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Game On

Tuesday, April 21 - Celtics at Cavaliers - Game 2

Pregame - Stevens Cancels Shootaround; Garners Coach of Year Votes

CLEVELAND – The Celtics practiced hard on Monday, and word circulated late Monday night that Brad Stevens canceled the team’s scheduled Tuesday morning shootaround as the team prepared for Game 2 in Cleveland.

“I felt like we went good yesterday, got done what we needed to, and we walked through in the hotel,” Stevens said. “I’ve said this many times, I believe in being off your feet as much as you can be in these moments. But we got a lot done yesterday.

“The key is how you do from 7:00 to 9:30 tonight.”

Given the team’s remarkable turnaround since February, you have to trust Stevens’ judgment with regard to when the team needs to practice and when the team needs some downtime. Stevens’ work on the bench was also recognized Tuesday morning when he finished fourth in the NBA Coach of the Year balloting.

Stevens finished behind this year’s winner, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, as well as Golden State’s Steve Kerr, and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd.

Asked for his reaction, Stevens was predictably, and simultaneously, flattered and non-plussed.

“It’s very nice when you’re talked about for stuff like that, and I don’t want to diminish how honored you are to be in that discussion,” Stevens said. “Other than that, meh.

“I’m not big on the postseason stuff. I just think that we all try to do our jobs to the best of our ability,” Stevens said. “I’ve learned from all 29 other coaches in this league and there’s no way you can appropriately rank them.”

As for the rankings, Stevens did finish ahead of Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, who he’s often noted as the best at what he does.

“That’s bad voting,” Stevens quipped, drawing laughs from the media before Game 2.

- Peter Stringer

Sunday, April 19 - Celtics at Cavaliers - Game 1

Pregame - Embracing Underdog Role

CLEVELAND – “Another game.”

That’s what Brad Stevens is calling Game 1 in Cleveland today, and while he’s certainly underselling the importance of the contest from a stakes standpoint, his point is well taken. Stevens wants his team to prepare the same way that they have over the last few months when the Celtics have been playing their best basketball.

Asked to describe his team’s focus, Stevens said, “No different than it was the last couple of months. Which is good.”

As for the Celtics’ underdog status, Stevens isn’t phased by the idea that prognosticators aren’t giving the Celtics much of a chance in the series.

“Let’s be frank, these players, this team, has earned the right to be thought of the way that they are,” Stevens said. “I think that’s a compliment to the Cavaliers more than it is a knock on us.”

Jared Sullinger talked to a group of reporters a few minutes after Stevens addressed the media, and while he mostly answered inquiries about his Ohio roots and Ohio State career, he also noted that his team has embraced the underdog role.

“It’s fun. Especially when you’ve got somebody like Isaiah who’s 5’4” on a good day,” Sullinger said. “He’s always been counted out. He was the last pick in the draft. He’s really pushing this underdog thing because that’s who he was.”

Sullinger credited Thomas with changing the team’s attitude and approach upon his arrival.

“That little 5’4” point guard changes the game,” Sullinger said. “He’s changed the dynamic of this team.”

As for the Celtics’ execution, Stevens is confident his team can compete if they stick to their gameplan.

“I think that this team feels like if we can do everything that we want to do on both ends of the floor, than we can give ourselves a chance.”

- Peter Stringer

Wednesday, April 15 - Celtics at Bucks

Pregame - Prepping for the Playoffs

MILWAUKEE - It’s the last night of the regular season, the Celtics’ playoff position (seventh seed) is already set, and there’s absolutely nothing riding on tonight’s game against the Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Still, not much changes for the Celtics, with the noteworthy exception that Avery Bradley (thigh contusion) didn’t make the trip last night to Milwaukee, so he’s out of the lineup. Luigi Datome will make his first NBA start.

According to Brad Stevens, there’s nothing to be concerned with regarding Bradley’s availability for the Celtics’ first round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is set to start on Sunday at the Quicken Loans Arena.

“He did not travel with us. He just stayed at home and got treatment,” Stevens said. “All indications are that he should be good to go when that time comes.”

As for resting his other players, only Isaiah Thomas was a definite, as he was also listed as inactive for tonight’s game. But Stevens will likely give his other regulars shorter stints than usual.

“Some of them probably (will get short minutes). I’ve got a pretty good idea about how to do that. We played really hard and physical last night in a spirited game,” Stevens said.

As for Thomas, Stevens noted that the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week hasn’t caught a break since he’s returned to the lineup.

“It's a rest thing. He hasn't had a break since he came back,” Stevens said. “He's a fearless little guy as you know.”

Thomas has often said that he didn’t expect to be at 100 percent for the rest of the year since injuring his back in Miami back on March 9 in Miami.

- Peter Stringer

Friday, April 10 - Celtics at Cavaliers

Pregame - How Do You Stop the Lob?

CLEVELAND – With a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who've won 18 games in a row at home, there’s plenty of things worry about in a scouting report. But one thing that jumps off the page, so to speak, is the Cavs’ ability to beat you on the inside with the lob over the top of the defense for an alley-oop.

“We’re not changing our size and they’re not changing theirs,” said Stevens, whose team has won their last five road games. “They crushed us on the interior with lobs (last time in Cleveland). LeBron (James) did what he does. We’re not going to change any of that.”

One of the big reasons Cleveland is so deadly with their lobs, according to Stevens, is their great spacing on the floor. It also helps to have an athletic freak like James ready to take off on a moment’s notice if the defense lets its guard down. The smallest lapse in attention can cost Cleveland’s opponents. Stevens also pointed out that Cleveland’s perimeter shooting makes their inside attack that much more effective; the Cavs are currently third in the league in 3-point shooting.

“We’ve all got to be on a string,” Tyler Zeller said about Cleveland’s ability to beat you on the inside and the outside. “We’ve got to be able to get the tags that we need, but be able to close out to shooters also, which is tough. You’ve got to work as a team to be able to make those rotations.”

What's the key to not being beaten on lobs?

“The biggest thing is the guards recognizing early to take it away, so that they can’t go get (the lobs at the rim),” Zeller said. “It’s very difficult with the athletes that they have.”

So how do you stop James when he’s ready to raise up for an alley-oop?

“You’ve just got to hit him early,” Isaiah Thomas said. “Don’t let him get in stride, because once he’s in stride, he probably jumps the highest in the NBA.”

Stevens is all to aware of the Cavaliers’ edge in the athleticism column over most every team in the league.

“They’re going to make some plays that we’re going to have to tip our hat and move on.”

- Peter Stringer

Wednesday, April 8 - Celtics at Pistons

Pregame - Stevens' Team Adopts His Demeanor

AUBURN HILLS – The Celtics have five games left and are hanging on to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The challenge will be as much mental as it is physical as they look to sew up a playoff spot in the next week.

One of the team’s traits of which Head Coach Brad Stevens is most proud is his squad’s spirit and its bounce-back ability. Tough losses and tough stretches in games don’t seem to weigh heavily on this unit.

“I think we have a good connectivity within our group right now. If things get tough, we believe that if we play the game together, we’ll have a chance. And when we have a chance we feel like we can get over the hump.

“Obviously, it’s not every time, but the more times you give yourself a chance, the better off you are,” Stevens added.

They’d love to win all five games, but that’s not likely. They’re probably going to take a loss or two somewhere along the way down the stretch. But the good news is, Stevens has a resilient group of players on his hands.

“This team has a good ability to bounce back from a tough night,” Stevens said. “(We have the ability) to just play the next game; (we have) a good ability to not get too high or too low.”

Is that unusual?

“Most of the teams I’ve coached have been that way,” Stevens said of his teams, which typically take on his measured, not-too-high, not-too-low demeanor. “But it takes a special group of guys to be able to bounce back.”

- Peter Stringer

Saturday, April 4 - Celtics at Raptors

Pregame - Sullinger, Thomas Still Rebounding from Injuries

TORONTO – Jared Sullinger surprised everyone on Friday by coming back to the Celtics this season, but his return was more of a blip on the radar than it was a splash in the pool.

Sullinger played just 3:12 in Friday’s 110-101 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden on Friday, and Head Coach Brad Stevens didn’t think he’d see much more floor time on Saturday in Toronto.

“I don’t think he’ll play a whole lot,” Stevens said of Sullinger, who bounced back from a metatarsal stress fracture sooner than originally anticipated and dropped 20 lbs. of body weight in the process. “You’re gonna be rusty regardless so it’s not perfect to get thrown in the game for three minutes. I think it’s probably better to either not play, or play more extended time.”

Stevens indicated that that opportunity is around the corner, as the Celtics have a rare three-day break between games after tonight.

“We’ll get a chance to practice hopefully Monday and Tuesday, and that will be a great chance for him to get extended time before the game (Wednesday vs. Detroit).”

Another guy bouncing back from injury is Isaiah Thomas, who scored 23 points on Friday night, the most since he hurt his back on March 9 in Miami.

Thomas is one of the few Celtics who gets to the free throw line with regularity, but he needs the ball in his hands to do so. At times in the fourth quarter during the comeback effort Friday night, he may have dribbled himself into trouble.

“I think he’s been good. Last night he scored it,” Stevens said. “He’s drawing a lot of attention obviously. He needs to continue to pick his spots, especially in handling the ball versus blitzes.”

One more injury note from enemy territory: The Raptors will not have Kyle Lowry (back spasms) or Amir Johnson (right ankle) tonight due to injury. Tyler Hansbrough gets the start for Johnson.

- Peter Stringer

Monday, March 30 - Celtics at Hornets

Pregame - Focusing on the task at hand

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Boston Celtics will clash with the Charlotte Hornets tonight in a game that could very well decide who moves into the postseason after April 15. The Hornets have a 2-1 record against the C's this year, so Boston will want to grab a win to even the head-to-head tiebreaker should these two teams end up with identical records at the conclusion of the regular season.

Beating Charlotte will be a tall task, but Boston holds the most recent win in the season series after grabbing a 106-98 victory back on Feb. 27. Brad Stevens noted that his team's energy and offensive execution were large factors in securing that win.

"We were moving, we were all over the place, to be honest," Stevens said. "It was most effective because we stretched them out on the (offensive) end."

After falling behind by as many as 35 points during last night's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Celtics were able to scrap back into the game during the fourth quarter thanks to an impressive spurt of play from a group of reserves. Boston's strong bench play has resulted in Stevens considering a lineup change, but he has not made a change just yet.

"There's no concrete answers because of the way that it impacts how our second unit plays as well," he remarked. "We're going to keep it the way it's been, and those guys have helped put us in position, along with the bench, to be competing."

Stevens elaborated on his reasoning, stating, "I don't think it's just about who starts a game, I think it's about patterns. You know, trying to find the right patterns for a game."

The media throng that surrounded Stevens during his pregame availability asked what made his second unit so effective. He was quick to point out one particular characteristic.

"They've got a lot of skill," he said. "It's skill around a speedy point guard regardless of who's out there, Isaiah (Thomas) or Phil (Pressey)."

Even though his roster isn't lacking in talent, Boston's coach knows he'd be a fool to dismiss the challenge that the Hornets present. He has already seen several Hornets torch his team's defense, with Kemba Walker and Mo Williams headlining that group.

"Those are important guys for this team for a couple of reasons, number one is that they're good players, number two is because they're high-motor players." Stevens went on to say. "I don't think anybody else has had two guards get 30 against us this year and Kemba (Walker) had 34 in one game and Mo Williams torched us last game and had 31."

When asked about the importance of notching wins against other teams jostling for the final playoff spots in the East, Stevens was clear in emphasizing that the way his team prepares has not wavered. Stevens knows these games are important but won't let that affect the players.

"We've played well in some, we've played not so well in others, but I don't put a lot of extra stake in these games," he said. "I think you play and prepare each game the same ways.

"The guys understand what's going on. The guys understand how close they are to achieving what they want to achieve. The bottom line is we have to focus on playing well."

- Bill Ramos

Friday, March 27 - Celtics at Knicks

Pregame - Moving on from the Miami, Focusing on New York

NEW YORK – Brad Stevens dispelled any notion that the Celtics would be taking the floundering New York Knicks lightly Friday night. Despite owning the NBA's worst record at 14-58, the Knicks have secured victories against some of the league's top teams, including a 104-100 win over the San Antonio Spurs on March 17.

“The only thing that matters to me is, they beat the Spurs in here last week," Stevens said. "That's all I need to know, because the Spurs were, if not the best, one of the two or three best teams we've seen all year. When you start talking about guys playing the right way, guys playing together, guys playing with a chip on their shoulder, you can't predict how good they can be.”

Boston will again have Isaiah Thomas available as an option off the bench to fend off a New York squad that will be looking to bounce back from a 111-80 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. Thomas struggled Wednesday night in his return from a lower-back injury, posting just four points on 2-of-7 shooting, but Stevens thought the guard improved overnight.

“I thought he looked solid," Stevens said of Thomas' showing during Thursday's practice. "We didn't do anything physical, as I said we wouldn't, so it's hard to tell how that will translate. He was moving better than I thought the night before, which was a positive."

A win against the Knicks would certainly be a boost for the Celtics, who are fighting to secure a trip to the postseason in a tight Eastern Conference race. Boston is currently sitting in the eighth spot in the East and is two games behind the Miami Heat for the seventh seed. The Heat handed the Celtics a loss on Wednesday night, despite being down two key starters in Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, but Stevens expects his players to move on and show its typical resolve.

“The one thing that this group has shown me, time and again, is even in our worst days, it seems like with four minutes to go, we've got a shot," Stevens stressed. "There have been very few games where that hasn't been the case.”

Stevens was clear when he explained to the media that New York won't just lay down in tonight's game.

“You can never forecast how somebody is going to come into a game when they've got a chip on their shoulder," he said. "They've got an opportunity and they know it."

- Bill Ramos

Monday, March 23 - Celtics at Nets

Pregame - Smart Reruns; Thomas Getting Closer

BROOKLYN – Surrounded by a throng of media in a narrow hallway in the Barclays Center, Brad Stevens found himself answering the same questions he’s been hearing for the last week or so. Reporters want to know what he thinks about the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and when Isaiah Thomas is coming back.

“We all react to what’s happened yesterday. That’s the nature of this league,” Stevens said. “We won five in a row and all was roses, and we went to Oklahoma City and San Antonio, lost two in a row, and came back and lost a tough one at home to Detroit, and we’re in a rough patch.”

One development may help the Celtics turn things around: the return of Thomas, which finally appears to be on the horizon. Thomas has missed seven games since taking a bad spill under the basket in Miami on March 9, but Stevens finally had some good news. Thomas didn’t travel to Brooklyn, but Stevens said Thomas was nearing a return and could be available for Wednesday’s game against the Heat at TD Garden.

“Everything I’ve been told is that Wednesday is as close to probable as it gets,” Stevens said.

One guy who’s definitely back tonight is Marcus Smart, who served his one-game suspension Sunday night. Smart returns to the lineup and will start at point guard tonight. What does Stevens expect from the rookie as he looks to put the ejection and suspension in the rearview?

“I just expect him to play the right way. He should obviously have a lot of energy after sitting out last night,” Stevens said.

“He’s an incredibly competitive and tough-minded kid who can still play that way and not make that mistake,” Stevens said. “In the midst of competition, sometimes we don’t always make the best decisions.”

Stevens was clear that since his arrival in Boston, Smart’s been nothing but a model citizen in the locker room.

“As far as the type of person he’s been around us and in our locker room and to coach, he’s been a joy to have around.”

- Peter Stringer

Friday, March 20 - Celtics at Spurs

Pregame - Stevens Admires Spurs System

SAN ANTONIO – If you look at highlights of the San Antonio Spurs’ offense, you’ll see one thing – ball movement. It seems easy in theory, but few teams execute it quite as well as Gregg Popovich’s squad.

The Atlanta Hawks are probably the closest facsimile of the Spurs system, but the champs have proven night after night that they can dismantle anyone with impressive passing and unselfish play.

“You can really move the ball, but what makes it special is they have shooting. So they move the ball, you close out, you’re behind. The next guy drives it, he moves it, you close out, you’re behind. Now you’re scared to death and you leave the basket open.” Stevens said before Friday’s game in San Antonio.

The Spurs’ vaunted system is impressive to watch, but without the personnel, it’s not a magic bullet, and other teams struggle to duplicate it.

“We’ve talked about the impact that Isaiah’s had for us when he’s able to play,” Stevens said. “With Parker’s ability to get to the basket at any time, it really adds to their ability to make you make decisions on the fly. That’s tough.”

Brian Scalabrine, who played against the Spurs many times in his NBA days, followed up on the conversation by asking Stevens if the style was hard to coach.

“I think it’s a fun style to coach. It’s fun to be part of a group that is willing to spray the ball around the way they’re willing to do it,” Stevens said.

It comes as no surprise that the Spurs style is something Stevens is working to incorporate more of in the Celtics system.

“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re making good strides toward it. We see glimpses of it where they see close to full games of it on a night-to-night basis,” Stevens said. “You really have to have a great deal of trust in the system and the players, in guys understanding what they need to do in those moments. Those guys have done it for a long time and done it well.”

- Peter Stringer

Wednesday, March 18 - Celtics at Thunder

Pregame - Rematch with New Players in OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Celtics and Thunder are meeting for the second time this season, but it may as well be the first time.

“If you look at the two teams from the first game the majority of those guys who were on the court aren’t playing tonight,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said during his pregame chat with the media.

To Brad’s point, when you check out the box score from the Celtics 109-94 loss to the Thunder from November 12 at TD Garden, you’ll see a lot of familiar names – names who are no longer in green.

Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, and Dwight Powell have all since been traded, while Jared Sullinger is sidelined with a foot injury. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson, who dropped 28 points on the C’s, is in Detroit, while Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are out with injuries. And Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters, who will start for the Thunder tonight, were with other teams to start the season.

So there’s not much in common with that November loss. As for the Celtics recent strong play, is there at least a common thread in there that Stevens can point to?

“Not as many common threads as you’d think. You kind of look for trends and I guess there are some, but the biggest common thread has been it’s been a different guy most night,” Stevens said.

“Guys have done a good job of figuring that out and figuring out who’s got it going, and continuing to get him the ball.”

We’ll see who steps up for the C’s tonight.

- Peter Stringer

Saturday, March 14 - Celtics at Pacers

Pregame - C's Visit to Indy Feels Normal This Time Around

INDIANAPOLIS – Boy, does it feel different tonight in Indiana than it did on Jan. 9.

Rewind to that date and you’ll remember that the Celtics were in the midst of quite an interesting night. Brad Stevens remembers the circumstances a well as anyone.

“Last time we were in this locker room,” Steven said, “we had two guys traded that night.”

That’s right. Danny Ainge agreed that night to deal Brandan Wright to the Phoenix Suns, and the framework to send Jeff Green to Memphis was in place. As a result, Boston lost two of its rotational players less than an hour before tip-off.

“That was the most unusual pregame talk I ever gave,” Stevens said with a smirk,” because I found out at 38 on the clock and I go in and talk to the team at 35 and two guys, rightfully so, are on their cell phones trying to figure out when their next flight is and where they’re going to stay and how they’re going to live, and we’ve gotta go out and play Indiana.”

Boston has to go out and play Indiana tonight, but suffice to say, things are a bit more settled down. The trade deadline is long gone and the C’s know who’s going to be on the floor each and every night. They have found a new level of comfort, as Stevens admitted.

“I do think we’re settled in a little bit from a continuity standpoint, stability standpoint,” he said.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Celtics have gone 12-6 since Feb. 3. They have vaulted themselves right into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race – right alongside the Pacers.

Indiana has won 13 of its last 15 games and sits in the seventh spot with a 30-34 record. Boston, meanwhile, ranks 10th with a 28-36 record. The C’s trail the Hornets by one game for the final playoff spot.

We’re talking playoffs, comfort and stability here in Indiana. Yep, things have changed quite a bit since the last time the Celts visited Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, March 9 - Celtics at Heat

Pregame - C's, Heat in Fight for Playoffs

Two teams battling for the same thing – a berth into the Eastern Conference Playoffs – will collide at 7:30 p.m. in Miami.

The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are each on the outside looking in on the playoff race. Boston currently sits as the 10th seed, 2.5 games back of the eighth spot. Miami is tied with Indiana for the eighth spot but the Pacers currently own the tiebreaker between the two teams.

Most coaches, including Brad Stevens and Erik Spoelstra, refuse to state that these playoff-race games mean more than others. Stevens and Spoelstra each relayed that mindset tonight, but Stevens did acknowledge that the C’s have a minimal margin for error.

“We’re behind,” Stevens said. “We’re not sitting with people chasing us. We’re behind.”

With that being said, he and his players know that they need to put their best foot forward every night they take the floor.

“We have to play with a great sense of urgency and at the same time play confident, play free, and do all the things we need to do to play good basketball,” the coach added.

The fact that playoff questions are even being asked to Stevens on March 9 is a testament to how far the Celtics have come in just one year’s time. They matched last season’s win total after just 60 games this season. Now they’re in the thick of the playoff race.

That fact has certainly changed the atmosphere around the team. Last year at this time, and even early on this season, there was no palpable difference in the postseason locker room when the Celtics won or lost. Sunday night in Orlando, following a 103-98 defeat, Boston’s players were angry and upset with themselves.

There is no denying that these games have more attached to them than they did last season. Stevens and the Celtics are excited about the opportunity that they have earned to fight for the playoffs.

“It should make for a fun environment,” Stevens said. “It should make for fun games.”

Especially tonight, when the Celtics will take on an opponent that’s fighting for the exact same thing.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, March 8 - Celtics at Magic

Pregame - Rookie Point Guards Set To Face Off in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton, the Eastern Conference’s last two Rookies of the Month, will match up tonight and it’s sure to be an entertaining show.

These two point guards have tallied very similar statistics this season but they've done so in very different ways.

Smart averages 7.3 points, 3.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game this season. He plays off the ball quite a bit and takes the majority of his shots from the perimeter. In fact, 61.2 percent of his field goal attempts this season have come from 3-point range. It is a rare occurrence to see him drive the ball to the basket and look for his own shot, though he has been doing so more often of late.

Payton, who averages 7.8 points, 5.9 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, is at the other end of the spectrum. He has taken only 23 3-pointers all season, making four of them. As Brad Stevens explained, Payton’s biggest threat is taking the ball off the dribble.

“I think if you let him get a downhill head of steam you’re in trouble, which is kind of counterintuitive for a guy that doesn’t shoot it as much from 3 because a lot of people play off of him,” Stevens said prior to tonight’s game. “When you play off of him and he gets going, you can’t stop him once he gets that downhill speed. He’s a great athlete – not a good athlete – for his size and position.”

While Smart and Payton differ greatly at the offensive end of the court, they are similar defenders. Each rookie has already gained a reputation as an elite defender, and Stevens highlighted a few reasons why such is the case.

“They’re both bright defenders,” he said. “They’re both aggressive defenders. They’re both good, physical defenders.”

And we’re fortunate enough to be able to watch them go at it tonight. Smart will surely attempt to make it rain from long range, and Payton will surely attempt to take the ball to the rack, but each player will try to be standing in the way of the other all night long.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, March 6 - Celtics at Pelicans

Pregame - Crowder To Start in Place of Bradley

NEW ORLEANS – Brad Stevens has decided to insert Jae Crowder into the starting lineup tonight in place of the injured Avery Bradley.

Crowder, who has started 13 games for Boston this season, will start at small forward, and Evan Turner will shift into the backcourt.

Stevens pointed to Crowder’s versatility, particularly at the defensive end, as the deciding factor in choosing Crowder as the starter over any other possible candidate.

“He can play multiple positions,” Stevens said. “He’s a physical 3 that has played the 5 for us. I’ve always thought that those guys are invaluable that are able to play the 3 or are able to play on the perimeter and can move up positions to defend if they need to.”

Crowder has also shown of late that he is capable of providing a scoring punch. He averaged 11.5 points per game over his last 10 games.

Stevens and the Celtics, however, won’t ask him to score more points simply because he’s starting. They just want him to continue to play with the tenacity that he has showcased as a reserve for the past month.

“Jae’s biggest thing is like Marcus (Smart’s) biggest thing,” Stevens said. “You can go through their games and pick them apart, break them down, praise them from a basketball standpoint, but it’s the fearlessness that makes him good.”

Another guy who’s pretty good, and who did not get the call to start, is Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has averaged 20.1 points per game during seven games with the C’s, but that wasn’t enough to get him the nod over Crowder. Stevens instead wants to maintain Thomas’ rhythm coming off the bench. The coach emphasized that Thomas will be on the court when it matters.

“I think the biggest thing is he wants to start because he has a lot of pride and he works really hard,” Stevens explained, “but starting is not the end-all be-all. Being a part of a team and being a really important part of a team and for a guy with that talent, being on the floor at the end of the game certainly is important.”

Thomas will certainly be on the floor for the Celtics during crunch time tonight, but he won’t be out there for tip-off. Crowder is the Bradley’s replacement – at least for now.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, March 3 - Celtics at Cavaliers

Pregame - Thomas Calls Celtics the "Perfect Fit"

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Isaiah Thomas was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, ending a drought of nearly 13 months with no Celtic earning the award.

Thomas earned the award after averaging 22.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as the Celtics went 3-1. He’s the first Boston player to be given the award since Jared Sullinger on Feb. 10, 2014.

The Celtics did not hold practice on Monday, so Tuesday was the first time Thomas could address the media about his accomplishment. He handled the hype like a true pro, giving more credit to those around him than to himself.

“Shout out to my teammates and my coaches,” he said on Tuesday. “Without them I wouldn’t be the Player of the Week. They made this transition so easy. They made it easy to where I just have to go out there and play. My teammates and coaches put me in positions to be successful and let me play to my strengths.”

Thomas has been on a meteoric rise since the C’s acquired him on Feb. 19. He has played only five games with the team, yet he has quickly become the face of the franchise on the floor.

The attention is well deserved. Thomas is playing at a level that no one could have expected him to reach this early in his career with Boston.

“I think it’s amazing that he’s the Player of the Week the first week with the team,” Brad Stevens said. “I think that’s probably unheard of. You guys would know better than I do, but I can’t imagine that’s ever happened before.”

On one hand, Thomas is also surprised that he was able to accomplish such a feet during his first week with the team. On the other hand, he has reasons as to why he was able to do so.

“God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “It’s crazy how things work out. It seems like just a perfect fit. It’s been five games – it’s been a week – and it feels like I’ve been here the whole season with how the transition has been for me."

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, February 23 - Celtics at Suns

Pregame - No Inside Trading Secrets from Thomas

PHOENIX – Four days ago, Isaiah Thomas was a member of the Phoenix Suns. Now he’s back in Phoenix, and he’s playing for the Celtics.

Thomas and the C’s will tip off against Phoenix at 9 p.m. tonight at the US Airways Center, where the point guard played 23 games as a member of the Suns. One would think that he’d be able to give his team some valuable input for tonight’s game, but Brad Stevens begs to differ.

“No more than Marcus (Thornton) or Brandan (Wright) could give them, right?” Stevens asked, alluding to the two former Celtics who now play for Phoenix. “It’s a 48-minute game. There’s a 24-second shot clock. There’s tons of possessions. We have all the film in the world. They have all the film in the world. We all know each other pretty darn well.”

Shortly thereafter, the coach conceded his stance just a bit.

“Certainly when you walk through, you may say, ‘Hey, is that what you think?’” added Stevens. “And usually they’ll say, ‘Yeah.’ I mean, it’s pretty obvious when you watch it on film.”

Stevens’ stance on the subject may come as a surprise to fans. The coach dropped another surprise ahead of tonight’s tip-off when he admitted that his team has not spent much time discussing tonight’s opponent.

“We spent more time today, to be honest – we spent a little bit of time on them but mostly on us,” Stevens said, “because we’ve got to get us right.”

By ‘getting us right,’ Stevens means working in the three new players Boston acquired at the trade deadline.

“I’ve been through this (large-scale roster changes) a couple of times this year,” he said. “I’ve learned that your opponent is a lot less important than getting yourselves right first.”

Notes: Brad Stevens indicated that Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics front office may petition to the NBA to have Isaiah Thomas’ second technical from Sunday’s game in Los Angeles rescinded. Thomas was ejected with 5:03 remaining in the contest after picking up back-to-back technicals.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, February 22 - Celtics at Lakers

Pregame - Thomas, Celtics Still Acquainting Each Other

LOS ANGELES – Isaiah Thomas, meet Brad Stevens.

Brad Stevens, meet Isaiah Thomas.

These two guys are going to be around each other more than they’ll be around their families over the next couple of months, but they barely know each other at this point.

“I’ve talked to him four times in person,” Stevens joked before tonight’s game against the Lakers. “One was at breakfast. One was a high-five when he got on the bus (to this morning’s shootaround). One was [an instructional] moment (after shootaround). And one was during our walk-through.”

Stevens continued his humorous take on the relationship, noting that conversations have not been very in depth.

“I just said, ‘Hi, my name is Brad Stevens. I’m one of the coaches, and if you have any questions, here’s my cell phone number,’” the coach said with a smile. “That’s about it. We’re at the infancy stages of a relationship and we’re playing together and working together.”

This relationship has been holding in idle for the past 48 hours, but now it’s time to put it into first gear. Stevens will Thomas’ name for the first time tonight when the Celtics take on the Lakers.

How often Stevens calls on the point guard is a whole other story. Stevens knows as well as any coach in the league that it’s nearly impossibly to peg a player into a specific role immediately after that player’s arrival. Patience is required.

“Whenever you join a new team,” said Stevens, “the one thing that you can’t get caught up in as much is what the rotations are, because we’ll figure that out as time goes along.

“He might go in at the six-minute mark tonight, or he might go in at the two-minute mark tonight. It might be flipped tomorrow. He might start somewhere down the road. You never know.”

Regardless of when Thomas checks in, or what his role happens to be, there is an expectation that he will make a major impact on the floor. He is a downhill point guard who can both score and distribute, which is a skill set the Celtics haven’t had for some time.

“He’s an interesting guy, because he’s fast,” Stevens said. “I think that as fast as he is, that’s how crafty he is. He’s not a speed demon with the ball like maybe the top two or three guys in the league would be, but he is fast enough to get to where he wants to go.

“He’s got such great handle, such great shiftiness with the ball. I think that that puts pressure on the defense.”

And that’s exactly why the Celtics went out and got him. They know full well what Thomas can do on the court. They’re just waiting to find out who he is behind closed doors, and how he’ll fit into this team.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, February 20 - Celtics at Kings

Pregame - Stevens Gives Feedback on Thursday's Trades

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – NBA rules prevented Brad Stevens from discussing any trades at Thursday afternoon’s practice in Sacramento. He had no such restrictions ahead of Friday night’s game at Sleep Train Arena.

Stevens’ pregame media availability, which began 90 minutes ahead of a 7 p.m. local tip off time, stood as his first opportunity to address Boston’s two trades. The team’s acquisitions of Isaiah Thomas via Phoenix, and Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome via Detroit, became official at 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.

“Isaiah’s a guy who can get in the paint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “He can make plays for himself and others. That’s a critical component of good offense, that’s for sure. And (he’s) a guy that’s proven to be able to put the ball in the basket.”

Stevens continued by giving his feedback on the two former Pistons.

“Jonas is a guy that has given us fits in the past with his shooting and he can put the ball on the floor and play kind of that valued stretch big that we look for, that everybody else looks for,” the coach explained. “And then Gigi is a guy that has skill as well, that can shoot the basketball, that can pass the basketball, that can play a couple of different positions on the perimeter.”

Boston will be without all three players tonight. Jerebko and Datome are awaiting the Celtics in Los Angeles, where the team will fly following tonight’s contest in Sacramento. Thomas’ arrival time is a bit more unclear.

“We’ll get a chance to get on the court with the two guys from Detroit tomorrow,” said Stevens. “Don’t know if we’ll have a chance to get on the court with Isaiah or not.

“The plan of attack, or at least what [Thomas is] scheduled to do right now, is see our doctors in the morning tomorrow and get everything taken care of and then fly out tomorrow late evening. There’s a chance that he could play on Sunday.”

When Thomas does become available to play, many Celtics fans will be eager to see how Stevens fits the point guard into Boston’s lineup. Will Thomas replace Smart in the starting lineup? Will Thomas come off the bench, as he had all season in Phoenix?

Stevens told reporters that he hasn’t given those questions any thought to this point, and he scoffed at the idea that Thomas’ arrival would in any way hinder the growth of Boston’s prized rookie, Smart.

“If we’re going to be good, we need good players. Good players are important,” Stevens said when asked if he’s now worried about Smart’s development track. “The more versatile you are, the more opportunity you’ll have to be on the court with other good players. I’m not worried about that. Your development on the ball is just as important as off the ball, and vice versa. No, I’m not worried about it.”

Another thing he won’t need to worry about? Trades. The Celtics are done dealing until the offseason. All Stevens needs to concern himself with moving forward is how he’ll integrate his trio of new players into the rotation.

- Marc D'Amico

Saturday, February 7 - Celtics at Bucks

Pregame - Smart Learning When To Attack Hoop

MILWAUKEE – Marcus Smart has started the Celtics’ last three games. The Celtics have won their last three games. Coincidence?

Correlation does not equal causation, at least not yet, but Brad Stevens is going to roll with his lineup again tonight and Smart will get his fourth consecutive start at the point for the Celtics when they face the Bucks. The C’s are looking for their first four-game winning streak since Nov. 6-12 of 2013.

Smart has scored 20 points, handed out 19 assists and grabbed 21 rebounds in total over his last three games, and he’s picked his spots when choosing to shoot. But he does seem to be thinking about attacking the basket a little more of late, which has been a criticism of the rookie this season. He certainly hasn’t been afraid to hoist threes; he took seven of them against New York on Tuesday.

Stevens, however, is more concerned with his young guard making the right play than forcing the issue in an effort to get to the basket or the free throw line.

“He just needs to do what he does best,” Stevens said. “It’s not about how much he gets to the basket, (it's more about) what the defense gives you and making the right basketball play.”

Smart is embracing the point guard job, and understands it’s a balance between being aggressive and playing, well, smart.

“We have a lot of guys who can score the ball, but as a point guard I have to be able to attack the basket and put myself in situations that make it easier for me to create., not just for myself, but for my teammates. Me driving it to the basket is a big key, but also, taking what the defense gives me. If they give me those driving lanes, (I need to) take them.”

Smart was known for getting to the rack in college, and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has the size to do it from the point guard spot in the NBA. But he’s still adjusting to life in the pros, an evolution that usually takes a full season for anyone.

“He’s got more of that physical body that can keep you on his side or his hip or his back, and then he can use some of his tricks and his ball handling and those types of things to get to where he wants to go,” Stevens said. “Some oft that he has, and some of that is something that needs to be continuously be developed and worked on. That takes a bit of time.”

Smart’s just 35 games into his NBA career, and has just six starts to his name. His development has barely just begun. But it’s clear the learning is well underway. Smart spent much of pregame studying film of the Bucks’ recent game against the Rockets, and he’s adjusting on the fly to playing the point in the NBA.

“Everything is one step faster in the NBA. You’ve got to get there quicker,” Smart said. “There are bigger guys, and there’s a lot more contact than there was in college. You’ve got to play through contact.”

One thing he’s still learning: what it takes to draw a foul in the NBA.

“The only thing I can do is keep attacking," he said. "I might not get them now, but hopefully down the road I can get those calls.”

- Peter Stringer

Tuesday, February 3 - Celtics at Knicks

Pregame - Stevens Goes Through with Starting Lineup Changes

NEW YORK – Brad Stevens told reporters this morning that he was “considering changing one spot” in the starting lineup. Turns out that consideration gained momentum throughout the day.

Marcus Smart will move into the starting point guard spot for Boston when it takes on the Knicks at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Evan Turner, who had started the last 18 games at point guard, will move over to small forward, and Jared Sullinger returns to the starting lineup after one game off the bench. Those three will be joined by Avery Bradley at shooting guard and Brandon Bass at power forward.

Stevens gave multiple reasons for his decision to insert Smart into the starting lineup, starting with the search to find the most effective units possible.

“It’s about finding the groups that play well and trying to be able to play with two units that are reasonably and similarly productive,” Stevens said. He later added, “It’s more about looking at the collective group and saying can we get a little bit more rhythm with that group. It’s been pretty well documented we haven’t started great.”

A second reason for getting Smart into the starting lineup is very simple: he’s good.

“I think the biggest thing that Marcus brings is just an intangible will,” said Stevens. “Offensively he’s improved his shot. He’s become a good catch-and-shoot player and has really shot the ball well the last two months. Defensively he’s got great physicality. But it’s his attitude and his will that is his separator.”

Celtics Nation is sure to make a big deal out of the fact that Smart is receiving the fourth start of his young career. However, Stevens cautioned that this isn’t necessarily a long-term move. He also said that this move isn’t all about Smart.

“I understand the interest in Marcus starting,” Stevens commented. “To me that’s not the story, and I understand that that’s going to be the story, but the story is we’re just trying to find our best collective fit in both units.”

Stevens hope that the story after this game is that Smart’s insertion into the starting lineup jumpstarted a Celtics victory.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, January 28 - Celtics at Timberwolves

Pregame - Stevens' Reaction to Rising Stars Rosters

MINNEAPOLIS – The NBA today announced the rosters for the 2015 Rising Stars Challenge. Boston’s Kelly Olynyk was selected to the World Team, while rookies Marcus Smart and James Young were left off of the US Team roster.

Olynyk is currently sidelined with a right ankle sprain that he suffered on Jan. 22 in Portland. The sprain looked severe, and it is questionable as to whether the second-year big man will be healthy enough to play come Feb. 13, when the Challenge will be played in New York City.

Brad Stevens did state prior to tonight’s game in Minnesota that Feb. 13 does seem to be in line with Olynyk’s initial timeline for a return. However, the snowstorm in Boston may delay his return date.

“I know that he was house-bound like everybody else in Boston the last couple of days,” said Stevens, “so that’s probably another day behind whatever his initial prediction was because he didn’t get a chance to do any rehab because he was stuck in his apartment like everybody else.”

Asked if he would prefer Olynyk to just take the All-Star break off to ensure full health for the second half of the season, Stevens replied, “If he’s ready to play, that’s the trainer’s and Kelly’s call … Obviously, there’s no way we’d want him to do it unless he was 100 percent healthy.”

The conversation then moved to the other end of the spectrum. It was not expected that Young, who has played a total of only 81 minutes this season, would be chosen to play in the event. Smart, however, was a surprise snub.

Smart has been an impact player since his return from an ankle injury on Dec. 19. He has averaged 6.8 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game since that date despite playing only 25 minutes a night. He has also shot an impressive 40.9 percent from long range and been a lockdown defensive player.

Stevens gave a noteworthy initial response when he was asked if Smart was snubbed. He literally was at a loss for words. The coach stumbled over his words for three seconds before composing himself and making the following statement.

“The honest answer is I feel bad anytime somebody feels like that if they are close to an honor like that,” the coach said. “But in all sincerity I don’t really care bout subjective voting and I hate voting for it myself.”

While Smart and the Celtics must be saddened by the fact that the rookie was not selected to the game, Smart can take some solace in Stevens’ final statement: “From a big-picture standpoint, the honors that you get as a 20-year-old, you’ve got a long life to live after that.”

In other words, Smart has many years of basketball to come in the NBA. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to validate himself and earn honors from the league.

For the time being, though, Olynyk stands as the lone Celtic who has been chosen to participate in All-Star weekend.

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, January 26 - Celtics at Jazz

Pregame - Marcus Smart Returns to Celtics

SALT LAKE CITY – Marcus Smart is back with the Boston Celtics after a one-game absence.

Smart, who missed Sunday’s game at Golden State due to a death in his family, flew into Salt Lake City last night to rejoin the team. The Celtics left the option open for Smart to stay with his family but he instead chose to return to the team.

“If he would have needed to take more time, he could have taken more time,” Brad Stevens said before tonight’s game against the Jazz. “That’s up to him.”

This is just the latest example of Boston acting as a first-class organization. Recently, upon acquiring Tayshaun Prince from the Memphis Grizzlies, Danny Ainge instructed Prince to take some time off to be with his family before reporting to the C’s. Now Boston has put another player’s personal life ahead of his basketball life during a difficult time.

“That’s our whole organizational policy,” Stevens said. “I’m pleased that I work for an organization that does that. Family is the important thing, without a doubt, and it will always take precedence. It was a no-brainer for him to go.”

Smart was able to be with his family for a couple of days during a time of mourning. However, he clearly feels that he is capable of playing – and playing effectively – in an NBA game. Rest assured that he will log plenty of minutes during his first game back. As Stevens put it, “When Marcus Smart’s around Marcus Smart’s playing.”

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, January 25 - Celtics at Warriors

Pregame - Klay Thompson Did What?!

OAKLAND, Calif. - There was a notable occurrence that took place Friday night at Oracle Arena, where the Celtics are now stationed ahead of tonight’s game against the Warriors.

Oh, yeah… Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a single quarter against the Sacramento Kings.

Actually, as Brad Stevens pointed out ahead of tonight’s contest, Thompson accomplished that astonishing feat in less than a single quarter.

“What doesn’t get talked about in Klay Thompson’s run is he didn’t even score until 9:58 on the clock,” Boston’s coach said. “Like… he did it all in the last 10 minutes.”

Which is absolutely insane.

It makes sense that Stevens watched the entire quarter on replay, seeing as he had to come up with a game plan to slow Thompson down tonight. The coach said that the performance was so amazing that it caused him to alter his typical film study routine.

“Usually I listen to music while I’m watching games, but I turned on their announcers and they were pretty speechless after about point 25 as well.” Stevens said. “It was kind of entertaining to listen to the call.”

What is not so entertaining is that the Celtics are next on Thompson’s radar. Stevens discussed the challenge of facing for a player who was so lights-out fewer than 48 hours ago.

“Just try your best to defend him as well as you can,” said Stevens. “One thing we can’t overreact to are the tough makes. You’ve got to make shots that he takes as tough as possible. We’ve got to try to limit transition, we’ve got to try to limit single-pass catch-and-shoot opportunities, especially from 3, and you challenge everything else and live with the results.

“You’ve got to do your best not to let him get going,” Stevens also commented. “That’s earlier said than done.”

The Kings can attest to that.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, January 23 - Celtics at Nuggets

Pregame - Is Denver's Elevation Truly a Factor?

DENVER – The Boston Celtics took a short bus ride over to the Pepsi Center for tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets. When they arrived, they were greeted by a mile-high message.

“Pepsi Center Welcomes You To The Mile High City Elevation 5,280 Feet,” reads a sign that hangs above the arena’s entrance doors.

Just a subtle reminder that the C’s are no longer in Boston.

Denver’s elevation of 5,280 feet is 5,139 feet higher than Boston’s elevation. It has been well documented that thin air accompanies that high altitude, but not everyone is buying it.

Brad Stevens was asked prior tonight’s game whether he has noticed an effect from the altitude during his time here. He shunned the notion off as something for the media to make a bigger deal than it really is, similar to Deflategate.

“It’s not that big of a deal for us,” Stevens said. “It’s not something we’re going to spend a lot of time on. It’s (the altitude) not changing.”

Stevens did acknowledge that there is some effect from the thin air, albeit a slight one. He said that his personal experience of playing basketball in Colorado, as well as his coaching experience with USA Basketball in Colorado Springs, has led him to believe that players only feel a difference in the air during their first stint of playing time. After that, the altitude is almost a forgotten factor.

In other words, the message that hangs above the entrance to the building, and the overall notion that thin air is difficult to play in, is all part of a mental game. There really is no difference for these well-trained athletes.

That doesn’t mean anyone should expect Stevens to give any of his players 40 minutes of playing time tonight. There are still plenty of circumstances surrounding this game, outside of Denver’s elevation, that will alter the coach’s rotation.

“I think we’re going to end up playing a lot of different people tonight,” Stevens admitted. “Just the factor of the back-to-back (the Celtics played on Thursday), the factor of getting in when we got in (the Celtics arrived at their hotel around 3:30 a.m. on Friday), the factor of the game last night. We’re going to try to play as fresh as we can most of the night.”

Yes, fans should expect to see a deep rotation of Celtics players during tonight’s action. No, fans shouldn’t assume that such is the case as a result of where the Celtics are playing.

- Marc D'Amico

Thursday, January 22 - Celtics at Trail Blazers

Pregame - Bass Moves Into Celtics Starting Lineup

PORTLAND, Ore. – We knew this was coming. The question was: when?

Brad Stevens, who has watched his Celtics team drop 12 of its last 15 games, decided to make a change to the starting lineup tonight in Portland, Ore. Brandon Bass will slide into the starting power forward slot, while Jared Sullinger will move over to the starting center position.

This decision marks Boston’s third starting lineup alteration in the last month or so. However, this is the first that has been by choice.

Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green were each traded during the last five weeks, forcing Stevens to call on Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, respectively, to enter the starting lineup. Those were forced decisions.

Bass’ entrance to the starting lineup is much different. This decision is purely basketball related. Stevens thinks Bass gives the Celtics a better chance to start games out on the right foot, and more importantly, to win.

“We’ve got to be more mobile and a little bit more versatile defensively,” Stevens said as he told reporters why Bass was inserted into the lineup.

The move was almost a necessity tonight. Portland is without its starting power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, and its starting center, Robin Lopez. Their absence has caused head coach Terry Stotts to go with a small ball lineup that features Dorell Wright playing the 4.

Stevens told reporters that he considers Wright to be more of a 3, and rightfully so. He stands at 6-foot-9 and is actually listed as a small forward on multiple Web sites. Wright has attempted 42.9 percent of his career field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.

It obviously would not make much sense to have Sullinger defending a player like Wright while leaving Tyler Zeller in the starting lineup. Bass is very capable of defending on the perimeter and will be able to switch on perimeter pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll plays.

Sullinger, meanwhile, will shift over to center and defend Chris Kaman. Kaman came off of Portland’s bench to score 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting against the C’s on Nov. 23 in Boston.

“He can score on the block. He can score with his back to the basket,” Stevens said of Kaman. “He can score going over either shoulder with some crafty post moves and shot fakes. And then he can really shoot the ball to 18, 20 feet.”

Sullinger has improved dramatically this season at the defensive end, and Stevens believes the big man should match up well with Kaman.

“I think that he’s getting better in that regard (defending stretch forwards),” Stevens said of Sullinger, “but I still think that if you could say which one does he defend better, a traditional big would be ahead of a stretch.”

There are likely to be times during tonight’s game in which Sullinger will defend both types of players. However, he will begin tonight’s game against a pure center in Kaman while Bass works to defend the perimeter.

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, January 19 - Celtics at Clippers

Pregame - Doc Reveals What It's Like to Negotiate with Ainge

LOS ANGELES – Two years ago, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge were playing golf together and talking about how they could contend for a title in Boston.

Two weeks ago, Rivers and Ainge were living across the country from one another and talking on the phone about completing a groundbreaking trade.

Boy, how things have changed.

Rivers, who is in his second season as the Clippers president of basketball operations, just completed a trade with Ainge and the Celtics last week to acquire his son, Austin. Doc and Austin became the first NBA family to have a father coach his son.

This was the first trade the two teams have made since Doc took over the reigns in L.A. As he reminded the media Monday morning, this deal couldn’t have happened last season.

“A year ago we couldn’t talk,” Doc said. “I don’t know if a lot of people knew that, but there was a year ban between the Celtics and the Clippers doing business. We talked all the time. We just couldn’t talk about trades.”

The NBA lifted that ban following the 2013-14 season, which has opened the door for the two franchises to talk business.

“This year, we’ve talked about trades all year, not just the Austin trade” Rivers said. “There’s been a lot of conversations with Danny and I, but more so it’s been (Clippers general manager) Dave Wohl and (Celtics assistant general manager) Mike Zarren, to be honest.”

Wohl and Zarren were the key negotiators for the Austin deal, but Doc and Ainge were involved at a high level as well. Fortunately for both parties, Doc and Ainge felt just as comfortable striking a deal for Austin as they do playing 18 holes together on the golf course.

“It was pretty easy,” said Rivers. “It was more about basketball. We laughed about our own inside jokes about stuff. That part was easy. It was just a trade.”

One person who isn’t surprised that negotiations went so smoothly is Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. He was asked prior to today’s game to put himself in Doc’s shoes and imagine what it would be like to negotiate a trade with Ainge.

“I think Danny is a really open-minded guy,” Stevens said. “I don’t know that I know from the standpoint of dealing with negotiations with him like another team would, but I can’t imagine he’s difficult to communicate with in those scenarios.”

It appears that such was the case during this trade negotiation. Doc and Ainge agreed to terms, and now Doc is coaching his son in L.A.

Who would have predicted that two years ago?

- Marc D'Amico

Saturday, January 10 - Celtics at Raptors

Pregame - Celtics Playing for Wins

Brad Stevens was asked prior to tonight’s game what his team’s goals are this season. The coach answered defiantly.

“We prepare to win every day,” he said. “That’s what we try to do. That’s what we have to do.”

Such a statement is exactly what one would have to expect to come out of Stevens’ mouth. He is not in Danny Ainge’s seat, attempting to mold the Celtics into a championship contender. He’s in the coach’s seat, attempting to better the players on his team each and every day.

“Whether you’re playing guys that are 20 years old or whether you’re playing 12-year veterans,” Stevens said, “the preparation, the emphasis, and the day-to-day focus has got to be the same. You’ve got to prepare to put your best foot forward.”

You’ve got to hand it to the Celtics. They did so Friday night in Indiana. Despite dealing with the shockwave that hit their locker room prior to Friday’s game, the C’s left it all on the court. They played their tails off and nearly pulled off an impressive comeback on the road. Stevens commended his players for playing the way they did against the Pacers.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect for them because they’re able to do that,” said Stevens. “I thought the way that our guys played last night was pretty remarkable considering – when I walked in to do the pregame speech, I didn’t necessarily know who was going to start, let alone who was going to be available.”

One would have to expect the same out of the Celtics tonight. The same players will be available against Toronto, and they’ve been preparing for the Raptors all day long rather than having a day off to think about things. As Stevens acknowledged, that may be a positive for his players.

“I don’t know that I would say that it would be preferable in that scenario,” commented Stevens, “but it is what it is and a the distraction of having a game, having a task, is probably a good thing.”

Thus far, it is a scenario that may be assisting the Celtics to compete for what they're searching for: wins.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, January 9 - Celtics at Pacers

Pregame - Trade Opens Door for James Young

Something was fishy about Brad Stevens’ pregame media availability.

We just found out why.

Stevens, just hours removed from telling the media that James Young was likely to be inactive for tonight’s game in Indiana, reopened the door for Young to be active as the coach spoke to the media before the game.

“We haven’t made that call for sure yet,” Stevens said.

There’s a good reason why such was the case.

Stevens knew that the Celtics were working on completing a trade behind closed doors. Completion of that trade would have opened a spot on the active list. Had the trade not been completed prior to game time, Young would have remained inactive.

The Celtics announced at 6:24 p.m. that the trade had indeed gone through. The team shipped big man Brandan Wright to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a conditional first-round draft pick and a trade exception.

The trade opens the door for Young to step into the active list for the second time in three games. He was stellar during Monday night’s loss to Charlotte, scoring 13 points in 17-plus minutes of action.

Young as particularly effective during a stretch of play during the second half of that contest. His performance has left Celtics fans drooling for more minutes for Young. The rookie and his coach, however, understand that Young won’t always be able to make things look as easy as he did Monday night.

“We had an individual meeting about a month ago and I remember [Young] saying, ‘This ain’t easy,’” Stevens recalled. “Every day is difficult. Every matchup is difficult. Whether you know the name of the person that’s guarding you or not, or you know their career path, they’re probably more accomplished than you are if you’re a 19-year-old. That’s just part of it.”

That being said, Young has shown flashes during his four-plus months with the Celtics. The team remains high on his future.

“We’re excited about his progress I guess is the best way to put it,” said Stevens. “But it’s progress. He’s not where he eventually will be.”

Coincidentally, that last comment can also be applied to today. Young was on the inactive list this morning. Now, thanks to the Wright trade, the rookie has another opportunity to suit up and potentially make a difference.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, January 7 - Celtics at Nets

Pregame - Decisions, Decisions: Stevens Talks Inactives

NEW YORK – The story before tonight’s matchup between the Celtics and Nets was not who would start for Boston. Instead, it was who would be on the inactive list.

Yes - the inactive list.

That’s how much evenness the Celtics have on their roster right now, and that evenness became even more of an issue over the past three days. In a rare instance, James Young was active Monday night and he excelled during 17-plus minutes of action, scoring 13 points off the bench. Additionally, Marcus Thornton will return tonight from a strained left calf. He has been inactive since Dec. 14.

Stevens would not discuss his lineup at this morning’s shootaround, seeing as he was unsure of whether Thornton or Jameer Nelson (sprained right ankle) would be available to play. He did, however, reveal during his pregame media availability that Nelson and Young would be tonight’s inactive Celtics.

Media members are not typically pegging a coach about who will be active and inactive prior to a game, unless the topic is injury related. Stevens admitted that tonight’s situation is something that he has not had to deal with during his young NBA coaching career.

“This is probably the most unique situation in my coaching tenure in that we had to make a decision of who was inactive rather than the decision was already made because of injury,” said Stevens. “I’ve, along with others, tossed and turned and spent a lot of time thinking about it.”

After that rough night of sleep, Stevens settled on Nelson and Young to miss tonight’s game. Stevens said that the decision in Nelson was related to his health. Young, meanwhile, is as healthy as can be, which made that decision even more difficult for the coach to make.

“James was a really hard call, because he’s coming off of a really good game,” Stevens said. “We’ve talked a lot about it, and we’re really pleased with his development. We’re really pleased with his work ethic. But you know, those older guys that have been ahead of him have had really good moments too.”

Stevens went on to further discuss Young’s current situation.

“I think those guys that are active deserve to be active and I think that [Young] does as well,” the coach commented, “but I think he’ll be active more than not as we move here and move forward.

“I’m really excited that James made it a very difficult decision.”

Young, along with Nelson, will be relegated to a suit and tie tonight. But from the sound of it, the rookie swingman is on the cusp of breaking into the Celtics rotation.

- Marc D'Amico

Saturday, January 3 - Celtics at Bulls

Pregame - C's Seek To Stop Runs

CHICAGO – Basketball tends to be a game of runs, and lately the Celtics have been victimized by opponents’ big runs that buried them in big holes.

The week before Christmas, the Celtics found themselves overwhelmed in the first quarter by the Orlando Magic. And on Friday night in Boston, the Celtics coughed up a few different runs, the worst of which was the 13-0 run that closed the third quarter and pushed the Mavericks’ lead to 28 heading into the final frame.

“It wasn’t the start, it was the middle of the second and end of the third that killed us. There’s all kinds of times throughout the year where you have a couple of games in a row and it’s easy as coaches to treat it as an epidemic. That stuff evens itself out,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said. “I’m not so worried about the starts. I’m worried about (playing) the full 48 minutes.”

Much like their coach, the team is concerned with what appears to be a trend of late, but it’s not always easy to put your finger on the solution to what appears to be a very obvious problem.

“I think the biggest thing is, we let teams go on big runs,” Tyler Zeller said. “We’ve got to do a better job of trying to get 5-0, 7-2 runs instead of last night when it was 19-0 or something.”

The Celtics have shown the ability to make furious comeback rallies with runs of their own, but against Orlando and Dallas, the deficits were too big to overcome.

“We’ve got to be able minimize those runs and come back with runs of our own,” Zeller said. “I think when we do a great job of getting stops, we get out in transition and then you’re kind of scrambling because we’re playing for our lives.”

As for tonight’s matchup, the Celtics are catching a break with Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy out of the lineup, much the way they caught the Bulls without Derrick Rose the last time they came to Chicago. But as usual, a few personnel changes doesn’t alter the Celtics’ game-planning.

“They still have a former MVP and two front-line All-Stars,” Stevns said of the Bulls. “I don’t think you’re going to change your preparation for them based on one or two guys being out.”

Speaking of out, Jameer Nelson (ankle) will sit tonight out. That likely means more minutes for Marcus Smart, who’s moved to the bench since Evan Turner has taken over the starting point guard duties.

- Peter Stringer

Saturday, December 27 - Celtics at Wizards

Pregame - Celtics Rotation Remains Unsettled

If you haven’t noticed, Brad Stevens has not settled on a consistent rotation since the Rajon Rondo trade.

Stevens has flip-flopped between Marcus Smart (two starts) and Jameer Nelson (one start) at the starting point guard position. He has barely played Brandon Bass. Brandan Wright played 13 minutes during his first two games as a Celtic, then played six Friday night.

These types of issues had not been apparent during the first 23 games of the season. Stevens had a set rotation, but the trade with Dallas shook that rotation at its core.

“We had one rotation player (Rondo) that was playing 30-plus minutes a game for us and left,” Stevens said before tonight’s game in Washington, “and we add three that you could throw into any game at any time. And you have all of our other rotational players are still here.

“You’re balancing all of that,” he continued. “It’s a tough balance.”

Celtics.com asked Stevens about how long he hoped it would take to find the correct balance. He seems to believe that we will continue to see what we saw over the past three games until some of his players separate themselves from the others.

“I don’t think it’s going to be anything that we settle on anytime soon without having to really practice and really get after it,” the coach stated.

Stevens also noted that he needs to go into each game with a defined plan in regard to minute distribution for his players, particularly along the frontline. Regardless of what that plan is or how it plays out during the game, at least one capable player is going to be left out.

“Every night there’s going to be somebody that you can ask about,” Stevens admitted. “It’s just the way our roster is structured right now at the 4 and the 5.”

This is what happens after trades, particularly trades that send out one rotational player and bring back three rotational players. It takes a while for the dust to settle.

Reasonably speaking, it will take Stevens two to three weeks to hammer down a rotation. Until then, expect more of the same: consistent inconsistence.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, December 23 - Celtics at Magic

Pregame - Nelson Starts at PG in Homecoming Game

ORLANDO – The Marcus Smart era is on hold, at least for tonight in Orlando, where Jameer Nelson becomes the third Celtic in as many games to get the starting nod at point guard.

Brad Stevens explained to the media before Smart started against Miami that the move to starting point guard wasn’t necessarily permanent, and sure enough, he’s continuing to tweak his lineup as the Celtics continue to evaluate their new roster.

“It’s a lot less about who’s starting, and more about the rotations I want to try behind that,” Stevens said. “We’re still trying to find some things out about this group.”

Smart seemed to be taking the move in stride during pregame when he talked to the press, and sees it more as an opportunity than a demotion.

“Jameer has been in the league a long time, a veteran, someone I could learn some from and pick up some good habits from,” Smart said. “Coach told me (that starting) wasn’t permanent.

“We had three guys come in for the middle of the season. We haven’t had time to prepare. We’re trying to find rotations, the right rotations to help us win the game,” Smart said.

As for Nelson, he’s still getting comfortable with the Celtics’ system, which he likened many times to what Stan Van Gundy ran during his tenure with the Magic, as well as what the Dallas Mavericks are running this season.

“I’m just going to keep it simple. Coach has done a great job of teaching us and putting us in a situation that allows us to keep things easy,” Nelson said.

- Peter Stringer

Sunday, December 21 - Celtics at Heat

Pregame - Smart Gets the Start at PG

MIAMI – Marcus Smart has shown flashes of brilliance over his first 11 NBA games. Tonight in Miami, he’ll get his first career NBA start, and a chance to prove himself and earn that job on a full-time basis.

“We’ll see how it works tonight, we’ll see what it means in the future…” said Stevens. “I thought Marcus is a little more comfortable as a point as opposed to playing off the ball. Marcus is starting (tonight), but we’ve got a bunch of guys who could be up for that in the near future.”

Stevens made it clear that Smart is far from entrenched as the starting point guard, but he also believes in the youngster that he’s handing – or maybe lending - the keys to tonight.

“I think he has the disposition to be a leader,” Stevens said, while acknowledging Smart’s youth and inexperience. “He has a lot of growth that has to occur because he’s 20 years old.”

If he was excited about getting the first career start, he wasn’t selling it when he talked to reporters in the hallway outside the Celtics’ locker room at the AmericanAirlines Arena about an hour before tip-off.

“There wasn’t really a reaction, he told me, and I told him ‘alright,’” said Smart. “It’s a big opportunity for me. I can’t worry about trying to fill (Rajon Rondo’s shoes). When Rajon left, I wasn’t thinking about starting, I was just thinking about what can I do to help this team.”

His disposition tonight, calm and understated while talking to the media, belies his otherwise vocal nature of which his teammates are well aware.

So, Marcus, is being vocal a key to being a leader on the floor?

“Not only do you have to show by actions, but sometimes you have to let your voice be heard,” Smart said. “Being vocal is a key. People hear what you’re saying and it sticks with them that way.”

- Peter Stringer

Monday, December 15 - Celtics at 76ers

Pregame - Thornton's MRI Results on Left Calf

PHILADELPHIA – Brad Stevens just spoke to the media for the second time in seven hours. Believe it or not, a lot changed during that time frame.

Stevens told reporters at this morning’s shootaround that Marcus Thornton, who injured his left calf during Sunday afternoon’s practice, was set to undergo an MRI today. That MRI has been completed, and the results have thrown a punch into Boston’s stomach.

“Marcus Thornton is going to be out probably a couple of weeks,” Stevens revealed before tonight’s game in Philadelphia. “From what I can tell in the e-mail (I received), he’s got a small tear in his (left) calf. So that’s unfortunate for him, unfortunate for us.”

Unfortunate, to say the least. Thornton was playing the best basketball of his season heading into the weekend. He had scored at least 13 points during three of Boston’s previous four games, maxing out with a season-high 21 points against Washington on Dec. 7. Losing that type of scoring punch off of the bench will be a big blow to the C’s. There’s no arguing that.

There were no original indications to the media that Thornton’s injury had the potential to be this bad. However, Stevens, who watched Thornton go down on Sunday, knew that this possibility existed.

“I knew that when he strained it, when he hurt it yesterday, he was hurting,” said Stevens. “I’ve seen things a lot worse than that, so I’m actually encouraged by that. I didn’t think it was just a small strain that would be a day-to-day thing based on that moment.”

As we all know, an initial time frame for a return from injury must be taken with a grain of salt. We’ve already seen both ends of that spectrum this season, as Rajon Rondo returned from his broken left hand about two weeks ahead of time, and Marcus Smart returned from his sprained left ankle about a week later than the back end of his initial time frame. In the case of Thornton, Stevens made it clear that the team will evaluate him with caution.

“Obviously, with a muscle, “ the coach said, “we’ll be a lot more careful in making sure he’s right before he comes back, because you don’t want to aggravate it.”

In the meantime, it’s looking like the Celtics will be playing the next six or seven games without him.

- Marc D'Amicp

Wednesday, December 10 - Celtics at Hornets

Pregame - They Just Don't Make 'Em Like Big Al Anymore

You just don’t see many guys like Al Jefferson anymore.

He’s big. He’s strong. He’s a true post up player. He’s someone who will challenge the Celtics on the block all night long during tonight’s contest in Charlotte.

“I think many people would say that there aren’t a lot of true post scorers in the league or really at any level of basketball here in the States, at least, that I’ve seen,” Brad Stevens said before tonight’s game in Charlotte. “In college I always felt like there weren’t a ton of back-to-the-basket-type scorers. He’s one that you can throw it to and you can clear everybody to the side.”

Jefferson is coming off of the best season of a strong decade-long career. He finished eighth in the NBA MVP voting last season after averaging 21.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game for the upstart Hornets, who were then known as the Bobcats.

Stevens, who coached against Jefferson three times last season, highlighted many of the skills that make Jefferson such a threat at the offensive end of the court.

“I think that he’s scoring more to both shoulders than he used to,” said Stevens. “He’s got a great pump fake that he loses people on on the block. He’s got just a wonderful touch. And then he shoots it to about 17 or 18 feet.”

Stevens also offered up this scary thought: “He’s improved his offensive game even in the year and a half that I’ve been in the league.”

Clearly, the C’s have a heck of a challenge that will be standing on the block early and often tonight. Most of the load will be put on the shoulders of Tyler Zeller, as he will be asked to defend Jefferson for much of the night.

Zeller will start at center tonight for the seventh consecutive games. He has performed at a high level for Boston during that stretch, helping the Celtics limit their last six opponents to just 44.2 percent shooting from the field. That’s a steep drop from the 47.0 percent shooting Boston allowed during its first 13 games of the season, when Zeller was coming off of the bench.

Stevens has joked at times that this is the first time in Zeller’s life that the big man is being put into games for defensive purposes rather than offensive purposes. The coach believes his young center is embracing that role.

“I think he’s trying and I think he’s really doing a great job of that,” said Stevens. “He’s a big, physical kid. He wants to do well. He’s a reliable guy that does his job every day.”

The question is, will he be able to do that job successfully against one of the best post players in the game of basketball?

“We’ll find out,” the coach said. “Time will tell how far Tyler has come in defending the post.”

- Marc D'Amicp

Monday, December 8 - Celtics at Wizards

Pregame - Smart Return "Continues To Be a Re-Establishing Process"

WASHINGTON – Marcus Smart is back, but he’s not really back.

It’s no secret that the Smart we’ve seen return to the lineup is not the one who left the lineup on Nov. 7 with a sprained ankle. He has played sparingly since becoming available on Dec. 3 – only 13 total minutes.

“I think it continues to be a re-establishing process for him in getting back into the flow of things,” Brad Stevens admitted before Monday night’s game. “As I told him today, his emphasis has to be more on everybody else and how he can just be a helper until he gets back to feeling like he was playing before he hurt the ankle.”

In other words, Stevens wants Smart to be a great defender, to orchestrate the offense, and to take good shots within the flow of the offense. The rookie didn’t exactly do that on Sunday.

Smart was a step behind John Wall and he forced a transition 3-pointer during the fourth quarter that made many onlookers cringe. Stevens revealed that he, too, was not happy with that shot, but that he loves the confidence Smart has in himself to be able to let it fly.

“Percentage-wise, he’s struggled shooting the ball from 3, and certainly since he came back, both here and Maine,” Stevens said, “but at the same time, sometimes when you’ve got a competitor and you’ve got a guy who’s not scared of anything, shooting that shot, all he’s thinking about is you go up from 22 to 25, and I respect that and admire that about him too. So it’s a fine line to dance around.”

Smart is likely to be dancing over that line for at least a couple more weeks. He’s clearly still recovering from the ankle and isn’t quite himself just yet.

Until he is fully healthy, as Stevens said, “Other guys are going to step up until he’s ready to play the way that he can best help us.”

- Marc D'Amicp

Tuesday, December 2 - Celtics at Hawks

Pregame - Stevens on Teague: 'I'm really happy for Jeff'

A smile flashed across Brad Stevens’ face when I asked him about Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. The two go way back, and Stevens couldn’t be more proud of what the 26-year-old has made himself into.

“I’m really happy for Jeff,” Stevens said through his smile. “I’ve known Jeff since he was a kid-kid. I’ve watched him grow up. I’ve watched him become a guy that does it every single night.”

Teague has become one of the most feared point guards in the NBA while averaging 18.0 points per game and 7.2 assists per game this season. He is almost impossible to defend thanks to his improved jump shot that is combined with his elite quickness.

“His speed is probably top-five in the league,” Stevens claimed. “I’m not ready to rank the other four in the league right now, but I know this: he’s fast. He’s a blur with the ball.”

When that blur gets moving, it’s difficult both to see and to stop.

“When you look at some of the hardest covers in the league are these guys that can go downhill a million miles an hour and still finish plays,” said Stevens. “I brought up the names of (Kyle) Lowry, I brought up the names of Monta Ellis and guys like that. Those guys, when it’s all on the line, are tough to stop from getting a basket.”

Sounds like a pretty hefty challenge, no? So whose shoulders will that challenge fall on? According to Stevens, the shoulders of multiple Celtics.

“We’ll mix it up,” Stevens said when asked how much thought he put into who would defend Teague. “I don’t think you can guard (him with) any one guy. I don’t think you can give Teague one look for 48 minutes and expect to be successful.”

That being said, it’s a safe bet to expect to see Avery Bradley defending Teague for the majority of the night. Rajon Rondo, and maybe even Phil Pressey, may see some time against Teague as well.

The hope is that that trio of guards will be able to contain Atlanta’s real-life version of Speedy Gonzales. If they can, Stevens might be flashing a smile after the game for a very different reason: a win.

- Marc D'Amicp

Friday, November 21 - Celtics at Grizzlies

Pregame - C's Want to Push Pace vs. Ailing Grizzlies

MEMPHIS – Much has been made about the Celtics looking to play up-tempo basketball. But Brad Stevens thinks people may misunderstand what they’re looking to do in terms of picking up the pace.

“The emphasis on pace for us sometimes gets taken out of context. It’s not about running up the court and shooting as quickly as possible. It’s about continuing to move that way throughout the whole possession,” Stevens said.

As that pace pertains to the Memphis Grizzlies, Stevens noted that it’s important for the Celtics to establish it tonight. Given that the Grizzlies are riding a 20-game home winning streak, that may be easier said than done.

“If you’re stagnant against these guys, their length and athleticism is a problem. The more you stand around, the more they sit on you with those interior guys who are big and strong and physical, and the more Conley, Allen, Prince and Lee can get into you,” Stevens said. “You’ve got to keep them moving.”

Still, the coach wants quality shots, not just the first look or the Mike D’Antoni “seven seconds or less” approach.

“(Pace) doesn’t mean you have to fly up the court and shoot in the first 3-4 seconds of the shot clock,” Stevens said.

With multiple Grizzlies battling a stomach bug, picking up the pace may prove to be a very effective strategy tonight.

- Peter Stringer

Wednesday, November 19 - Celtics at Sixers

Pregame - Turner Finding His Way in Boston

Evan Turner is still trying to find his role with the Boston Celtics, but he certainly knows his way around Philadelphia.

“This is probably my sixth time playing here. It’s super weird getting drafted here as a 21 year-old kid, staying here until I was 25,” Turner said. “It’s a little different knowing that I’ll never be back in the area for more than a night. But it’s all great memories.”

The Sixers’ second overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Turner has always been subject to great expectations, and when given the opportunity, he’s proven he can deliver. Turner made his presence felt in his only start with the Celtics, dropping 19 points in the Celtics’ 106-101 upset win over the Bulls in Chicago while Rajon Rondo sat out.

Coach Brad Stevens is happy with what the veteran swingman is giving him off the bench, as he’s averaged 8.2 PPG on the season.

“He’s trying to find his comfort level. That’s to be expected. He’s been here for 10 games now,” Stevens said. “His work ethic has always been a huge strength of his; it has never been questioned.

“We’ve got him playing a couple of different positions. He’s defended his position well and really worked on it. He came here and had something to prove.”

- Peter Stringer

Monday, November 3 - Celtics at Mavericks

Pregame - Stevens Discusses Relationship with Carlisle

DALLAS – Brad Stevens has a lot of friends in the coaching ranks whom he turns to for advice and to bounce ideas off of. Tonight’s opposing coach, Rick Carlisle, is one of them.

Stevens has mentioned on multiple occasions this season that he met with Carlisle this summer to talk all things basketball. Prior to tonight’s Celtics-Mavs game, Boston’s second-year coach discussed the genesis of his relationship with Carlisle.

“I’ve known Rick a little bit since we were in Indy,” Stevens said. “So he was in Indy with the Pacers and I was an assistant at Butler. He’s been great. He’s the president of our (National Basketball Coaches) Association and really has been great to me for a long time, certainly since I’ve been hired.”

Stevens has undoubtedly learned quite a bit from Carlisle over the past decade, but not all of those lessons have been learned through conversation.

“I just think you watch his team play and it can be a clinic of itself,” said Stevens. “He runs great offensive stuff. They’re not afraid to try things defensively, which I admire. They probably play as much zone or more zone than anybody else in the league. They switch a ton. They will mix up their pick-and-roll coverages throughout the game.”

Such is not the case with every NBA coach. Stevens says that Carlisle is one of the few coaches who are willing to experiment without hesitation.

“Sometimes as a coach you sit there and you don’t want to change because you’re playing the percentages and you’re being conservative,” Stevens commented. “I think that he’s got a great feel for, ‘Hey, I’m not afraid to try something on the fly,’ and it’s proven over time to be very successful for him.”

An NBA title and a .588 career win percentage is pretty impressive. Those in Celtics Nation must be hoping that some of Carlisle’s lessons can help Stevens reach similar heights.

- Marc D'Amico

Saturday, November 1 - Celtics at Rockets

Pregame - Patrick Beverley Is Out, Isaiah Canaan Is In

HOUSTON – News broke about 90 minutes ahead of tonight’s tip-off that Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley will not be available to play due to a strained left hamstring.

Houston head coach Kevin McHale had two options to choose from to replace Beverley in the starting lineup: veteran Jason Terry or second-year guard Isaiah Canaan. He chose the latter in an attempt to control the former’s minutes.

“I try to keep JET’s (Jason Terry) time down,” McHale stated before the game. “If you start, the time seems to get away from you a lot quicker. So we’ll bring in JET as needed for balance and I told him to be ready to play a few more minutes. If we can start Isaiah, hopefully we’ll get a good blend of both of their minutes.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is all too familiar with Canaan’s abilities. Stevens recalled coaching against the guard when he was a freshman at Murray State.

“He almost knocked us out of the (NCAA) tournament,” said Stevens. “He was 4-for-4 as a freshman from 3, which is really hard to do, and we ended up winning by two when he was a freshman at Murray State and we moved on to the Sweet 16. From that point on, you knew he was a really talented player.”

When asked to give a short scouting report on Canaan, Stevens replied, “He’s always been able to get his shot off from deep. He’s good at getting a rhythm with the ball or catching and shooting off the ball, so we’re going to have to be out there on his catches.”

Boston will also need to be prepared to face another Rocket at the point: James Harden. Harden is one of the league’s premier shooting guards but he is fully capable of running Houston’s offense. Stevens recognizes that the potential of seeing Harden at two different positions is a lot to prepare for.

“Obviously, Harden at the 1 is a problem. Harden at the 2 is a problem,” Stevens said. “He’s one of the best players in the league.”

Regardless of how great Harden is, or how good Canaan and Terry are, the Rockets will be missing something tonight. When asked what his team would miss most without Beverley’s services, McHale didn’t even touch upon scoring or defense. He talked about the presence Beverley brings to the table.

“Just feistiness,” McHale said, “and Patrick’s just general overall attitude that he likes to play basketball and comes to get into it with you and is not afraid to scrap.”

He won’t be scrapping tonight. Instead, it will be the likes of Canaan and Terry who face off against Rajon Rondo. Those are matchups that are clearly in Boston’s favor.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, October 19 - Celtics at Nets

Pregame - James Young Could Return on Tuesday

NEW YORK - Celtics fans may soon get another taste of what rookie James Young brings to the table.

Young has been sidelined since Oct. 7 with a strained left calf and will not play today against the Brooklyn Nets. He has yet to be cleared for full basketball activities, but head coach Brad Stevens says that green light could be coming soon.

“We probably won’t go live in practice tomorrow and then we’ll go live Tuesday,” Stevens said. “Hopefully that progression allows him to do that by Tuesday.”

Young will be playing a serious game of catch up once he is cleared. To this point, he has participated in only five practices and one preseason game. He’s been forced to learn Boston’s schemes from the sideline for the past two weeks, and as Stevens notes, that isn’t an easy way to transition into the NBA.

“It’s usually very difficult to learn while you’re sitting there, no matter how engaged you are,” said Stevens. “It’s the old adage, ‘You can show somebody or you can tell them what to do, but they have to go out there and do it.’”

Stevens went on to note that even a veteran like Rajon Rondo will experience a learning curve once he returns from his injury. That curve will be exponentially greater for a rookie like Young.

Regardless of how daunting Young’s learning curve may be, it will be great to see him back on the court. He teased all of us on Oct. 6 when he scored 10 points in less than 20 minutes of action during Boston’s preseason opener. It’s about time to get another taste of what he can add to this team.

- Marc D'Amico

Thursday, October 16 - Celtics at 76ers

Pregame - Stevens: Sixers "The Best" in the League?

You look at the Philadelphia 76ers and see an inexperienced team that went 19-63 last season.

Brad Stevens looks at the Philadelphia 76ers and sees a legitimate challenge.

“The Sixers are one of, if not the best, cutting team in the league,” Stevens said prior to tonight’s 7 p.m. tip-off. “They fly up the court. They cut as hard as anybody else in the league off of both the post and off of hand-backs off the pinch-post.”

Philadelphia’s style of offense is difficult to handle, particularly for this Celtics team. Stevens recognizes that his crew dropped three of its four meetings against the Sixers last season.

“We really struggled with it last year,” the coach admitted. “We were better with it in exhibition game one. Doing it in your first exhibition game is different than when you’ve now played four, five or six and games are starting to run together.”

Stevens has commented over the past week that his team’s defense has improved. It did play well against Philly on Oct. 6, limiting the Sixers to just 78 points on 40.3 percent shooting. In order to succeed at that end again tonight, Stevens will need his players to be alert at all times.

“We’re going to have to play in a stance and be ready to be picked on even if you’re three passes away against them,” commented Stevens.

That’s a long-term lesson. Stevens and the Celtics want to be a great defensive team tonight and throughout the entire season. The only way to do that, especially against these Sixers, is to have all five players consistently operate as one.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, October 15 - Raptors at Celtics

Pregame - Stevens Reveals New Starting Lineup

Jeff Green’s return to game action will result in Brad Stevens using his third starting lineup of the preseason during tonight’s game against Toronto.

This lineup may catch some by surprise.

Green, who missed Boston’s first four preseason games with a strained left calf, is right back in his regular role as the team’s starting small forward. Many expected the man who filled in for him during his absence, Evan Turner, to be bumped out of the starting group as a result. Such is not the case.

Stevens rattled off the following five players when naming his starting group: Evan Turner, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. That list means that Marcus Smart will come off of the bench after starting at point guard over Boston’s first four games of the preseason.

This should be a good thing for the Celtics in the long term, and for a couple of reasons. The C’s will finally get a look at how Green and Turner work together on the court in a live game situation. Heck, Stevens hasn’t even seen them paired up on the practice court since Green returned to action on Monday.

”We didn’t go live yesterday and we went in some small segments on Monday. We’re just doing a lot of technique work,” Stevens said. “That’s what we’ll find out (Green and Turner’s synergy) tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Smart will move to the bench and log minutes with the second unit. That’s the group he’ll spend a lot of time with during the regular season once Rajon Rondo returns to the lineup. This move will give him an opportunity to build chemistry with guys who he hasn’t spent a bunch of time with on the court, all while providing Turner with the playing time he has earned.

Pregame - Stevens Speaks on Experimental 44-minute Game

The NBA announced on Tuesday that the Celtics will play an experimental 44-minute game against the Nets at 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. Wednesday’s pregame availability in Portland, Maine, was the media’s first crack at speaking to Brad Stevens about the contest.

Stevens and the rest of the league’s coaches discussed the idea at the most recent NBA coaches’ meeting. The idea took off from there when Stevens began chatting with Nets head coach Lionel Hollins.

“Lionel and I talked a little bit about it and we both said, ‘Hey, we’re playing three straight times. It’s something that if we’re both interested in doing it, why not try it?’” Stevens said, alluding to the fact that the C’s and Nets will meet in their final two preseason contests and on Opening Night. “So we presented that to the NBA, and so we’re excited about trying it.”

Boston’s coach sees both ends of the spectrum when it comes to evaluating the experiment. He does acknowledge that the four-minute decrease will affect the game on some level.

“I think the only con that I can think of would be how it affects the rotation players,” Stevens said. “Obviously you can play guys any amount of minutes – nobody in the league averages 44 minutes. You can play your best players the same amount of time. Does that affect your sixth through 10th guys? That would be the only con that I can think of.”

On the positive end, employing 44-minute games throughout the season would greatly minimize the toll each player’s body is put through during the season.

“Obviously, it has to be done with the idea and consideration in mind of having enough advertising time and the timeouts and the flow of the game and those type of things,” said Stevens, “but as far as you play 6.8 less games per year, you end up saving 13 hours throughout the course of the year if you think that’s a 15-minute chunk of the game.”

Many have been baffled by the upcoming experiment, but Stevens is not in that group. He loves the fact that the NBA is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the curve.

“I think one of the neat things about being in the NBA is that they’re very forward-thinking,” Stevens said. “I think one of the frustrations about being involved in any major, major industry is how slow change can happen. I’m really encouraged because the NBA seems to be really quick to try things and to see if it works.”

It won’t take us long to find out. We’ll see you Sunday from Brooklyn.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, April 2 - Celtics at Wizards

Pregame - Starting vs. Coming Off Bench? "Not a Big Deal"

Is it really that big of a big deal whether a player consistently starts or comes off of the bench? Brad Stevens sure doesn’t think so.

“The difference between starting and coming off of the bench is – I know it’s a big deal to some people, but it’s not a big deal in the big scheme of things,” Stevens said before Boston’s matchup with Washington. “You’re either ready to play or you’re not, no matter when your time comes.”

Stevens discussed the topic after he revealed that he still does not know whether or not Avery Bradley will play in tonight’s game. Bradley, who is dealing with tendinitis in his right Achilles, will attempt to loosen up before the game and will be a game-time decision.

Bradley’s availability will make a major impact on the role of Jerryd Bayless. Bayless will come off the bench if Bradley can play, but he will shift into the starting lineup if Bradley is unavailable.

To the credit of Bayless, he has been incredibly consistent for Boston whether or not he has started or come off of the bench. He has shot 42.6 percent from the field and scored 13.6 points per 36 minutes during 26 games off the bench with the C’s. The numbers haven’t changed much during his 11 games as a starter, which featured a field goal percentage of 41.8 percent 15.9 points per 36 minutes. Stevens credits Bayless’ ability to adjust on the fly to his high level of professionalism.

“I think Jerryd is a good pro,” said Stevens. “… Jerryd is a guy that when we get here (to Washington, D.C.) last night, he finds a gym to shoot in and takes guys with him. That’s not all that common, and I think that that’s something that’s a real positive. That’s a guy that just wants to be ready for his time regardless of if he’s starting or coming off the bench.”

Interestingly enough, we’re less than an hour away from tip-off and Bayless still doesn’t know whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench. Fortunately that final decision, whenever it happens to be made, won’t be too big of a deal to him or his coach.

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, March 31 - Celtics at Bulls

Pregame - So Many Close Games, So Many Close Losses

If it feels like you’ve watched the Celtics drop a lot of close games this season, it’s because you have.

Boston’s close-game struggles were a hot topic prior to tonight’s matchup between the Celtics and Bulls in Chicago. A reporter noted that Boston has lost 17 games by six or fewer points, and Brad Stevens followed that up by pointing out that his team has dropped 29 games that were decided by three possessions or less.

“I think we’re 15-29 in three-possession games,” Stevens said, “and that’s frustrating because you have a shot.”

Unfortunately for Boston, it hasn’t capitalized on that shot very often. Stevens gave his opinion as to why that is the case.

“I think one of the things we’ve just got to get better at is No. 1, trying to put yourself in position all the way through to be in better shape,” he said.

Stevens is referencing his team’s penchant for falling behind by double-digits and then climbing uphill in the fourth quarter. The Celtics have trailed by at least 14 points in three of their last four losses and used individual scoring spurts to get back into each contest.

Such was not the case last night. Boston and Chicago played a close game throughout, with neither team leading by more than seven points at any stage of the contest. Still, the Celtics fell in yet another a close game by a score of 107-102. Stevens believes his team dropped this one due to poor execution in crunch time.

“In games like last night where you’re playing a top three or top four team in the East… you’ve got to play really physically and really detail-oriented at the end,” said Stevens. “We did at times, we didn’t at times, and it hurt us when we didn’t. You’ve got to do it all the way through.”

Boston’s inability to do so has left it with 29 losses by three possessions or less. That’s 29 games that the team could have easily won. Just imagine where they’d be had they been able to win even half of those contests. They’d legitimately be in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, March 21 - Celtics at Nets

Pregame - Stevens: 'Be Great at What You Do Well'

There is one goal during a season in which the playoffs become a long shot: develop.

That word is at the forefront of the minds of the Celtics front office and coaching staff, particularly now that the C’s have been all but eliminated from playoff contention.

Brad Stevens gave us a look into his interesting angle on development prior to Friday night’s matchup with the Nets. He revealed that he doesn’t necessarily want his guys to add additional talents to their arsenal. His plan is much more simply than that.

“Be great at what you do well, first and foremost,” said Stevens. “Your strengths have to stand out. Your strengths have to be perfected.”

With 69 games of NBA coaching experience under his belt, Stevens has a pretty good idea of what it takes to be successful in this league, both from a player and team standpoint. He detoured from discussing his own players to share his views of great players and great teams throughout the NBA.

“I look across the league at some of these really good teams and these great players,” he said, “and you give a guy that shoots 18-footers an 18-footer, he makes it every time. Every single time. You give a guy an open 3 and he makes it every single time. That’s what the great teams do.”

When Stevens thinks about the development of his players, that level of play is exactly what he envisions.

“If you’re a good shooter, become a great one. If you’re a good ball handler, become a great one,” Stevens said. “Yes, [our players] have added some things to their repertoire, but I think at the end of the day, sometimes less is more.”

Stevens was asked about how some of his players have come along in that light and he responded with the following feedback.

“I think we all forget that (Jared) Sullinger only played 40 games last year and some of the things that he’s done both statistically and – the other day he had some great defensive possessions – are really critical moving forward,” said Stevens. “Obviously Avery Bradley with his shooting. We feel like he’s continued to grow and get better, and I think really on down the line you can point to each guy and say there’s one or two things that they’re a lot better at.”

The coach also singled out Kelly Olynyk by saying that the rookie big man has “played really well in the past few weeks” and that he is “really taking advantage of the time” that he’s on the court.

Back in September and October, these were statements that Stevens dreamed of making by the end of the season. Now he’s able to make them from an honest stance.

The Celtics entered this season with an eye on the future and developing their top players. Despite all of the losses, Stevens’ words would seem to indicate that the team is very happy with how far their guys have come.

- Marc D'Amico

Monday, March 17 - Celtics at Mavericks

Pregame - Stevens Has 'Fun' Preparing for Dirk

The Boston Celtics allowed one of the greatest young players in the game, Anthony Davis, to pile up a 40-point, 21 rebound performance against them last night in New Orleans.

Now they have to attempt to contain one of the greatest players of all time, Dirk Nowitzki, tonight in Dallas.

Sounds like fun, right? Brad Stevens certainly thinks so.

“It’s fun for me to prepare for those guys,” Stevens said while discussing Nowitzki. “It should be fun for our younger players to prepare for him, because it gives them something to shoot for. Because Dirk’s among the elite of the elite, and that’s a small group of people.”

But as Stevens also went on to note, “The preparation is the preparation. Guarding him is a whole other story.”

Much like Tim Duncan down the road in San Antonio, Nowitzki is showing no signs of slowing down. He has a legit shot at attaining the first career 50/40/90 shooting season of his career this season and is averaging a team-best 21.4 points per game this season.

No one in their right mind would look forward to the task of defending this guy, because doing so is oftentimes rendered useless. Nowitzki’s size and length allow him to get his shot off at will.

“He is one of the best, a lot like Carmelo (Anthony) – they’re probably the two best – at creating shots without a dribble in isolation situations,” said Stevens. “They just kind of shake, they shake you, they shake you. They threaten to dribble, and then Dirk raises up off of his left foot. And you can talk about it, you can watch it, you can see it. If he gets that inch, he’s getting it off.”

That doesn’t sound like much fun if you’re on the defensive end of that business. Stevens and his guys have had fun preparing for Davis and now Nowitzki, but as the coach said, actually guarding them is a whole other story.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, March 16 - Celtics at Pelicans

Pregame - Stevens Raves About Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis might have his biggest fan in the building tonight to watch him take on the Boston Celtics.

Coincidentally, that fan happens to be the head coach of the visiting team.

Brad Stevens spent a large portion of his pregame press conference gushing about Davis and how dominant the second-year big man has become in such a short period of time.

“Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the league, and that happened very quickly,” Stevens said. “It’s just a fact. He’s getting better every time I turn on the film. Thirty-six points the other night. He’s dominant off the block. He’s dominant in the high post. He’s dominant rolling to the rim.”

In other words, as Stevens succinctly summed up, “He’s scary good.”

It would be hard to disagree with that assessment when considering Davis’ recent stretch of play. The big man has averaged 30.8 points per game, 13.0 rebounds per game and 3.0 blocks per game over his last five contests. He’s coming off of a 36-point performance Friday night, and a week ago he grabbed 17 rebounds while blocking six shots.

As these numbers would indicate, Davis is impacting the game at an MVP level at both ends of the court. The fact that he is dominating games with his defense comes as no surprise. Everyone knew that would happen after he entered the league last season. The offensive power he has brought to the table, however, wasn’t necessarily expected.

“Probably didn’t realize that he was going to become as skilled as he would off the block and 18 feet from the basket as he is right now,” Stevens said, “and he’ll continue to extend that range out. He’s got a beautiful stroke.”

Stevens, who also spent some time reminiscing with reporters about Selection Sunday and his NCAA tournament memories, spoke about how highly he thought of Davis while the forward was at Kentucky. Boston’s coach got an up-close look at Davis’ abilities during the 2012 Final Four.

“The last time I was in New Orleans was the (2012) Final Four, and it’s the only Final Four that I went to as a head coach that I went to the games that I wasn’t in,” Stevens recalled. “I sat there and watched Anthony Davis and was like, ‘Oh my goodness. If there’s an obvious impact guy in the NBA, it’s him.’”

Two years later, Stevens and Davis are back in this building yet again. Stevens is still a big fan of Davis, but the coach certainly isn’t looking forward to playing against him.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, January 28 - Celtics at Knicks

Pregame - Rondo Nearing Another Step in Comeback

Rajon Rondo has made impressive strides since he returned to game action on Jan. 17 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Brad Stevens thinks his star point guard may be on the verge of taking another important step in his recovery from last year’s ACL surgery.

“We haven’t talked about it yet, but I don’t think he’s definitely out tomorrow,” Stevens said, speaking of Boston’s game against Philadelphia tomorrow night at TD Garden. “So that might be the next stride that we make.”

That isn’t a guarantee that Rondo will play Wednesday night, but the possibility is clearly open. That would be a big step for both Rondo and the Celtics as he continues to make important checkmarks on his to-do list.

Boston has held Rondo out of back-to-back games since his return to the lineup. He missed Wednesday’s 113-111 overtime win over the Wizards. This news, coupled with the fact that Rondo just played 30 minutes against Brooklyn on Sunday, indicates that the point guard is inching closer and closer to unrestricted playing time.

Reaching that milestone will put Rondo’s mind at ease. As Stevens noted before tonight’s game, these restrictions have prevented No. 9 from catching a groove on the court.

“It’s hard to play those five-minute intervals and get any rhythm or routine,” said Stevens.

Thankfully, Rondo’s five-minute intervals have quickly gone by the wayside. His minute totals looked like this after his first five games of the season: 19, 21, 26, 22, 30. Rondo’s minutes continue to increase and so do his numbers.

“I thought the other day, part of the reason he played better was he got a better rhythm,” Stevens said, referring to Rondo’s 13-point, eight-rebound, eight assist performance against Brooklyn. “So hopefully we can play him seven to eight minutes a quarter and feel better.”

Rondo has almost said sayonara to playing restricted minutes. Come tomorrow, he may say goodbye to sitting out back-to-backs as well.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, January 22 - Celtics at Wizards

Pregame - C's To Play with Short-Handed Backcourt

Brad Stevens said before tonight’s game that there has been a “changing of the guard” in Boston’s locker room due to their recent string of injuries.

His pun was likely unintentional, but it was spot on.

Boston will be playing tonight’s game without Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless. Rondo is sitting out for precautionary reasons in the second night of Boston’s back-to-back, Bradley is fresh off of a sprained right ankle, and Bayless continues to recover from a left big toe injury suffered Sunday night in Orlando.

Who does that leave in Boston’s backcourt? Well, you might know one of the guys. His name is Phil Pressey and he has been a fantastic assist man for Boston thus far in his rookie season. The other two guards the Celtics have at their disposal, Chris Johnson and Vander Blue, are in the midst of 10-day contracts with the team.

That trio of guards is a far cry from what the Celtics ran onto the floor Friday night against the Lakers. A changing of the guard, to say the least.

Stevens told reporters that he plans to insert Gerald Wallace into the starting lineup, shifting Jeff Green over to the starting shooting guard spot. That change will help to eat up some of the team’s minutes at shooting guard but Stevens still must figure out his point guard situation.

Pressey stands as the only available point guard for tonight’s game. Stevens explained that he is still trying to figure out how he’s going to handle the point guard position tonight.

“How we’ll manage the minutes at the point guard situation tonight, I’m not exactly sure,” Stevens said. “That may be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants call, but I’ve got a few things in mind depending on how the game goes and who they’re playing.

“You never know how we’ll decide to go with that,” he continued, “and I’d be lying to say that I could map it out right now. I’m going to go with my gut as we go through it. Today is a lot more about feel than it is about anything proven.”

There’s no doubt that the Celtics would be happy to have Rondo, Bradley and Bayless available tonight. They’re three of the better players on this team. The C’s do, however, feel confident in what Johnson and Blue bring to the table.

“Chris was unbelievable last night. I mean really, really, really good. Not just serviceable.” Stevens said, referencing Johnson’s 11-point, three-rebound performance in Miami. “He played great on both ends of the floor, so you hope that that can continue.”

The coach then gave a quick scouting report on Blue, who placed against Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs during his time at Marquette.

“Vander is a tough kid. Vander is a guy who is a competitor,” said Stevens. “You look around the league and a lot of those Marquette guys have done really well in the league. You look at the (Wesley) Matthews and the (Jimmy) Butlers and that. I think he kind of fits that mold of a tough guy.”

Stevens then touched on Blue’s scoring ability – he just dropped 35 points in a D-League game on Monday – and what he brings to the table as a defender.

“He manufactures points in different ways. His shooting percentages were never the greatest, although he shot about 70 percent against me last year,” Stevens said. “And he’s a tough defender. He can get into the ball and is a good athlete.”

Stevens would not guarantee that Blue would make it onto the floor but it’s almost a given considering how short-handed Boston is in the backcourt. There is no Rondo, Bradley or Bayless, but there is Pressey, Johnson and Blue.

A changing of the guard, indeed.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, January 21 - Celtics at Heat

Pregame - Stevens Calls Pressey "The Guy"

Phil Pressey probably didn’t expect to be called “the guy” during his rookie season in Boston. In fact, no one probably expected that to happen after the 5-foot-11 point guard went undrafted out of Missouri.

Well, Brad Stevens had a surprise for everyone prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Miami Heat.

“You look at our roster right now and with (Rajon) Rondo with minute limitations and with Jerryd (Bayless) out, Phil is the guy,” Stevens said. “If Rondo plays 24 minutes, Phil is probably going to at least play the other 24 and maybe some with him.”

In any normal instance, it would probably be a bad thing for an NBA team to be leaning on a 5-foot-11, undrafted point guard for heavy minutes in January. Thing is, Pressey is anything but normal.

The speedy guard has been fantastic during his rookie season and put up the third-highest assist-to-turnover ratio (3.76) in the NBA among point guards who have played in at least 10 games. He started for the first time in his NBA career six days ago and opened up the record books. Pressey notched 10 assists while not committing a turnover in that game, something that hadn’t been done by a rookie point guard since Armond Hill (11 assists) did it on Jan. 28, 1977, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Talk about impressive. Pressey has proven to be a steal for the Celtics, a player who can orchestrate the offense despite all of his shortcomings (pun intended).

“He gets that thing moving pretty well,” Stevens said. “He plays with great pace, just generally. It’s kind of who he is. He’s a little guy and he’s figured out ways to be successful in a big person’s game.”

There is just one more thing Pressey needs to do to establish himself as one of the top up-and-coming point guards in the league, and that is to establish his shot. Pressey has been passive in his shot selection. His coach, who has seen way more of Pressey than any of us outsiders have. wants to see that change.

“Phil puts in a lot of hours. Phil is probably in our practice facility as much as anyone on our team,” Stevens said of his rookie floor general. “I expect it (his shot) to go in. I think the biggest thing is, for him to pass up an open 3 to take a one-dribble pull-up… take the open 3. Step into it with a great deal of confidence and let it fly, because everybody on the bench expects you to let it fly.”

Pressey has shown plenty of confidence in his passing abilities during this early stage of his NBA career. Now it’s time to knock down those open jumpers. With the playing time he’s expected to receive tonight, he should have plenty of opportunities to fulfill his coach’s wish.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, January 19 - Celtics at Magic

Pregame - Matchups are at the Forefront of Tonight's Game

There is one word you hear more than all others during the NBA playoffs: matchups. We aren’t in the playoffs on Jan. 19, but that didn’t prevent Brad Stevens from discussing some matchup issues the Orlando Magic will pose tonight.

Orlando will be missing its starting center, Nikola Vucevic, tonight. He’ll be missing his seventh consecutive contest since suffering a concussion on Jan. 6. His absence drastically changes the Magic’s lineup and rotation.

The Magic list their probable starters as Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris and Glen Davis. That’s small ball at its core, with three guards, a small forward and a power forward. Stevens discussed the challenges that three-guard lineup could cause for Boston tonight.

“Afflalo is a bear, the way he’s scoring it,” Stevens said. “Nelson and Oladipo and Afflalo, any of those guys could go for 25-plus a night. That makes it very difficult.

Stevens noted that he has a plan as to how he’ll defend the Magic, but that he may alter that based on how Orlando’s guards perform.

“You start a certain way which you think might fit best, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to change throughout the course of the night,” said Stevens. “You just have to be flexible. Sometimes if one of those guys gets going, even if the other two aren’t, you want to make a change just to kind of slow him down and break a rhythm.”

The most probable player out of that group to pour in 25-plus points has to be Arron Afflalo, who comes into tonight’s game with a scoring average of 20.9 points per game. He’ll start at small forward, which means Jeff Green will have the responsibility of defending him. That will certainly be a unique matchup for Green that could give the Magic an advantage when they’re on offense.

“[Green’s] got to guard a really good player, but he’s got to make sure, maybe more so than some of the 3s he’s guarded, he’s got to be there on the catch, though Afflalo is very good in the post,” Stevens said. “It will be interesting to see how they play them, if they decide to go that way, but I certainly think that’s an advantage to have all three of those guys out there on the court.”

The difficult matchups don’t end there. Orlando also has a stable of big men who possess an inside-outside game. Stevens touched on those players as well.

“With that rotation on the frontline with Harris, Davis, (Andrew) Nicholson, (Kyle) O’Quinn, those guys, you have all skilled guys that can make shots,” said Stevens. “You do have some matchup problems the other way, because a guy like Harris, who is probably more of a traditional 3, can do a lot of things to put your 4s in a bad position.”

We may not be minutes away from tipping off a playoff game, but matchups remain the name of the game. Matchups are what make this game so great. One team says, “This is what we bring to the table.” Then the other team says, “Well this is how we’re going to stop it.”

We’ll see if the Celtics can figure out a way to counter this unique Magic lineup tonight.

- Marc D'Amico

Tuesday, December 10 - Celtics at Nets

Pregame - Pierce Will Play; Coaches Discuss Emotions

It’s official: Paul Pierce will play his first regular-season game against the Boston Celtics tonight.

Nets head coach Jason Kidd announced before tonight’s game that Pierce, returning from a broken right hand, will return to the lineup tonight and come off of the bench for Brooklyn. Pierce hinted at the possibility of coming off of the bench on Monday, and Kidd explained tonight why he’s turning that possibility into reality.

“One, to get him comfortable with the glove,” Kidd said, referring to the protective glove that Pierce will be wearing on his shooting hand. “Two, there’s no reason to push him to the starting lineup. I want him to get a feel of the glove.”

The fact that Pierce is coming off of the bench does not change the storyline of this game. He is playing his first regular-season game against the Celtics, and Kevin Garnett will play his first game against Boston since March 4, 2007. They will surely be hit with some form of emotion when they take the floor tonight. Kidd revealed the advice he gave to his two future Hall of Famers as they head into tonight’s game.

“To breathe and to relax and to enjoy the moment,” said Kidd. “It will probably be, for Paul or for KG, a period of reflection of what they accomplished in Boston and winning the championship. And then being the competitors they are, they’ll be ready to play.”

While Kidd expects that period of reflection, Brad Stevens thinks his players have clear minds heading into this contest. He was asked if he sensed any extra emotions or energy from his group prior to his pregame press conference, and he replied with a very short answer: “No.”

Stevens did follow up that one-word answer with an inside look at the emotional – or, emotionless – side of the Celtics.

“They’re not a huge rah-rah group, generally,” Stevens explained. “They’re pretty business-like. They’ve pretty much been normal. When you first get together (in training camp), you don’t know how to read that, and now I just think that’s who they are. And I like that, because it’s pretty business-like.”

That might be the perfect approach for a game like this one. The Celtics and Nets, two teams that pulled off a blockbuster trade on July 12, will meet for the first time this season at 7:30 p.m. And contrary to what we all thought a week ago, Paul Pierce will be on the floor… at some point.

- Marc D'Amico

Sunday, December 8 - Celtics at Knicks

Pregame - Anthony, Knicks Pose Great Challenge for C's D

You don’t have to tell Brad Stevens that he and the Celtics face a hefty task today in trying to contain Carmelo Anthony. He knows that full well.

“I think he’s a really difficult challenge,” Stevens said before today’s afternoon matinee. “I think he’s one of the few handful of players in the league where you go into the game knowing that you’re probably going to have to put two guys on him at some point or bring another guy to him at some point.”

The Celtics haven’t faced off against many players this season who are on that “I Command Double-Teams” list. Of the players on that list, Boston has only seen LeBron James, James Harden and Paul George. In other words, the C’s haven’t had much practice with double-teams and traps on athletic wings.

So the question looms: What is Stevens’ comfort level with using these aggressive defensive schemes?

“Fine,” he said to that question. “But your comfort level is never good with that, because if you have to do it, there’s a reason. Again, you’re picking your poison. So if you have to bring two (defenders) to the ball, you’re creating something, and that’s because of your respect for the individual player.”

What Stevens means by “creating something” is that his defense would be opening up a shot for someone other player if it double-teams Anthony. That has been a dangerous situation against this Knicks team of late. Anthony’s teammates have been torching opponents over the past two games.

“I think if you have to bring two to [Anthony], which is a problem, which has to happen a lot in a lot of games,” Stevens said, “then you’ve got guys like (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.) and (J.R.) Smith who go 10-for-14 in the last game or 10-for-16 in the last game, and now you’ve got an issue. All of those guys are very capable shooters.”

Yep, this is one heck of a defensive challenge for the Boston Celtics. The good news is that they understand that and have been preparing for it over the two days.

- Marc D'Amico

Saturday, November 9 - Celtics at Heat

Pregame - Stevens Discusses Preparing for LeBron

Brad Stevens has had a lot of firsts over the past few months. This one has to be the most unpleasant one yet.

Stevens has spent the past 24 hours preparing for the game’s greatest player, LeBron James. James is coming off of his second consecutive MVP and Finals MVP season. The C’s will do their best to contain him, but accomplishing that goal is quite the feat.

I asked Stevens before tonight’s game what it has been like preparing for James for the first time in his coaching career. His answer said it all.

“Unenjoyable... might be the right word?” Stevens said after struggling to come up with the most appropriate term. “He’s the best player on the planet right now, and at the end of the day that makes it really hard to guard. He’s a great combination of skill and strength and speed, and then on top of that he’s got to be in the top few players in the world in savvy. He’s really a special player.”

James would be difficult to defend in any setting, but when he’s on the floor with this Heat team that challenge becomes even greater. As Stevens mentioned, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has created the perfect offense for James and his teammates.

“The other thing that sometimes goes without being said is how good their system is for all of those guys,” Stevens said. “[Speolstra’s] really done a great job of coaching that team and putting them in position to just take advantage of their strengths and play basketball, but also a really organized setup for what would usually be an undersized team in the league to be an absolute nightmare to guard.”

That nightmare will become a reality tonight for Stevens and the Celtics. However, they might have a weapon to make that nightmare a bit less frightening.

Brandon Bass has been very successful in defending James in the past. He hasn’t shut James down, but he has made life very difficult on the four-time MVP. Stevens let it be known that Bass will be tasked with defending James yet again tonight.

“Obviously [Bass is] a guy that’s going to see some time on LeBron, as are other people,” said Stevens. “I think Brandon Bass is a versatile defender and I think that makes our team better.”

The question is, does he make the Celtics good enough to take down the defending champs? If the answer is yes, that would make Stevens’ first matchup with James quite memorable.

- Marc D'Amico

Friday, November 8 - Celtics at Magic

Pregame - Stevens Says Pressey Can Learn from Nelson

There is always a ripple down effect when a lineup change occurs for an NBA team. In Boston’s instance, Jordan Crawford’s insertion into the starting lineup doesn’t only affect him, it also touches the rest of the starters and trickles down to the bench.

One of the players who’s affected the most is rookie point guard Phil Pressey. Pressey hadn’t played in Boston’s first four games of the season. When Brad Stevens shook up the lineup on Wednesday with Crawford as the starting point guard, it meant that Pressey was in line for his first regular season appearance as a pro.

Pressey is now the point guard for the second unit. He played 17 minutes Wednesday night and finished with two points, three assists, one steal and no turnovers. He played well, and Stevens now has confidence in both Pressey and that new second unit.

Confidence, however, won’t make Pressey any taller. The point guard went undrafted out of Missouri for a reason, which is his height. Pressey stands at just 5-foot-11.

He has managed to make it this far by figuring out a way to overcome that disadvantage at every level. Stevens believes that Pressey can continue to figure out ways to be successful at the NBA level.

“Obviously, he’s going to run into some matchups that are tough for him, simply because of size,” Stevens said before tonight’s game in Orlando. “But he has to use size to his advantage. We always talked about that when I was at Butler, was just using your leverage to your advantage if you’re a smaller guy. So he’s going to have to do that, because he’s going to play.”

Ironically, someone who will be on the other sideline tonight is a perfect example for Pressey to look up to. Nelson came into the league in 2004 at a 6-foot point guard out of Saint Joseph’s. That height hasn’t deterred him one bit, as he has made an All-Star team and been a consistent performer for the past decade.

“I like Jameer Nelson, and I have since college,” said Stevens. “He’s always struck me as a winner. He’s always struck me as a competitive guy. To play in this league and be as effective in this league at that size as he is, it tells you, No. 1, he’s really quick and really fast, and No. 2 is he has a great mindset and some great stuff about him.”

Stevens continued that statement by comparing Nelson and Pressey.

“Phil does too,” he said. “Phil is much younger in this process, and Jameer may have been even a little bit more ready from a body and physical standpoint when he came in the league, but he can certainly learn from him.”

Pressey will get a first-hand opportunity to watch and learn from Nelson tonight. Maybe even in a one-on-one setting.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, October 30 - Celtics at Raptors

Pregame - Stevens Tossed Faverani into Starting Lineup

Brad Stevens finally announced his starting lineup for Boston’s season opener tonight. It’s not the one that started the final game of the Celtics’ preseason, but it’s pretty darn close.

Stevens is calling on Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass and rookie Vitor Faverani to start tonight’s game. Bass is the only change from the final preseason game, as he replaces Kelly Olynyk at power forward.

The story of this group, however, is Faverani, who will be starting in his NBA debut. Stevens chose Faverani after his phenomenal exhibition performance against Brooklyn on October 23 that included 15 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots.

“I think we need some size and length, whether it be Vitor or Kelly, in our starting lineup,” Stevens said before tonight’s game. “I think that showed itself in a few of those exhibition games at the start of those games. It’s throwing a young guy out there in an NBA opener on the floor right out of the game, but like we talked about this morning, he’s been a pro for a long time and he’s experienced some great environments. So better soon than never.”

In his first NBA game, Faverani will be faced with a difficult task. He’ll need to keep up with Jonas Valanciunas, who has shown vast improvement during his young career.

“I think Valanciunas is a very, very good second year pro,” Stevens said. “He looks like he’s very much trending upward.”

But it’s not like Valanciunas is in a totally different class than Faverani. Stevens likes what he’s seen out of his big man, too.

“I think V is a good player, and we’ll see whether or not (he can contain Valanciunas),” commented Stevens.

On top of being a good player, Faverani is also an experienced player despite the fact that he’s an NBA rookie.

“I think the most important part is he’s been through a lot,” the coach said of his starting center. “He has been a pro. He’s played in great environments, like I said, but he also understands how pros operate, how they take care of their bodies, what the season’s like. Even though he hasn’t been through an NBA season, he’s been through quite a bit.”

Tonight, however, will be different. Faverani is starting for the Boston Celtics in their season opener against some of the most talented players in the world. Add this storyline to the intrigue of Opening Night.

- Marc D'Amico

Wednesday, October 30 - 2013-14 Season Begins

Celtics Tip Off Season in Toronto

The Celtics will tip off their 2013-14 regular season campaign against the Toronto Raptors on October 30. Stay tuned to the Ford Post Ups Notebook for game night updates throughout the season.