In the summer of 2013 Danny Ainge hired Butler coach Brad Stevens which raised a lot of eyebrows since Stevens had no NBA experience, either as a player or coach. Ainge gave Stevens a 6 year contract. To understand how much faith that was consider the four coaches hired within the last month. David Fizdale (Knicks), Igor Kokoskov (Suns), Lloyd Pierce (Hawks), James Borrego (Hornets). Fizdale, Kokoskov, Pierce and Borrego have 58 years of NBA experience. In 2013, Brad Stevens had none.
Brad Stevens signed a 6 year deal. Fizdale, a former NBA head coach, and James Borrego, a former NBA assistant, signed 4 year deals. In essence, Danny Ainge put more faith in someone who never stepped foot on a NBA floor, training room, video room then current teams have with coaches who have NBA experience.
Brad Stevens had to immediately perform. He followed Doc Rivers who took the Celtics to two NBA Finals. There was intense cynicism.
Brad Stevens began his career with four straight losses and the Celtics did what everyone pretty much thought, 25 wins. The season ended brutally, 16 losses the last 19 games. The next year they won 40 games. Then 48 games. Two 50+ win seasons (2016-18) has vaulted Stevens onto the best head coach list but his peers aren’t buying it, locking him out of Coach of the Year.
The 2017-18 season has been pretty special for Brad Stevens. He thrived in the regular season without Gordon Hayward. He thrived in the post season without Kyrie Irving. He has legitimized his young guys-Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown- treating them as he would a veteran. His after time-out schemes are extraordinary and won him the series against the 76ers.
In the playoffs, the Celtics are not the best offensive team. They are not the best defensive team. They don’t have the fastest pace. They aren’t killing it with offensive and defensive ratings. They don’t lead in blocks, rebounds or assists. They are not leading in field goal attempts; they share the ball and do superstar by committee.
But Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum are top-5 in minutes played. Terry Rozier and James Harden have the same amount of 3-point shots taken. Terry Rozier, the Kyrie Irving replacement, has made more 3-point shots than anyone in the playoffs. Anyone.
You might think it is smoke and mirrors except Brad Stevens on the bench is cool, calm guy drawing up plays and encouraging his players in the strength of the team is the team. Do team. Perhaps it’s why he was he snubbed by his peers who are a little bit salty that not one of their own has excelled like Stevens with a bunch of pieces he has made great (they are huffing and puffing and struggling and eating jealousy pie). Not being consider for Coach of the Year when he lost Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving and the Celtics won over 50 games is a joke. But where Stevens claps back is in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If he can beat LeBron James, something no Eastern Conference team has done in eight years- Doc Rivers Celtics being the last forcing James on vacation before the Finals-he will immediately become legendary.
This is why.
LeBron James is the playoff leader in Minutes Played, Field Goals Made, Field Goals Attempted, 2-Point Field Goals, 2-Point Attempts, Free throws, Free throw attempts, Points, PER, Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 Minutes, Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player.
The math is simple. Let LeBron be himself and stop everyone else, the Celtics are in the NBA Finals. But can Brad Stevens do what no one has done in nearly a decade? Can he put a halt to one of the greatest streaks in modern NBA history: 7 straight NBA Finals?
He has the personnel, the we over me identity, to make the Cavs have to compete in a 6 or 7 game series. But there are lot of ifs. If Terry Rozier continues his shotmaking. If Jayson Tatum averages 20 per. If Al Horford’s defense continues to be lights out and he makes timely shots. If Jaylen Brown is Jaylen Brown and injury free. If Marcus Smart is dirty, gritty and stays healthy too. And even then….
It’s LeBron James.
Lose to him and you pat yourself on the back. Good job. Beat him and you are immortal. Coach of the Year snub really doesn’t matter because you got game.