Celtics’ Stevens remains humble as team continues to thrive

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WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — 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.

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.