Crowder Says of Absent Stevens, "He's My Leader"

CHICAGO – Jae Crowder is oftentimes the voice of the Boston Celtics players. He was such again Thursday night in Chicago when he said of Brad Stevens, “He’s my leader.”

Crowder didn’t have his leader during a loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Stevens was absent from the Celtics for a regular season game for the first time during his two-plus seasons as a coach. He was tending to more important things – family, friends, and life – in Indiana, where one of his former players needed his presence more than anyone else could have.

As such, the Celtics were in for a very different night than they had ever experienced.

Assistant coach Jay Larranaga stepped in for Stevens and did an admirable job. He garnered praise from the C’s players after the game, as Crowder and Evan Turner said he did a “great job,” while Jared Sullinger said Larranaga “did a hell of a job.”

Those players pointed to Larranaga’s ability to maintain a semblance of normalcy amid a challenging situation. The C’s stuck to their normal routine, and that helped them steady their course throughout a rocky day.

However, no matter what Larranaga said in the locker room before the game, or what he did on the sidelines while the game was in session, he wasn’t going to be Brad Stevens.

“It’s a change,” he said succinctly. “It’s a different voice.”

Larranaga knew that such was the case going into Thursday’s game. In fact, he stated 90 minutes before tip-off, “I’m not going to be like Brad. He’s a very special person.”

Larranaga is special in his own right. His name has rumbled around the league for head coaching positions for a few years now, and for good reason. He’s a sharp and personable guy who has learned from some of the best, including his father, Jim Larranaga.

But even with Larranaga stemming the tide, the Celtics missed that calm, soothing voice that they have grown accustomed to.

“[Stevens’] presence,” Evan Turner said of what the C’s lacked Thursday night. “He’s our head coach. That’s what we’re used to.”

Jared Sullinger added, “I think from the standpoint of the head coach, he decides the rotations, he thinks what’s best for the team.”

Crowder, who went into the most depth of all of the Celtics players about the absence of their coach, spoke of what the C’s draw from Stevens during game action.

“I just look over for reassurance,” he said, later adding, “It helps me a lot to see our leader so calm and possessed when a team goes on a run when we’re on the road. As the team gets frantic, I think he holds his poise very well, and it rubs off on each and every one of us players.”

The Celtics were devoid of that poise in Chicago, and it hurt then in the end. Larranaga and Crowder both stated that the team failed to execute its game plan and at times lost its composure. Stevens keeps his players calm, and once he has them in tune, his mind can change the course a game all by itself.

“He does make heck of a play calls during crunch time and I think we probably missed that a little bit tonight,” Crowder said.

In the end, Boston fell 101-92 to the Bulls at the United Center. The C’s walked off the court with hanging heads from a loss, but they had even heavier hearts for their coach.

Stevens is the kind of person – not just the kind of coach – who is there for people, and in particular his players, when they need him. That’s exactly why he was absent Thursday night. The Celtics just wished that they could have delivered a win and been there for him throughout such a difficult time.

Crowder texted Stevens earlier in the day. When elaborating on that conversation, Crowder said, “I just… I didn’t know what to say.”

Following a frustrating loss on the road, the team now had nearly 12 hours to digest the fact that their coach, his family and his friends were going through something difficult enough to pull him away from a regular season game.

By now, they should know exactly what to say to him in addition to any condolences: You’re my leader, and I can’t wait to have you back.