NEW YORK – The Boston Celtics were ready and focused on playing the New York Knicks in a game that most players talked of in a must-win kind of tone.
And then … life happened.
The Celtics’ leader, head coach Brad Stevens, learned of the death of one of his former players at Butler University, Andrew Smith, earlier in the day.
He was 25.
Normally Stevens’ pre-game press conference focuses on what’s happening with the Celtics or a key matchup to pay attention.
On Tuesday, it was all about Smith.
And as Stevens went about explaining his relationship with Smith, the painful emotions he was feeling were slowly but surely making their way to surface as a visibly shaken Stevens spoke from the heart.
‘I was happy that I had a chance to say good-bye. I can go on and on and it wouldn’t do him justice,” Stevens told reporters, his voice quivering, prior to tonight's game against New York. “He was special, tough. He set a great example.”
Stevens left the Celtics in Chicago last week and traveled to Indiana to be by Smith’s side after Smith’s family made it known that Smith’s health was getting worst.
And while Smith will certainly be on Stevens’ mind throughout the night, he told reporters he plans to still coach the team tonight.
“I think at the end of the day, I’m going to go out and do my job and do it as well as I can,” Stevens said.
Stevens will do his part to keep a strong, brave front for his players and assistant coaches.
But they know him too well.
They know he is in a tremendous amount of pain right now, the kind of pain that speaks to how tight a bond he forms with seemingly all his players.
That’s why none of his players were surprised when he abruptly left the team prior to the Bulls game last week to be near one of his former players.
And that is why to a certain extent, they too come into tonight’s game feeling the weight of their head coaches’ pain.
“He’s hurting,” Celtics guard Evan Turner told CSNNE.com. “That dude is a caring person, caring and emotional. He’s one of those guys who sees the bigger picture as opposed to just basketball. So, you definitely feel for him.”