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 was pretty special for Brad Stevens. He thrived in the regular season without Gordon Hayward. He thrived in the post season without Kyrie Irving until game 7 when everything was on the line. Because he lost the most important game of the year, does that make him any less great? Or is he exactly who his peers, who didn’t give him any Coach of the Year votes, say he is.
This is not debatable. In a league that has dripping disdain for young guys doing everything, Stevens legitimized his young guys-Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown- treating them as he would a veteran. His after time-out schemes were extraordinary until he had to go up against the KIng.
Stevens is in good company. Tom Thibodeau. Doc Rivers. Frank Vogel (twice). Mike Budenholzer. Dwane Casey. All lost to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers and Mike Budenholzer have won Coach of the Year. Dwane Casey will probably win it this year. So LBJ is killing the best scheming masterminds. Stevens joins the illustrious club. No reason to cry. But.
Something about it was predictable. The Celtics were not the best offensive team in the playoffs. They were not the best defensive team. They didn’t have the fastest pace. They weren’t killing it with offensive and defensive ratings. They didn’t lead in blocks, rebounds or assists. They were not leading in field goal attempts; they shared the ball and did superstar by committee. They were anemic on the road.
Superstars win Game 7’s and get you into the NBA Finals. So was it Boston smoke and mirrors?
Brad Stevens on the bench was 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 were a little bit salty that not one of their experienced own has excelled like Stevens with a bunch of pieces he made great. Not being considered 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 clapped back was the Eastern Conference Finals. And where the coaches had the last word was Game 7.
He didn’t beat you know who. The record remains intact. No Eastern Conference team has beaten LeBron James since 2010- Doc Rivers Celtics being the last forcing James on vacation before the Finals.
This is why. Not to be simplistic but it’s simplistic.
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. A team without a superstar isn’t going to beat the greatest ever. If they could, they would be superstars themselves. They are not, despite the we over me identity. This is LeBron James country, the NBA Finals.
I was sitting in an Uber in Boston on the way to Logan Airport on Black Monday. I asked the driver was he heartbroken about what happened on Sunday night. He winced and said, “I expected it. I really did.”
So did we.