Celtics on Team USA get a taste of the Gregg Popovich Experience

Celtics on Team USA get a taste of the Gregg Popovich Experience

LAS VEGAS — As Jaylen Brown trudged off the court after his squad failed to convert a potential go-ahead bucket at the end of Team USA’s scrimmage earlier this week, Gregg Popovich met Brown at halfcourt. Wrapping an arm around his waist, Popovich offered a few teaching points and, with a supportive pat on the backside, sent him in the direction of the bench where Steve Kerr awaited with further advice.

In the stands across the gym, Celtics coach Brad Stevens took in the scene with a smile. Part of the reason that Stevens was thrilled to have four players participating in Team USA’s training camp this week was that his guys got hands-on experience working with championship coaches Popovich and Kerr.

"I just think it’s always great to hear consistent themes and messages all across the board,” said Stevens. “Obviously, nobody’s a better communicator, nobody does that better than [Popovich]. It’s great for these guys.”

For Brown, Jayson Tatum, and even sixth-year guard Marcus Smart, Stevens is the only NBA head coaching voice they’ve regularly heard. But camp this week offered a chance to work with a five-time champion in Popovich and an eight-time champion (five times as a player, three times as a coach) in Kerr.

That opportunity wasn’t lost on those players.

"They all have their own style and coaching traits. It’s like different teachers have different ways of explaining and teaching,” said Brown. “But playing for Gregg Popovich, I’ll do that any day of the week.”

Celtics players seemed to genuinely enjoy the Pop Experience, particularly getting to see him in a more relaxed situation where he seemed more willing to let his hair down. Popovich jumped into stretching drills with his players, routinely chatted them up during downtime, and looked to be having as much fun as those competing for a roster spot.

He even had some playful Pop moments. Like when a small cluster of reporters lingered talking to Brown after a double horn sounded to signify the end of the 30-minute media access. Pop saw Brown still on the floor with cameras in his face and playfully stomped over to break it up, scolding reporters for trying to go into overtime with their questions and explaining how a 30-minute countdown works.

Wrapping an arm around Brown, he led him away towards the busses while still shaking his head at the media members nearby.

“It’s amazing. I was lucky enough to play for [Popovich] on the Select Team two years ago and you see a different side of Pop than [during the NBA season],” said Smart. "He jokes a lot and he’s a great guy. And he’s just a guy that you want working.”

Smart spoke highly of both Popovich and Kerr.

"Two great coaches right there. I think their resumes speak volumes for themselves,” said Smart. "I’ve been playing in Boston for my whole career and playing for Brad. [Each coach has] different styles and different techniques so you get a little bit of all three. You can kinda vary and mix those in and learn new things from each and every last one of them.”

Popovich seemed to have a particular affinity for Walker, who is one of the veteran presences on this year’s team and spent much of the week walking around with a big smile on his face.

"It’s amazing. Growing up, you watch Coach Pop and you’ve seen him win championships and you see his interviews and stuff like that. This is an honor, to be able to play for him,” said Walker.

"I would have come [to Team USA] regardless, no question. But of course, I wanted to play for Pop. Pop is a legendary coach. My ex-coach [in Charlotte, James] Borrego, he came through Popovich and I’ve heard so many great things about Pop from him. So, yeah, this is an honor.”

This was an oft-repeated message from Team USA players. Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma gushed how Popovich was “my favorite coach of all time,” and noted how he grew up watching the Spurs. 

A who’s who of hoops coaches passed through Vegas during the week. Former Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski visited and even pulled Duke pupil Jayson Tatum aside for a short pep talk. Tom Thibodeau watched much of the week from the crowd; Jeff Van Gundy coached the Select Team. Current coaches like Stevens and Chicago’s Jim Boylen dropped in to check on their players while Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce was another assistant under Popovich, as was Villanova’s Jay Wright.

The Celtics are hoping that not only will the talent of the players around Team Shamrock help push Boston players but that the elite coaching can help those players grow as well.

Kerr offered high praise for all of Boston’s invitees.

“They’ve been great,” said Kerr. “Marcus Smart, the [first] two days was one of the best players on the court. Jaylen Brown is athletic and tough and strong. Then the skill of Kemba and Jayson is going to be really important for our team. All four guys have played well.”

The Celtics nearly played Kerr’s Warriors in the 2018 playoffs when Brown and Tatum nearly willed the injury-depleted roster to the championship stage. Kerr was asked to assess their progress from what he might have seen while preparing for a potential matchup to the present with Team USA.

"I just know that those two guys are great players,” said Kerr. "They’re entering their third and fourth years, whatever it is, so they’re still very young, still blossoming, have a great coach, great organization. 

"They’re on a hell of a path, and they’re only going to get better.”

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Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets live stream: Watch NBA game online

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Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets live stream: Watch NBA game online

The Boston Celtics came up just short the last time they faced the Denver Nuggets. They'll get a shot at revenge Friday night at TD Garden.

During the C's West-Coast road trip in November, Boston fell to Denver 96-92. More notable than the game itself was Kemba Walker going down with a scary neck injury and being taken off the court on a stretcher. Fortunately, Walker turned out OK and will look to lead the Celtics to a W in front of the home crowd.

Boston is coming off a 112-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night in which Jaylen Brown dropped 31 points and Walker added 28.

Be sure to tune into NBC Sports Boston for Celtics Pregame Live at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the game at 8 p.m. ET or stream it via the MyTeams app. 


Listen and subscribe to our Celtics Talk Podcast>>>


BEFORE THE GAME: At 7 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Kyle Draper, Chris MannixMike Gorman, Brian Scalabrine, A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Forsberg, and Abby Chin. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AT HALFTIME: Tune in to watch a breakdown of the first two quarters on Halftime Live presented by Ace Ticket. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AFTER THE GAME: As soon as the game ends, tune to Celtics Postgame Live presented by New England Ford for analysis, commentary and player reaction. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream

Questions on our livestream? Get all your questions answered here on our Streaming FAQ.



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Smart: Oblique 'feels a lot better,' plans to play tonight vs Nuggets

Smart: Oblique 'feels a lot better,' plans to play tonight vs Nuggets

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are likely to have their defensive leader Marcus Smart back on the floor Friday night. 

Smart, who suffered an oblique bruise on Sunday, said he plans to return when the C's host the Denver Nuggets. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Smart participated in the team’s walk-through this morning although that normally does not involve contact. 

Following the walk-through, Smart was put through a series of drills that included contact, along with him moving laterally and as over and under screens - the kind of movements he’ll have to make quite often in a game. 

“The soreness is at a lower level,” Smart said. “It really doesn’t stop me with my movements; my breathing is getting better, a lot better.”

And on top of the oblique bruise, Smart also caught a cold that transitioned into flu-like symptoms which, more than the oblique, was at the root of him not playing on Wednesday against the Miami Heat. 

While he’s not quite 100 percent, Smart said he feels he’s good enough to get on the floor and help the Celtics try to extend their home winning streak to nine. 

Smart said he will undergo additional testing of the oblique between now and tip-off.

“We just got done doing a lot of contact,” Smart said. “We’ll see if the oblique is fine. It held up well, really well. I’m proud of the results, they’re [Celtics medical and conditioning staff] proud so we’ll see what they say.”

This is the second time this calendar year that Smart suffered an oblique injury. 

The previous one was last spring and kept Smart out for nearly a month. 

Back then, he wore a flak jacket to help protect the oblique from additional damage and in all likelihood he’ll wear one tonight. 

“We tried it when I came back the first time,” Smart said. “The thing with the padding is, you tend to get hit where the padding is. Some way, somehow, you find yourself still injured with the padding. We’ll have to discuss that and see where it goes. Most likely, I will be trying some type of extra padding around the oblique area.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.