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

Michael Holley Podcast: Allison Feaster on playing career, role as Celtics Director of Player Development

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Michael Holley Podcast: Allison Feaster on playing career, role as Celtics Director of Player Development

Michael Holley is joined by Allison Feaster to discuss her Harvard playing days, her time in the WNBA, and her role as Director of Player Development for the Boston Celtics. 

1:30 — Allison Feaster discusses being valedictorian at her high school, and her path to Harvard.

4:00 — How difficult was being a student-athlete at Harvard?

8:00 — Her career as a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Harvard.

11:00 — Allison reflects on her #16 seed Harvard upsetting the #1 seed Stanford in 1998.

14:00 — Being drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks as the fifth overall selection in the 1998 WNBA Draft.

20:00 — Goals of continuing to inspire young women.

27:00 — Playing basketball overseas.

32:00 — Meeting Danny Ainge for the first time and becoming the Boston Celtics' Director of Player Development.

LISTEN & SUBSCRIBE TO THE MICHAEL HOLLEY PODCAST:

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Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Coming off their first loss since the season opener nearly a month ago, all eyes will be on the Boston Celtics as they try to get back to their winning ways tonight in Phoenix. 

A major headline going into the game is the reunion that Celtics players from last season's squad will have with their former teammate and now current Phoenix center, Aron Baynes. 

But there’s a lot more to this game than just that.

With that said, here are four things you need to know about tonight’s matchup. 

1. DEVIN BOOKER

We all remember how he absolutely torched the Celtics a couple years ago for a career-high 70 points. But that’s just one of several games in which Booker has dominated the Celtics like no one has. 

In his last four games against Boston, Booker has averaged an eye-popping 42.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field (61-for-122), 87.5 percent (35-for-40) from the free throw line and 35 percent (14-for-40) from 3-point range. 

Forget about limiting him from scoring. 

How about keeping him under 50 points?

2. NO PASSING FANCY

The Suns have done a good job all season of keeping teams on the move defensively with all their ball movement. Through the first 11 games, the Suns are averaging a league-best 28.8 assists per game. 

Phoenix’s ability to effectively probe defenses has allowed them to work the shot clock and get good, quality looks with little time left to shoot. 

This season, NBA.com/stats show that the Suns are shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range when there’s four seconds or less on the shot clock which is the fourth-best mark in the league this season. The Celtics are at the opposite end of that category, connecting on just 20 percent of their shots with four seconds or less on the shot clock, which ranks 21st in the NBA. Boston has been at its best shooting with 15-18 seconds on the shot clock, connecting on a league-best 52.4 percent of its shots within that time frame. 

That ball movement has a way of wearing teams down over the course of a game, which makes tonight’s matchup for the Celtics even more daunting when you factor in it coming on the second night of a back-to-back. 

3. RICKY RUBIO

In what’s turning out to be one of the sneaky-good offseason signings, Ricky Rubio seems to have finally found a basketball home and success with it. The veteran guard, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal after leaving Utah, has had a solid career in Minnesota as well as the last two years with the Jazz, but he never displayed the kind of consistency we have seen thus far with the Suns both in terms of his own individual play and that play fitting in with the team’s success. 

The 29-year-old Rubio is averaging a career-high 13.6 points per game as well as 6.3 rebounds (also a career high) and 8.7 assists while shooting a career-best 37.5 percent from 3-point range. 

Rubio’s ability to be that savvy, veteran playmaker has taken a good chunk of the running of the offense off the shoulders of Devin Booker, who can instead focus on what he needs to do in order to help the Suns win — which is score the ball and be a solid defender. 

And with Rubio’s 6-foot-3 frame with defensive skills that seem to keep getting better with time, the Suns also reap the benefits of having a solid defender in the backcourt with Booker, too. 

4. OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE KEYS

Boston’s defense has shown some slippage lately, something they will have to clean up against a Phoenix team with lots of high-impact, difference-makers on offense. And when you look at these two teams, it’s clear that three specific categories will go far in determining who wins tonight’s game.

Points off turnovers: Phoenix averages a league-best 22.2 points off of turnovers this season. They’ll look to continue along those lines against a Celtics defense that allows a league-low 13.1 points off of turnovers this season.

Fast break points: Phoenix is one of the best fast-break teams in the NBA, evident by them averaging 16.3 fast-break points which ranks fourth in the league. Meanwhile, Boston allows opponents to score 12.3 fast-break points per game, which ranks eighth in the NBA.

Points in the paint: And when it comes to points in the paint, the Suns once again score high marks with a 49.6 points in the paint per game average, which ranks 10th in the league. And once again, Boston’s defense may be the answer to limiting those points in the paint. Teams are averaging 42.8 points in the paint against Boston, which is the third-fewest mark of any team in the league now. 

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.