Celtics

Replacing Thomas' and Crowder's grit and temperament won't be easy for Celtics

Replacing Thomas' and Crowder's grit and temperament won't be easy for Celtics

BOSTON -- Only a couple months separated Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas’ arrival in Boston in 2014-15. They were two solid players, but it wasn't thought they'd do anything more than help the Celtics be competitive in what everyone anticipated would be a second straight playoff-less season.

And then came Thomas’ emergence as an All-Star caliber scorer, which coincided with Crowder blossoming into a promising 3-and-D player. Not only did the Celtics make the playoffs that season but, barely two years after they joined them, the C's advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Their play was instrumental in the Celts' improvement, which made them attractive trade targets. So when the Celtics had the chance to acquire Kyrie Irving, Thomas and Crowder were part of the package they sent to Cleveland.

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Filling the void Thomas and Crowder left in terms of their statistics won’t be easy. But it's doable, what with a roster that now includes Irving, All-Star Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and blossoming young talent like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Not to mention Marcus Smart.

However, replacing Crowder's and Thomas’ toughness and their us-against-the-world grit and temperament will be challenging.

Their impact shortly after arriving in Boston was undeniable.

Crowder, who came via a trade from Dallas that centered around getting Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks, eventually worked his way into the starting lineup. He was a key cog in Boston’s 30-28 finish in 2014-15.

Thomas didn’t get to Boston until the middle of February via a trade with the Phoenix Suns. But his instant scoring -- first off the bench and later as a starter -- helped spark the C's to 20 wins in their last 30 games.
 
That success seemed to do more than just rejuvenate the Celtics and get them on a winning track. It also provided a major jolt to both players' careers, which up to that point had not really taken off. 

Some of the most memorable moments in Boston's rise to contender status came about because of Thomas and Crowder.

On the eve of getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by Cleveland in 2015, Crowder ratcheted up his defensive pressure on LeBron James in Game 4, endearing him to the Celtics faithful. But his night ended early at the hands of a J.R. Smith blow to the face that came after a hard pick set by former Celtic Kendrick Perkins.

And Thomas?
 
Who can forget his gutsy performances this past season, with the playoffs starting just hours after the tragic death of his younger sister?

Thomas forged ahead, delivering one memorable performance after another.

And shortly after her burial, Thomas -- playing despite having a tooth knocked out and several others needing to be fixed -- delivered a performance for the ages, scoring a playoff career-high 53 points in leading the Celtics to a Game 2 overtime win against the Washington Wizards.

Now they hope to bring that same level of toughness and grit to the Cavaliers by doing what they did in Boston -- proving their naysayers wrong.

Both recalled hearing a lot of talk when they arrived about how the Celtics were looking to “tank” games that season.

“We [were] like, ‘What’s that? Lose on purpose? That’s not going to happen,' ,” Crowder said. “So from that point on we clicked and we knew we were on the same page with basketball. And from that point, the rest is history.”
 
An underdog mindset is tough to manufacture when one of your teammates is LeBron James. But because of all the new pieces surrounding James, there's a sense the Cavs might have some early bumps in the road . . . such as Thomas’ hip injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined at the start of the season.

“I’ve been in situations before were things have been a little tough and we haven’t had the best players and we just kept fighting and worked with what we had,” Thomas said. “But, I mean, being put in this situation on the court is everything. To play with the best player in the world, play with a guy like Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose and to be coached by a guy like Tyronn Lue who’s been in this league for a long time, it’s like . . . It’s like a match made in heaven.

"It’s a scary thing if everything is able to click with the guys we have coming in and guys we have on this team. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get going.”

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Celtics injuries: Kemba Walker (knee) out Sunday vs. Lakers

Celtics injuries: Kemba Walker (knee) out Sunday vs. Lakers

The Boston Celtics will have to take on the Los Angeles Lakers without Kemba Walker on Sunday afternoon.

The C's guard will miss his second straight game due to a sore left knee, the team announced Saturday. Head coach Brad Stevens revealed earlier this week Walker's knee swelled up and had to be drained. Walker also had his knee injected with Synvisc, a pain relief treatment used for knee soreness.

Robert Williams remains ruled out with a left hip bone edema, though there is hope the big man will return to the court after the Celtics wrap up their road trip.


LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Celtics-Lakers tips off Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. When these two teams last faced off on January 20, the C's cruised to a 139-107 victory.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Celtics' Brad Stevens the rare college-to-the-pros coaching success story

Celtics' Brad Stevens the rare college-to-the-pros coaching success story

LOS ANGELES — No matter what Brad Stevens does from here on out, he'll be remembered as one of the winningest coaches in Boston Celtics history. 

At 309 victories (and counting) after Friday’s 127-117 win over Minnesota, only three men — Red Auerbach (795), Tommy Heinsohn (427) and Doc Rivers (416) — have won more games pacing the Celtics sideline than Stevens. 

Making the milestone even more impressive is that Stevens came directly from the college ranks, where success has been a rarity. 

The most recent college-to-the-pros coach to struggle with the adjustment is Cleveland’s John Beilein. The former Michigan coach stepped down as the Cavs' head coach to assume a yet-to-be-determined job within the franchise. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Figuring out the secret sauce to Stevens’ success isn't easy.

He’ll be the first to tell you that a number of factors have come into play that allowed him to find success where so many of his college-to-the-pros brethren struggled. 

One of the reasons college coaches get opportunities to lead NBA teams is because of the track record of success they build up at the college level. Stevens led the Butler Bulldogs to a national runner-up finish in back-to-back seasons (2010 and 2011), a remarkable accomplishment for a mid-major program. 

For Stevens, preparing for the worst when it comes to wins and losses, was challenging at first. The lack of success Cleveland (15-40) has experienced this season was a major factor in Beilein’s decision to no longer coach the Cavs. 

“I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected,” Beilein said in a statement. “I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family's well-being down the road. I was not certain I could be at my best for the remainder of the season and in the future. That would not be fair to the players, coaches and support staff."

Indeed, Stevens recalls how difficult dealing with all the losing in that first year was for him. 

As a rookie head coach with the Celtics, Stevens’ squad finished 25-57. To put that in perspective, Stevens won more games at Butler in five of his six seasons than he did in Boston as a rookie, and did so in less than half of an 82-game NBA season. 

“That first year was hard,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston. “I remember being miserable because I never lost like that. But that’s part of it. You learn a lot about yourself, so when you get to that second year you feel a lot different.”

Those early struggles did not catch Stevens off-guard.

“Our first year was expected to be really hard,” Stevens said. “It was expected to be hard for a couple years.”

But a series of trades during the 2014-2015 season gave Boston just the jolt of confidence and talent needed to make a late-season charge. That ended with them getting the eighth and final playoff seed, where they swept in the first round by the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Sure, getting swept was disappointing. But that balanced out with the fact that Boston had found a brand of basketball that would serve as the foundation for the team’s future success. 

“We found a team that competed well together,” Stevens said. “We were able in year two to find our way, at least establishing a little bit with that group, how we wanted to play.”

Stevens is quick to credit the Celtics’ front office, ownership and his assistant coaches for providing the kind of support on and off the court, that a college coach making a jump of this magnitude, absolutely has to have. But maybe more than anything, a college coach making the jump to the NBA has to trust that the process of establishing a comfort level and a culture takes more than just one season. 

For Stevens, that’s the great disappointment in how things have played out with Beilein. While there’s a certain element of uncertainty that comes with making the jump to the pros, Beilein did his research in advance. Stevens was among the coaches he spoke with prior to taking the Cavs job. 

Beilein also spoke with Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan, who also made the jump from a successful career in college to the NBA. 

"I talked to Billy the year before at length," Beilein told reporters earlier this season. "For like an hour on the phone. He encouraged me that he really liked (the NBA). He liked the pace of it. He really liked the coaching. He also said, ‘It’s a long season. You gotta be able to stay in there and hang through the tough times and just keep coaching.’ He encouraged me to do it." 

So did Stevens, who felt Beilein’s strength in working with young players, coupled with his innovative style of play, would make him an ideal head coach for a young Cavaliers squad. 

There’s a fairly high amount of trial and error that first year as well. 

“When I first got the job, I’m watching film of the Celtics from the year before and nobody is going to be back. This doesn’t make sense,,”Stevens recalled. 

Shortly before Stevens accepted the job, the Celtics traded away cornerstone players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, leaving Rajon Rondo as the only starter with the team at that time, from the 2008 NBA title squad. 

But with each passing season, Stevens became more comfortable with the NBA. 

“You are in front of the media, in front of the cameras and you have to answer and do that every single day while preparing your team to play their best,” Stevens said. “It’s just a really challenging gig.”

And now in his seventh season, there’s little doubt that Stevens is comfortable with the league, its players and his role in moving Boston closer towards Banner 18.

I asked Stevens if there were one or two tips he had for a college coach who was contemplating a move to the NBA as a head coach. 

“What I always tell the college guys that are interested is, the summers are great,” Stevens said. “The middle of the season is going to throw a bunch of storms at you. That’s part of it. But that’s ... it’s a lot of fun if you keep the right perspective.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App