Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

boston-celtics-brad-stevens-draws-up-play-50618.jpg
File photo

Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

BOSTON -- Brad Stevens is a genius.

Brad Stevens is overrated.

Brad Stevens gets the most out of the least amount of talent.

On the brightest of stages, Brad Stevens can't get it done.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

The views on Celtics coach Brad Stevens are all over the map right now, based on Boston being in a 2-2 series tie with Cleveland after the Cavs held serve at home with a pair of wins.

The Celts' losing at Cleveland didn't spark the questions about Stevens. It's how they lost those games.

Cleveland didn't do anything fancy or all that complicated in getting back in this series after the Celtics raced out to a 2-0 series lead.

The Cavs are targeting Terry Rozier -- similar, in many ways, to how they went after Isaiah Thomas last year -- and are forcing defensive switches that leaves Rozier in a bad spot.

Rozier is a solidly built point guard (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) but he's no physical match for LeBron James or Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson -- players the Cavs have tried their best to get Rozier to defend via switches. For the most part, they've have had success doing so.

"Hope they miss" seems to be Rozier's best-case scenario when this happens.

Watching Rozier get bounced into the paint by the James-Love-Thompson trio has left many Celtics fans wondering W.W.B.D. -- What Will Brad Do?

So far, not much.

He considered a lineup change before deciding to keep Marcus Morris with the first unit and Aron Baynes coming off the bench in Game 4.

In the first quarter of Game 4 Boston fell behind 34-18, similar to how their 30-point Game 3 shellacking started.

MORE CELTICS

But Boston got better as the game progressed, showing glimpses of the team that finished with the second-best record in the East and had the best road record of any team in the Eastern Conference.

And as Kyle Korver came off screens and knocked down shots, or George Hill finished at the rim, or Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love treated the offensive glass like property and they were the time share owners of it, Celtics fans waited for that moment, when Stevens would make a tweak/adjustment and -- bam! -- everything changed.

That moment, however, never came. And it's opened Stevens to a level of second-guessing he hasn't experienced since maybe his rookie season in the league.

Stevens is a wonderful coach, easily top-five in the NBA. The reason he's so widely regarded is his ability to recognize his own team's weaknesses and mask them.

That hasn't happened in this series and there are questions, legitimate questions, if it will happen at all.

Better team communication? More touches for Al Horford? Limiting the isolations on Rozier with a bigger scorer? Will any or all of these things happen?

The bottom line is clear: Boston has to be better than we what we saw in Cleveland. That not only applies to the players, but also to Stevens.

The one thing about Brad Stevens that you always have to respect is his willingness to take ownership when things aren't going right.

He'll be the first to tell you that everyone needs to improve . . . himself included. And while that acknowledgment may not seem like that big a deal, it's huge.

MORE CELTICS

Because his willingness to take some of the blame for what we've seen of late trickles down to the rest of his players, who know they too have a role in Boston losing its last two games.

With that ownership comes an understanding that for this series to shift back in their favor, it's going to take the entire group to step their games up.

And as we've seen with this group, they have seemingly been at their best when adversity strikes. They've shown an ability to thrive under pressure, rather than be totally thrown off course.

Which is why despite losing two straight to the Cavs, the Celtics return home feeling pretty good about themselves.

They lost Game 4 but did a number of positive things that I imagine they'll look to do more of on Wednesday.

Boston managed to get Horford defended by Love more in Game 4 and had a good bit of success with that matchup. Rozier was better at handling screens and switches in the second half than we saw in the first, which allowed Boston's defense to collectively play better.

The Celtics were doing more of the things that fans have come to expect. The kind of plays that reflect positively on the players as well as their leader, Brad Stevens.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Brad Stevens channels Bill Belichick to dodge questions about starting lineup

screen_shot_2018-05-21_at_8.08.18_pm_1.png
File Photo

Brad Stevens channels Bill Belichick to dodge questions about starting lineup

Brad Stevens was utterly Belichickian during the pregame press conference before Game 4.

The Boston Celtics coach fielded and dodged questions about the team's starting lineup. He was asked whether he would be making any changes. And he would not answer.

"We will start five people. I promise," Stevens said with a grin.

Reporters probed him a few times to try to get an answer. When their line of questioning failed, the press conference concluded -- after four questions.

Here's a look at the full transcript.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

CLEVELAND – As the media scrum mad their way on to the Quicken Loans Arena Saturday morning, there were a few Celtics players already on the floor getting up shots.

Among them was Aron Baynes, taking – and making – a lot of 3’s.

Upon first sight, it might seem a bit unusual to see the 6-foot-10, 260-plus pounder stroking it from long range.

But as we’ve seen with Baynes this season, teams will either learn the hard way or respect his shooting range which could become a factor in tonight's Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics coming in with a 2-0 series lead over the Cavaliers. 

Baynes comes in shooting 50 percent from 3 in the playoffs and isn’t afraid to take them.

His emergence as a viable 3-point shooting threat began in the preseason.

“When he first signed here, he came by in the preseason and was just shooting around,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recalled. “I was down there with him. I just remember him hitting shot after shot after shot. It was mostly 15 to 17 feet.”

That led to a conversation about corner 3’s and above-the-break 3’s.

“He’s shot them every single day, through training camp, practice, through pre-game shooting and everything else,” Stevens recalled. “We’ve encouraged him to shoot all year especially from the corners.”

And he has made teams pay, evident by him making more corner 3s (eight) in the second-round series against the Sixers, than Philly’s entire team combined (five).

While there are many shocked at how Baynes has been shooting the 3-ball, don’t count him among those who didn’t see this coming.

“I’ve put in the work and I’ve put in the time, but like I say, ‘it’s not the number of one thing I work on,” he said. “It’s not the thing I spend the most time on. I’m always trying to expand my game, and in this day and age, its’ about trying to create space. And what better way than trying to step out there and knock down a few shots. But like I said, I’m not trying to live by it.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s all-important Game 3:

JAYSON TATUM


Tatum, 20 can move into sole possession of fourth place on the NBA’s all-time leaders list of playoff starts for a rookie. He’s currently tied with Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio, 2012) and Nate McMillan (Seattle, 1987). The only players ahead of him are Matt Maloney (Houston, 1997) with 16, ex-Celtic Courtney Lee (Orlando, 2009) with 17 and Richard Dumas (Phoenix, 1993) with 20.

JAYLEN BROWN


The Celtics are a diversified bunch when it comes to scoring, but lately, the hot hand from the outset of games has been Jaylen Brown. He comes into tonight’s Game 3 matchup having averaged 13.5 points per game in the first quarter of this series.

TURNOVERS


Boston has done a nice job of not allowing their turnovers to have a significantly adverse effect on the game. There’s a reason for that. Of the 17 turnovers Boston has committed, only six were live-ball miscues. That means their mistakes did not immediately allow the Cavs to get out in transition which has been a factor in Cleveland’s scoring not coming as freely and consistently as they would hope.

BALANCED ATTACK


Boston comes into tonight’s game with four players averaging 17 or more points per game. That hasn’t been done by a Celtics team since 1987. The four current Celtics averaging at least 17 points per game are Jayson Tatum (18.1), Jaylen Brown (17.8), Terry Rozier (17.4) and Al Horford (17.1). The four Celtics in 1987 were Larry Bird (27.0), Kevin McHale (21.1), Dennis Johnson (18.9) and Robert Parish (18.0).

DEFENDING JAMES


The Celtics’ team defense has been praised for how they have managed to limit LeBron James’ efficiency in this series. While he’s easily the best scorer in this series – most series for that matter – Boston has made it a lot harder than he’s accustomed to, to get buckets. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field in the two games against Boston. Of the four Celtics who have defended James for at least 10 possessions in this series, three (Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Terry Rozier) have limited him to a lower shooting percentage than what he’s averaging for the series.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE