It was a bit of shock in 2013 when Brad Stevens was hired to be the new head coach of the Boston Celtics. Stevens was never around the professional game as he had spent the previous six years as the men’s head basketball coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Stevens would have immense success at Butler as he complied a record of 166-49 which was highlighted by a pair of trips to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament. During Stevens’ time at Butler, he stayed loyal to the school as he he turned down bigger collegiate jobs, but you knew that there would come a point when he could not say no which happened when the Celtics came calling.
In Stevens’s first season with the Celtics, the team suffered through their worst season since 2007 as they managed to only go 25-57. It was a learning process for both Stevens and the Celtics that season, but team general manager Danny Ainge has made the right move in hiring the guy with the baby face.
Last season the Celtics made a 15-game improvement in the win column as they earned a playoff berth. The Celtics would be swept by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, but they were in each game of that first-round playoff series which is a staple of Stevens coached teams.
This year Stevens and the Celtics have continued to build as they’ve once again eclipsed their win total from the previous NBA season. Boston currently has a record of 44-32 which is good enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference while they were able to add a huge feather in their cap last night.
The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of having a magical season as they are on pace to break the NBA record for most victories in a season which is held by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who went 72-10. On top of that the Warriors won their first 36 home games as they are seeking to tie the 1985-1986 Celtics who went 40-1 at the Boston Garden.
The Celtics would travel to the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California last night for a meeting with the Warriors. But as it appeared to be just another night at the office for the Warriors who have been a runaway freight train this season, somebody forgot to mention that to the Celtics.
Whereas some teams have been in awe of the Warriors this year, the Celtics weren’t as they went blow-for-blow with the defending NBA Champions for 48 minutes. Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who is the team’s leading scorer at 22.3 per game was held scoreless in the first half by the Warriors which would typically symbolize that Boston was in trouble. But in spite of Thomas’ struggles, the Celtics took a 45-43 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Thomas wouldn’t stay quiet for long as he finished the game with 22 points while staying step-for-step with Warriors point guard Steph Curry who is the reigning NBA MVP. Curry was still able to manage 29 points, but Thomas is a guard that is quick enough to hang with him while also making him work on the defensive end of the floor. And when the game finished, the Celtics were able to do what the Warriors first 36 opponents at home this NBA season were unable to do which was to leave Oakland victorious.
The same coaching style that Stevens had at Butler has been able to translate to the NBA while he has also adjusted to the professional game. At Butler, Stevens’ teams were always scrappy at both ends of the floor as they never gave up which is the same case for the Celtics. At Butler, there was never a player that thought that he was bigger than the team as everyone bought in to what Stevens was selling which is the same case for the Celtics. But at the same time Stevens has made a smooth transition to the professional game as he treats his players as men which can be difficult for a coach who has only been at the collegiate level to do.
In three years under Stevens, the Celtics have gone from a team that appeared to have a rather lengthy rebuilding process on their hands, to a group that nobody wants to play. Ainge has been very solid in the rebuild of the Celtics as he has built this current Celtics team and the best is yet to come for this organization.
In what could be one of the most lopsided trades in professional sports history, Ainge orchestrated a nine-player trade that included the Celtics sending power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. As a part of the Celtics compensation, they would receive three first-round picks from the Nets with one of those picks in this year’s NBA Draft. And once you factor in that the Nets have one of the worst records in the NBA this season, the Celtics stand to find themselves a top-tier player to bring to their team which could also look promising to potential free agents over the next few summers as well.
But this current Celtics team has a group of scrappy players that includes Thomas, point guard Avery Bradley, and small forward Jae Crowder who are the teams three leading scorers. And whereas this Celtics team might be undersized, they make up for it in the categories of hustle and determination which is a big reason why they are a playoff team. In 2007, Ainge pushed all of the right buttons when he put together the Celtics first championship team since 1986, and he has now set the blueprint for another contender which started with hiring a head coach in Stevens that was destined for big things.