Team World, a 101-97 winner over Gregg Popovich’s Team Africa group.
“First and foremost, that was an absolute blast for me and my family and an honor to be with the NBA in Johannesburg a few years ago and get a chance to coach in that game. That was one of the highlights I think of my kids’ lives, certainly ours, to go and visit, to spend time in Johannesburg, to spend time in South Africa,” Stevens said. “One of my favorite parts of that was getting a chance to study Mandela even further, not only going to the (Nelson) Mandela Museum but the Mandela Center for Memory and getting a chance to learn even more about his impact as a leader. So, that was a special, special thing for our family. It’s been a lot of fun to have people from all over the world, with all kinds of backgrounds on our team. All three of those guys, though they’re not playing a ton of minutes for us right now, are big, important parts of our team. They’ve been tremendous in their work, great attitude and they have bright, bright futures in the NBA for a long time. They’re a big part of us as we move forward.”
Speaking of international players, Aron Baynes has become a 3-point specialist of sorts in the playoffs, something that hasn’t really caught Stevens by surprise.
“When he first signed here and came by here in the preseason and was just shooting around. I was down there with him and remember hitting shot after shot after shot, mostly 15 to 17 feet,” Stevens said. “I talked to him a little bit about corner range, obviously, and above the break, he shot them every single day, through training camp, through practice, through pregame shooting and everything else. We’ve encouraged him to shoot all year, especially from the corners. I’ve coached bigs before that when you’re used to playing and scoring as a big, you’re oftentimes used to catching it in the middle of chaos in the paint and having bodies on you and everything else. There’s just a different feel to catch it in a catch-and-shoot situation, especially from behind the arc, and let it fly.
“I think there’s a confidence that comes with making a couple. Sometimes guys that are good shooters with good touch, sometimes that’s all they need is to see a couple go in. The game I remember best that I thought really probably bolstered his confidence … was the Toronto game at the end of year. He’s always been a really good shooter. If he goes out and shoots it by himself, he’s going to make 70 to 75 percent of his open threes, especially from the corners. He hit a couple on (Jonas) Valanciunas. I think once he saw a couple go in, he felt pretty good about it. We talked about it a lot going into the Philly series because he was being guarded by Embiid (working) space to the corner. He’s just kind of kept on doing it.”
Then there was physicality with which the Celtics have been playing against Cleveland. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the Celtics were “gooning the game up” in Game 2.
“I don’t think we’re playing any different. Each team, you have to plan for and prepare for but these guys have been awesome at guarding with the appropriate physicality without fouling and being tough and covering for one another and playing with great multiple efforts all year,” Stevens said. “This was something that we wanted to be all year. We wanted to be a better defensive team, we needed to be a better defensive team. We have a lot of interchangeable parts. All of that is well and good but if you don’t play with the right physicality then it’s tough. Our guys have been really committed it to and I’m really appreciative of that because we have our lulls on offense but our defense needs to be great every night and our guys are very committed to it. Obviously, the intensity and how much each possession matters, you feels that adds up and up in the playoffs. I feel our guys were really consistent playing that way through the season as well.
“I just try to stay in the moment as much as I can. Clearly, there’s going to be things that you have to tweak as the series goes that you’re thinking about that maybe you’re not ready to put in because you’re focused on other things. But I think ultimately, for me, I do a lot better staying in the moment.”