Celtics’ Stevens remains humble as team continues to thrive

7 Comments

WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) β€” When Brad Stevens accepted the Celtics head coaching job five years ago, he didn’t allow himself to get caught up in thinking about how he could add his name to the franchise’s rich history.

He was too busy trying to figure out how to avoid being buried under it.

“You realize that if you’re going to break records here, you’re probably going to break bad ones,” he recently said. “Because none of the good ones are reachable.”

While achieving Red Auerbach status may not be on Stevens’ radar, in just his fifth season there’s no question the 41-year-old is also beyond being the wide-eyed former Butler University coach who arrived in Boston.

In a timeframe that has often already swallowed up most first-time NBA coaches, he’s managed to endear himself to a championship-driven city by helping Boston make an improbable run back to the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics seemingly had their championship hopes derailed following the season-ending injuries to both of their offseason additions in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.

Yet, Boston won 55 games during the regular season and increased its win total for the fifth consecutive season under Stevens.

Despite having a roster that was down to just 11 healthy players by the end of their second-round win over Philadelphia, the Celtics enter their conference finals rematch with Cleveland on Sunday with an 8-0 record at home this postseason.

They are also the first team in NBA history to make it back to this point without their leading scorer from the regular season (Irving).

Most of the NBA community was taken aback after Stevens failed to receive a single vote from his peers when the National Basketball Coaches Association gave out its coach of the year award. The honor went to Toronto’s Dwane Casey, who was fired Thursday after his team was swept in the East semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Stevens has always downplayed the attention placed on coaching awards. He said that he thought Casey deserved the honor and didn’t expect him to be without a job for long.

Boston’s successes this season aside, Stevens said comfort remains a commodity this profession.

“I don’t think that I would ever define anybody in the coaching or playing shoes probably as comfortable,” he said. “You’re just focused on what’s next. But it is basketball. There’s only so much you can do.”

But it’s also clear that one of the reasons that Casey lost his job was the Raptors’ inability to challenge the Cavs in the postseason. Toronto was also swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland last season.

Most of the credit for Boston’s run thus far surely belongs to veteran Al Horford and the Celtics’ corps of young players, including Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.

Stevens agrees with that assessment and has remained true to his style by blending into the background in public, instead waiting for the huddle or practice to make his voice heard.

He believes his team’s mental toughness and grit have carried it more than anything he’s done.

Horford said Stevens hasn’t shied away from putting their young players in pressure situations.

“I think a lot of our guys have been thrown into the fire. I think it’s been designed that way so guys can just develop and learn as they go,” Horford said. “But I think that one of the things that helps them is the way that coach helps them prepare and the way that he teaches them the game.”

There is also at least one person watching from afar who thinks a lot of the credit belongs to Stevens. And it just happens to be the same player he will spend the next few weeks trying to stop: LeBron James.

From Stevens’ ability to draw up plays out of timeouts, to his management of late-clock situations, to getting the best out of his roster, James has long been a fan.

“I think they are one of the most well-coached teams in our league,” James said. “No matter who has played for them, he can put guys in position to succeed and get the most out of whoever has been in their lineup over the past few years. It’s not just this year.”

Stevens said he’s focused on living in the moment.

“From our standpoint, I feel like it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “We talked about it prior to the playoffs; nobody should love a challenge more, nobody should have more fun doing it. I think our guys have done a good job with that.”

And though he may never say it, so has their coach.

Lakers headed to second straight Summer League title game

Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS (AP) β€” Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 112-109 double-overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in the semifinals of the NBA Summer League.

Los Angeles advanced to the championship game for a second straight year after winning the 2017 title behind game MVP Kyle Kuzma and league MVP Lonzo Ball.

The Lakers will play Portland, which knocked off Memphis in the other semi-final.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes made the play of the game when he snatched a loose ball and fed Jeff Ayres with a pretty touch pass under the basket with 45 seconds left in the second overtime. Rathan-Mayes followed Ayres’ lay-in with a slashing lay-up to put the Lakers up 110-106 with 22 seconds left.

Cleveland’s Billy Preston missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points for the Lakers (6-0), while Ayres added 20.

Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers with 27 points, while Jamel Artis and John Holland each scored 17.

Trailing 105-102 in the first overtime after Sexton made a short jumper, Rathan-Mayes buried a 3-pointer to tie the score. Hart made it 106-105 by hitting the second of two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. Sexton did the same at the other end, splitting two free throws and tying it at 106 with 3.3 seconds left.

The Cavaliers (5-2) erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the score at 95, when Vladimir Brodziansky buried a 3-pointer with 2:00 left in regulation.

After Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-95 lead with a little more than a minute left, Hart grabbed a defensive rebound and at the other end dished to Mykhailiuk, who hit a running jumper just above the free throw line to push the lead to 98-95.

But Sexton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 26 seconds left. Hart missed a 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, and Sexton missed one from long range at the buzzer.

The Lakers went on an 18-2 run to take a 28-17 lead led by Mykhailiuk, who was 4-for-4 from long-range in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 50 percent (9 of 18) in the opening period and was 5 for 9 (55 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

Hart took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 first-half points to help the Lakers take a 50-47 lead at halftime.

USA Basketball to host World Cup qualifier vs. Uruguay on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) β€” USA Basketball’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup will resume Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, where the Americans will face Uruguay.

That will be the first U.S. game in the second qualifying round for next year’s world championships in China.

Like the first round, the U.S. will continue being coached by Jeff Van Gundy and will have a roster made up primarily of G League players. The Americans went 5-1 in the first round.

The U.S. and Uruguay are among 12 teams from the Americas zone vying for seven World Cup spots. The others are Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is a heavy favorite to qualify, then will send NBA players to China for the World Championships (there is a workout for some of those players coming up in Las Vegas in a week).

Second-round qualifying ends in late February. The World Cup begins in August 2019.

Mavericks sign second-round pick Jalen Brunson to first-rounder style contract

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dallas is excited about the potential of Jalen Brunson.

The point guard who led Villanova to a national championship last April fell to the 33rd pick in the draft last June, high in the second round, and Dallas traded up a spot to get him from Atlanta. The Mavericks were ecstatic, and to the surprise of nobody they have reached terms on a contract with him.

What is a bit of a surprise is the Mavericks gave him a first-rounder style contract β€” four years with some guaranteed money for the first three of them β€” reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At Summer League in Las Vegas Brunson showed the qualities that Dallas liked in him β€” he’s a high IQ player with polish, and he’s a pass-first floor general β€” but his weaknesses were also exposed. He has to shoot better (23 percent in Summer League) and his defense needs to improve.

Both of those can happen, Summer League is more of a chance for teams to benchmark players than make decisions about them. Brunson reportedly has a great work ethic, he can figure the NBA game out.

Dallas is betting that he will.

Kemba Walker: “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it”

Getty Images
1 Comment

Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season β€” he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

β€œAs far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. β€œI’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak β€” with the approval of Michael Jordan β€” decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.