Blakely: Thomas and Stevens' passion for winning good for Celtics future

Blakely: Thomas and Stevens' passion for winning good for Celtics future

BOSTON – There’s a certain love-hate relationship that develops over time between a head coach and their best player. 

Look around the NBA landscape. 

We’ve seen it with LeBron James and coaches in both Miami and Cleveland. We’ve seen it right here in Boston recently with Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce. 

You see it with DeMarcus Cousins and … ok, bad example. 

But the point is, elite players are going to have a difference of opinion with their head coach from time to time, and sometimes it’ll go public which was exactly what we saw play out between Isaiah Thomas and Brad Stevens over the weekend after Boston’s 104-88 loss to Golden State. 

The Celtics were getting blown away by Golden State on Friday night. 

Stevens made a bunch of lineup changes in the third quarter, trying to at least get his team back to competing. 

They did, but did so with Thomas on the bench for decent amount of time. 

Thomas didn’t play his usual minutes. 

The Celtics didn’t win. 

After the game, Thomas was pissed about it and said among other things that the entire team quit on the game, coaching staff included. 

You know what?

The harsh criticism by Thomas was on point.

Injuries or not, Boston didn’t compete for most of that game which is an indictment on both the players and the coaches. 

But to say they all quit?

Thomas was dead-wrong about that, which is the only issue I had with his comments that for the most part were spot-on.

The talk about them quitting was not even close to what happened.

In fact, Stevens did exactly the opposite of that. 

He went with different player combinations hoping he could find a lightning-in-a-bottle grouping that could spark the team after falling behind by 30 points with more than a quarter left to play. 

Stevens’ cut-and-paste groupings took a sure-fire blowout loss and trimmed it to what became a decisive Golden State victory which was major progress considering how poorly the Celtics played when Stevens was sticking with his usual lineup to start the third quarter.

The fourth quarter lineup had a chance to make it a 15-point game with just under six minutes to play but Avery Bradley missed a lay-up.

Another Bradley missed followed by a 3-pointer off the mark by Jaylen Brown, prevented Boston from making it a 14 or 13-point game with just over four minutes to play. 

The Celtics cut the deficit to 11 points (99-88) with 1:26 to play, but the hole was too deep to make up in such a little amount of time especially against arguably the best offensive team in the NBA. 

So yes, Thomas had every right to steamed about the defeat. 

And yes, placing the blame on the entire team – coaching staff included – was an appropriate response to the kind of game the Celtics played. 

But quitting is something this team just doesn’t do. 

Stevens has been around us long enough for us to know that’s just not happening. 

And if he senses a player isn’t giving his best or is just having a rough night, he’ll take him out and try to find a spark elsewhere. 

That’s exactly what he did with Thomas who played a season-low 28 minutes while missing four of his 12 shot attempts.

The game was decided by a blistering third quarter for Golden State in which they outscored Boston 31-9. 

With Thomas on the floor in the third, the Warriors had outscored Boston 24-4.

And when Thomas returned with about five minutes to play in the game, he didn’t provide the kind of late-game punch they needed with the Celtics edging Golden State at that time when he was on the floor, 10-7.

After getting on a plane to Detroit after the loss, it was clear that Thomas had reflected upon the words he said and knew the potential problems they might create if he didn’t do something about it. 

So shortly after the team arrived in Detroit, he reached out to Stevens. 

“I just called him and let him know how I felt,” Thomas told reporters Saturday night. “And deep down he knows who I am. I’m not one to bash anybody; I’ve never done that. He knows I want to win. And my teammates know I want to win and I’ll do whatever it takes. I just called him to let him know I wasn’t calling anybody out; that’s just how I felt. I was frustrated. He knows I mean well.”

The whole incident serves as a reminder of the love-hate relationship these two guys have with one another. 

Both love to win and in being so passionate about that, there’s only one emotion adequately suited for losing – hate – which is the common thread that binds these two in a way that will serve them and the Celtics well going forward.

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

1:31 - With the results of Kyrie Irving’s second opinion on he knee looming, the Celtic’s season is certainly up in the air. A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Gary Tanguay debate how and if Kyrie should be used if he returns.

6:02 - Back in October Michael Felger prematurely said the Bruins season was over. The B’s marketing team featured Felger in an ad for playoff tickets now that the Bruins have clinched the playoffs. Felger, Trenni and Gary react to the commercial and discuss the Bruins playoff chances.

11:47 - The Patriots are making moves! on Tursday the Pats made deals with LaAdrian Waddle, Marquis Flowers and Patrick Chung. Phil Perry, Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Tom Curran discuss how despite these moves, the Patriots should still be in search of a left tackle.

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

File Photo

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

BOSTON – We live in a world filled with success stories that came about by accident. 

The invention of the microwave oven.

Post-It notes.

The creation of potato chips.

The Boston Celtics’ game-winning play against Oklahoma City earlier this week qualfies; a play in which there were multiple miscues made by the Celtics prior to Marcus Morris’ game-winning shot. 


All these Celtics injuries have made Brad Stevens a mad scientist of sorts with some unusual lineups that may be on display tonight against the guard-centric Portland Trail Blazers. 

In Boston’s 100-99 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, we saw Stevens utilize a lineup with Al Horford and Greg Monroe, in four different stints.

Monroe, who had 17 points off the bench - the most he has scored as a Celtic -  enjoyed playing with Horford.

“Al’s so smart. He’s seen it all in this league,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s an all-star. Very cerebral player, unselfish. So it’s easy playing with him. He can space, drive, make plays. I feel like I can make plays, driving. It’s fun playing with him. I look forward to getting out there with him more.”

Horford had similar praise for playing with Monroe.

“Coach (Brad Stevens) made a great move bringing Greg back in, in the fourth, playing us together,” Horford said. “He made some great plays, passing the ball and just … timely plays. It’s one of those things, the more we play with each other the more comfortable we’ll get. I thought it was very positive.”

Monroe’s role has become significantly more important with the season-ending injury (torn meniscus, left knee) to Daniel Theis. And his ability to play well with various lineups will only improve Boston’s chances of weathering this latest storm of injuries which comes on the eve of the playoffs. 

And while there’s a certain amount of pleasure all players take in being on a playoff-bound team, Monroe understands better than most NBA veterans just how special it is to be headed towards the postseason.

In his eighth season, this will only be Monroe’s second time participating in the playoffs. 

The first time? 

That was last year, with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“This is what everybody plays for, I hope,” Monroe said. “This is what I play for, to get into the postseason, make a run. It’s the best situation. I’ve been through a lot in my career, this year. I’m grateful. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team.”

And he has done that lately.

Monroe comes into tonight’s game having scored in double figures each of the last four games, a season high for the 6-foot-11 center. 

Having spent most of his NBA career watching instead of participating in the playoffs, Monroe is out to prove that he can in fact be a significant contributor to a team that’s postseason-bound.

“For sure. You have to have a little chip, a little fire, at least in my eyes,” Monroe said. “I’ve never doubted myself. It’s about being between those lines and being the best player I can be. That’s what I’m focused on.”