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BOSTON – Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics are opening eyes around the NBA.
Look it up: the Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA since February (24-12 since Feb. 2), and in the month of April, they’ve been even better, going 7-1. Their surprising rise from a lottery lock to a playoff contender made noise around the league in recent weeks.
Today, Brad Stevens was recognized for the team’s late-season surge, as the NBA named Stevens the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month.
“I think Brad has done a great job all year, not just in this playoff run in April,” President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said. “He’s a terrific coach and I’m glad he’s on my side.”
Despite constant roster turnover this season with multiple transactions, Stevens has kept his team focused, with one goal in mind: Playoffs or bust.
“We have a lot of players who are hungry and have something to prove. It seems like each of our players are playing as good of basketball as they have in their career,” Ainge said. “I think Brad and our coaching staff has done a terrific job of getting the most out of our players.”
The players also seem to take cues from Stevens emotionally as well. Stevens’ calm demeanor keeps the team grounded when they win, and confident even if they lose. When it comes to the clipboard, his recent X's and O's work can’t go overlooked either. Stevens has come up with some nifty plays in the clutch when the Celtics needed hoops to steal or preserve a win.
Perhaps most impressive was the play Stevens drew up in Toronto on April 4 to beat the Raptors with just 2.6 seconds remaining. Thomas set up in the backcourt, confusing Toronto’s defense, and took the inbounds pass on the move, giving him a full head of steam and a clear path to the basket. When Thomas was finally met by a defender in the paint, Marcus Smart was there to finish the play with a layup at the horn.
“Brad’s been doing that in his whole coaching career. That play at the end of the game in Toronto, he pulled me aside in training camp and showed me that,” Ainge said. “He’s always thinking, he’s got a lot of stuff in his brain and his back pocket. He’s prepared for any situation or circumstance.”
Stevens is currently preparing for the team’s first round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which means coming up with a game plan to contain arguably the greatest player in the world in LeBron James. That’s a tall order for any coach, regardless of experience. But the team’s front office knows they’ve got the right man on the job for the long term.
“In his first two seasons Brad has established himself as a consummate motivator, team builder and tactician,” said Wyc Grousbeck, Celtics Managing Partner, Governor & Chief Executive Officer. “We are so grateful that he and his family chose to become Celtics.”
When Stevens was hired two summers ago, the task ahead of him to rebuild the franchise to glory appeared daunting. As he nears the close of his second year on the job, Stevens already has the team back in the playoffs, and some would say, ahead of schedule.
Either way, the Celtics are definitely exceeding expectations. Stevens’ leadership, both on and off the floor, has been the catalyst.