Stevens Likens Play-In Prep to that of NCAA Tourney

The postseason play-in games are an entirely new concept for the NBA this year, but the build-up feels familiar to Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. That’s because, as a former college coach, he likens the preparation process to that of the NCAA Tournament, of which he already knows a thing or two about.

The seventh-place Celtics found out Sunday afternoon that they’d be playing the eighth-place Washington Wizards in Tuesday’s play-in tilt, which gave them little time to get ready for the critical matchup. If they win, they’ll move onto playoffs. But if they lose, they’ll have to quickly switch gears and get ready to play the winner of the eighth-/10th-place game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, which would create yet another crammed preparation scenario.

However, the stress of it all is similar to what college teams have to deal with while navigating through March Madness, as Stevens noted following Monday afternoon’s practice.

“I treated it a lot like a Thursday-Saturday NCAA Tournament, where you have the one day to prepare,” Stevens said of his approach. “There's obviously a lot more familiarity with opponents in the NBA because you play everybody and we played Washington three times this year and have played against [Wizards head coach Scott Brooks’] teams forever, so they know us and we know them, but you do hone in on some details that you can't necessarily get to if it was a back-to-back or even a one-day turnaround during the regular season.”

The main difference between the play-in format and the NCAA Tournament format is that the winner of the 7-8 game will get a few days off before matching up against the second-place team in a full, seven-game series. The loser will be the team that has to deal with the quick turnaround, as it will face off against the winner of the 9/10 game with less than 48 hours to prepare.

But at the very least, that first game should feel familiar to Stevens and any Celtics player who has been through the Division I college tourney.

“I will liken it to the NCAA Tournament again, the Thursday game you're more prepared for than the Saturday game,” Stevens said. “It's just the way it goes. (Normally), you get four days, you get five days, you can really start taking things away and looking at what the opponents do, whereas I think that the one-day turnaround in a situation like this where how can we get what we need to get, how can we know what we need to know, and how can we play with a clear mind as well as we can? That's the balance you're dealing with.”

Stevens has dealt with such balance on numerous occasions in the past, having been to the NCAA Tournament five times during his six-year tenure as head coach of the Butler men’s basketball team. He won at least one game during four of those trips and made it all the way to the championship game in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011.

That 2011 game just so happened to be played against Kemba Walker and the eventual champion UConn Huskies. Walker, admittedly, is far removed from that college tournament mindset, but that doesn’t mean he’s not prepared for this type of situation.

“I kind of forgot, that was 10 years ago,” Walker said when asked to reflect upon Stevens comparison. “But you know, you have to take it one game at a time - that’s really all it is … We’re going out there to win, and that’s it.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, they were able to prepare with a full roster Monday afternoon, with the exception of Jaylen Brown who is out for the season after undergoing wrist surgery. Stevens relayed that it was a great practice in that everyone was focused appears to be ready for Tuesday night.

Of course, it’s nice for the team to have a helping hand from Stevens, considering how he’s been through similar experiences in the past.

“Obviously I've been through this a lot, and I was pleased with the way we prepared today,” Stevens said. “We'll have one more little session tomorrow morning in our walkthrough, and then we'll go from there.”

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