Celtics

Popovich remains standard, but Stevens heading towards coaching greatness

Popovich remains standard, but Stevens heading towards coaching greatness

BOSTON – Gregg Popovich was in a playful mood prior Monday’s game, especially when asked about Brad Stevens.

“I don’t think that much of him,” quipped Popovich.

Of course, everyone within earshot knew Popovich was joking, but just for good measure, Popovich clarified his thoughts.

“He is a special person,” Popovich said of Stevens. “And that’s on and off the court. He’s very intelligent. Intelligence is fine. But if it doesn’t come along with incisiveness and judgment and emotional maturity, it doesn’t do you much good. He’s got all those things and that’s large; not many people have that. It shows the way he handles people, the way he coaches. He’s going to be a great one before it’s all over with and he’s already a hell of a coach.”

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Popovich is the standard every NBA coach is measured against.

And Stevens?

He’s measuring up quite nicely, leading the Celtics to more wins every year he has been an NBA head coach while showing signs that he may be the coach-in-waiting to become an uber elite-like coach akin to Popovich.

Of course, Stevens has to continue to elevate the Celtics among the NBA’s elite, which means at some point sooner rather than later he has to bring home Banner 18.

But between now and then, Stevens will continue to help foster a winning culture that in many ways, resembles what San Antonio has done for years.

That’s how the Spurs can lose a player as important as Tim Duncan was to their franchise a couple years ago, and still bang out 61 wins in the first year after he retired.

And that’s why regardless of who plays for them, there’s a feeling the Spurs will consistently be in the hunt to win an NBA title.

The Celtics aren’t there yet, but it’s clear that Boston is gradually putting together the pieces to have a franchise that can compete at the highest levels in both the short and long-term.

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are proven All-Stars, and will be joined by Gordon Hayward next season when he’s back in the mix after suffering a severe ankle injury in the season-opener.

Boston has the kind of youth that has Celtics Nation giddy when they think about the future which will be led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who have both shown signs of being potential All-Stars in the future.

The Celtics’ present and future were on display in Boston’s 108-94 win over the Popovich-led Spurs, a first for Stevens and a first for the Celtics since 2011.

Irving had 24 points to lead all scorers. Horford had his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Brown had 18 points while Tatum grabbed 11 rebounds.

And the man bringing all that talent together in a cohesive fashion, is Stevens.

He often downplays his impact and his role in the team’s success, but players know all too well how important Stevens is to the Celtics.

Every year has been a milestone of sorts for him, a road marker pointing towards coaching greatness at a time when there really is no clear heir apparent to Popovich, the standard by which every coach is measured against and truthfully, fall short of being on that level.

One thing Stevens has been adamant about is that while he loves coaching, he has no plans of being around coaching for as long as Popovich who is now in his 22nd season coaching the Spurs.

“That would be smart on his part,” Popovich said, grinning. “I would advise him to do that. He’s got many more capabilities than me.”

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LIVE GAMEDAY: Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Game 4

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NBC Sports Boston

LIVE GAMEDAY: Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Game 4

Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – Inside the Boston Celtics locker room, there was an unmistakable calm among the players moments removed from a 116-92 thumping at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Players talked among themselves about what went wrong, about what they will do different in Game 4 on Sunday but more than anything else, they owned the loss.

There was no finger-pointing or second-guessing the head coaches’ player rotations or not-so-stealth putdowns of an opposing player who had been playing well – all things done by the Bucks thus far in this series.

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The post-game highlights were still in heavy rotation, but the Celtics had already moved on mentally to Sunday’s Game 4 matchup.

“They did what they had to do. It is what it is,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “Can’t dwell on it. We’ll see them on Sunday.”

As much as Boston has been a team that’s built upon a “Next Man Up” framework, an “on-to-the-next-game” mindset is also deeply woven into this team’s DNA.

That’s why win or lose, the Celtics don’t spend much time thinking or talking about what just happened.

And it is games like the one we saw on Friday where that approach is absolutely critical to them continuing along a successful path and not let rough nights such as Friday’s beatdown, derail them.

More than anything else, the Celtics have extracted elements beyond the X’s and O’s of Friday’s loss as their takeaways in helping improve their overall play for Sunday.

It’s easy to forget that Friday’s game was the first time this team had played a postseason road game together which any NBA veteran will tell you, is different than what you experience during the regular season.

Boston’s Al Horford believes having gone through that with this group for the first time on Friday, will benefit the Celtics in Game 4.

“We learned what the level of intensity is when you’re playing in the playoffs on the road,” Horford said. “At home, you feel good. You’re comfortable and confident. Even though we’ve been playing on the road all year, it’s different in the playoffs.

Horford added, “it’s a good learning experience for our group.”

And while there are sure to be adjustments made on Boston’s part, don’t expected them to stray too far away from who they have been all season.

“We’re super excited about Sunday,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “(Friday), we dropped the ball. We feel like we could have played a lot better. We can’t wait for Sunday, and we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”

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