Celtics

Celtics know they have a game-changer: Their coach

Celtics know they have a game-changer: Their coach

PHILADELPHIA – It seems like another lifetime ago when the Celtics came to Philadelphia with an 0-2 record and were as thirsty as thirsty can get for their first win of the season.

The night began with uncertainty because of Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury just three nights earlier.

But it ended with the jubilant Celtics escaping with a 102-92 win.

One of the main heroes for Boston was Jabari Bird, a late second-round pick who was a last-minute addition to the active roster due to Hayward’s injury.

His pestering defense of J.J. Redick was a game-changer, evident by him playing 14 minutes but posting a plus-minus of +11. 

It ushered in the “Next Man Up” movement that would be part of the identity of the Celtics all season.

But even more important, it reinforced why “In Brad, We Trust” isn’t just some catchphrase a few players adopted. It’s the bedrock for why these players have a Teflon-strong faith that whatever decision Stevens makes, it's going to work out.

“That’s because we see it works out, all the time,” Terry Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “And it doesn’t matter where you are on the depth chart. You better be ready because sooner or later, Brad’s going to give you a chance to show why you’re in the NBA.”

He’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last coach talked about in such terms.

But what makes Stevens’ situation in Boston so unique is the cool, calm and collected demeanor of his players in the heat of battle. Many of those players - based on their experience and place in the pecking order of playing time - defy the norm to play with tremendous poise and focus in intense environments and situations.

Stevens has the Midas touch when it comes to plucking any player in a Celtics uniform off the bench and into the game at the right time for the moment that needs their particular skill.

“That man Brad Stevens, he’s a guru,” said Marcus Morris. “He might have the best out-of-bounds plays I’ve ever seen.”

Morris was referring to a pair of last-second timeouts called by Stevens in overtime of Game 3 Saturday against the Sixers, the last of which involved Morris in-bounding the ball to Al Horford, who scored on a layup - while being fouled by Robert Covington, though no call was made - that proved to be the winning basket with 8.4 seconds to play.

Horford added a couple of free throws with three seconds left to pad the 101-98 victory.

“He [Stevens] called the switch; he knew what was going to happen,” Morris added. “He called the over-the-top pass...”

Still, Stevens does more than just call great plays.

He has infused confidence in every player on the roster to the point where when they enter a game they have no trepidation about being successful in whatever they're tasked to do.

Semi Ojeleye, a second-round pick of the Celtics last June, made his first NBA start in the first-round series against Milwaukee with one primary task in mind: slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo.

While some were surprised that Ojeleye got the starting nod in the final three games of the Bucks series, Ojeleye remembered how he did some good things defensively earlier in the season when matched up against Antetokounmpo and knew there was a chance he would have a more prominent role against Milwaukee.

But as a starter?

Ojeleye didn’t see that coming.

However, the confidence Stevens showed in Ojeleye earlier made it a lot easier for him to step into the more high-profile role as a starter and eventually become a central figure in Boston advancing to the next round.

“We don’t win the [Milwaukee] series without him,” Stevens said.

And Boston, up 3-0 in this series against Philadelphia, has made similar rotation tweaks that have paid off in this series as well.

In Game 2, Stevens inserted Greg Monroe in a critical second-quarter run that brought the Celtics within five at the half after trailing by more than 20.

Boston would eventually take the lead and ultimately win, 108-103.

“That’s just part of what makes him good, a great coach,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s a testament to guys staying ready, too. Semi [Ojeleye] did it; other guys have done it throughout the season. He does a great job of putting you in positions to succeed, for sure.”

That confidence in players such as Bird, Monroe and Ojeleye, those without an All-Star pedigree and haven’t necessarily proven themselves to be big-moment players in the NBA, is what makes this team so unique.

“It goes back to how Brad interacts with his guys on and off the court,” Rozier said. “He knows each player like the back of his hand, so he’s going to put you in the right position, he’s going to put you in the right spot, to be great.”

Ojeleye added, “He knows his guys. He knows what we do well. He knows our strengths. He puts us in position at the right time of games to let those strengths sign. It’s a credit to him for knowing us, and a credit to us players for knowing our strengths and playing to them.”

Still, this is the NBA, where player egos have a tendency to at times override quenching the thirst for team success.

That doesn’t seem to be an issue for Boston, especially when you see so many different hands involved in winning with no regard to where they are in the food chain of playing time.

It seems everybody seems to get enough to feed on.

“We’re winning,” Rozier said, grinning. “We love winning more than anything.”

And it’s not just the players, either.

Let them tell you, Stevens’ appetite for winning isn’t all that different than it is for the players.

“He’s a hungry young coach,” said Marcus Smart. “He’s always eager to learn. He’s always willing to learn. Brad’s the type of guy, he can admit his faults and his mistakes. But he makes sure it doesn’t happen again. When you have a coach like that, it’s hard to bet against him.”

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Jayson Tatum on overhyped talk: 'I'll stick to my job'

Jayson Tatum on overhyped talk: 'I'll stick to my job'

A story earlier this week from Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes calling burgeoning young Celtics star Jayson Tatum one of the NBA's five most overrated players has expectedly ruffled some feathers in the Boston sports stratosphere. 

But Tatum himself is taking the high road. In a conversation with ESPN's Chris Forsberg centered around his recent workouts with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, the 20-year-old forward, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting this past season, said he wasn't bothered by the article:

While Hughes acknowledged that Tatum could be a franchise player, his reasoning for inclusion on the list was that he could be a victim of the stacked team for which he plays, saying, "Kyrie has never been one to take a backseat, and with him back on the floor, it'll be much harder for Tatum to build on his postseason takeover."

As for the session with Kobe? Tatum clearly absorbed a lot:

Hughes also named Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Bulls foward Zach LaVine and Suns forward Josh Jackson in the company of overhyped players.

It's been quite a week for Tatum, the former No. 3 overall pick out of Duke University. Earlier in the week, the St. Louis native had his jersey number permanently retired at his high school alma mater.

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Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Even with three All-Stars in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge and the Celtics knew that, in order to win a championship, the team needed a strong supporting cast of role players.

Episode Four of NBC Sports Boston’s “Anything is Podable” takes a look at how Ainge constructed the rest of the roster and how one word, “ubuntu,” set the tone for a memorable season.

Giving the team a shooter off the bench, as well as another veteran presence in the locker room, Eddie House was perfect for the 2008 Celtics.

“I remember going to a practice when he was a young player,” said Ainge regarding House. “Just watching him shoot, and shoot, and just amazed at what a great shooter this kid was.”

“I saw him have his 56 and 60 back-to-back point games in the Pac-10 and it was amazing.”

Long a fan of House, Ainge went out and got his guy, but he wasn’t finished yet.

James Posey, a veteran wing who had experience both starting and coming off the bench, was nearing a deal with the Nets, but one call changed everything.

“I actually told my agent, I’ll just go to New Jersey,” said Posey. “Then Eddie House called me.”

House convinced Posey to spurn the Nets in favor of the Celtics, giving Boston another veteran off the pine.

With the roster taking shape, what the team needed now was an identity.

Ubuntu.

Mentioned to Doc Rivers at a trustee meeting at Marquette University, the word that means “I am who I am because of you,” became the team’s mantra.

“I looked this word up and I spent, no exaggeration, hours and days on this word,” said Rivers. “Everything about the word epitomized what we had to be.”

Ubuntu was the rallying cry of the 2008 Celtics and it all started with a Board of Trustees meeting at Marquette.

Anything is Podable is a ten-part series diving into the story of the 2008 Celtics and their championship season, with exclusive, never-before-heard interviews with team executives, former players, and media members.

Narrated by Kyle Draper, it’s the perfect way for Celtics fans to pass time this offseason and get excited for 2018-19, a season in which the Celtics have as good a chance at raising their 18th championship banner as they’ve had since that magical 2008 season.

Fans can subscribe to the podcast through the link below and check out the other nine episodes for a look at this exclusive series.