VIDEO: Friday night’s Fast Break, recapping a 12-game night
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Brad Stevens doing work for the Celtics | Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture | Zach Randolph still believes in the aging and suddenly average Grizzlies | Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars?
No. 1: Brad Stevens is doing work for the Celtics — The Celtics are playing well and winning games and doing it without a certified star, although Isaiah Thomas might have a vice grip on Best Sixth Man in the league. Anyway, when Brad Stevens was hired away from Butler, there were the usual doubts about whether a college coach could make a smooth transition to a league where their voice and presence doesn’t carry as much weight, and where dealing with men is a lot different than 19-year-olds. Well, Stevens is clearly an asset for the Celtics; almost everyone would agree to that. Here’s Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe on what makes Stevens tick:
There was a reason the Celtics brass secretly traveled to Indianapolis 3½ years ago to negotiate with Brad Stevens, their longtime target as a successor to Doc Rivers.
There was a reason they left Indiana ecstatic about signing Butler’s coach to a six-year, $22 million contract to become the Celtics’ coach, even though he was an NBA neophyte who had never even coached a summer league game.
They knew Stevens had a humility and passion for the job and not a sense of entitlement. He was not like Rick Pitino or John Calipari, who came to the NBA from the college ranks feeling as though their mere presence was going to change the landscape of the professional game.
Stevens was more about substance than style. He was an evenhanded technician and teacher of the game, constantly searching for methods to give his team an advantage.
His search for those edges, ways to get extra possessions, creative times to call timeouts, and his constant tinkering with lineups has led the Celtics to their resurgence. Following Cleveland’s 89-77 victory over the Celtics Tuesday night at TD Garden, Stevens’ performance left LeBron James to remark, simply, “They’re a well-coached team.”
But Stevens’ search for these advantages has been a process of trial and error.
In Wednesday night’s 119-116 loss at Detroit, the Celtics were in the midst of a rally when Stevens decided to cap the surge by intentionally fouling one of the Pistons’ poorer free throw shooters, one of his favorite tools.
The Pistons had the ball and a 106-102 lead with 2:54 left when Stevens called for Isaiah Thomas to intentionally foul Reggie Jackson. It created an inbounds situation where Stevens planned to intentionally foul Andre Drummond, a 36.8 percent free throw shooter, before the inbounds pass.
With more than two minutes left in the game, that strategy would have merely resulted in two free throws. Since the chances of Drummond hitting both free throws were minimal, the Celtics would have received the ball back facing perhaps a 5-point deficit.
Stevens’ plans were foiled when Jackson spun and fired a 3-pointer. The shot had no chance, but that didn’t deter the officials from rewarding him a trip to the foul line for three free throws. It didn’t necessarily ruin the Celtics’ chances of winning, but it certainly did hinder them.
Conventional thinkers might have asked why Stevens didn’t just just bank on his team getting a defensive stop, a defensive rebound, instead of relying on intentional fouls.
The Celtics’ defense has shown — although not Wednesday — it is good enough to make consistent stops.
But Stevens is not conventional. He has devised some inventive ways to create extra possessions or limit opponents to zero or 1-point possessions instead of potentially 3.
No. 2: Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture — The Sixers lost again Friday and are seemingly speeding toward another year of infamy. But when Jerry Colangelo assumed a measure of front office control a few weeks ago, one of his priorities was to make sure the coaching staff was ripe for the challenge. So he brought in Mike D’Antoni to serve as the top assistant to Brett Brown (who was given a contract extension). The idea was to not only help Brown’s offense, but lend an experienced presence to a basketball operation that desperately needed one. Ken Berger of CBS Sports likes the idea:
“I’m definitely exploring everything,” D’Antoni told me recently. “I’m really at ease, but at the same time I do clinics and watch teams, talk to teams, try to get better as a coach see what happens. I can only control what I can control.”
The Sixers’ hodge-podge of point guards will no doubt benefit from D’Antoni’s counsel; there has perhaps never been a more point guard-friendly coach in the sport. So, too, will budding star Jahlil Okafor, who at this early stage certainly has all the physical tools to be an elite offensive force. What he’s been lacking is leadership, and the Sixers finally have someone who exudes credibility besides Brown.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it odd that D’Antoni will be sitting one seat over from Brown, who came to Philly from Gregg Popovich’s bench in San Antonio. If not for the Spurs, D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns might’ve had the championship that would have, in some eyes, validated D’Antoni’s genius. That honor went belatedly to the Warriors, who rode something D’Antoni never had in Phoenix (an elite defense) and the pillars of his offensive playbook to their first NBA title in 40 years last season.
“I can tell you right now, I’m a huge disciple of Mike’s and what he did offensively,” said Alvin Gentry, D’Antoni’s former assistant in Phoenix who ran the Warriors’ offense last season and now is the head coach in New Orleans. “I think he changed the NBA, if you want to know the truth. If you go back and look and see what happened in 2004 and ’05, nobody was playing like that. Nobody thought you could be successful playing like that. And we got all the way to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion …”
Nobody is thinking championship in Philadelphia, as a painful rebuilding process has accounted for lots of draft picks and assets but only 38 wins across three seasons — including a 1-26 record this season. After a dozen more losses or so, D’Antoni might find himself longing for a one-stroke penalty to get out of the woods at the Greenbrier.
But the Sixers do have people with track records in positions of power, and cap room and first-round picks as far as the eye can see. The impact of the latest addition to the hierarchy will be measured with a calendar, not a shot clock, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the Sixers finally have some hope.
No. 3: Zach Randolph still likes the Grizzlies — There were two teams that gave the champion Warriors fits in the postseason last summer: The Cavaliers and Grizzlies. One of those teams is still among the elite and would likely have an even greater chokehold on the East if Kyrie Irving were healthy. The other team has reached a fork in the road. The Grizzlies are still true to their grit and grind but has that style, which helped Memphis assume a 2-1 lead against the Warriors in a best of seven, turned obsolete? Or will the Grizzlies eventually overcome their Achilles heel — outside shooting — and once again use defense and toughness to advance in the playoffs. Here’s a decent Q&A with Zach Randolph by Scoop Jackson of ESPN:
Scoop Jackson: You all are hard to figure out. From game to game, you all can look like totally different teams. Can you put your finger on this team?
Zach Randolph: Man … not being the prettiest team, not being the most athletic team, not the best shooting team, I think it’s our heart. That’s what defines us, that’s who we are. It’s our grit and our grind. Honestly. That’s how we started, that’s how we started winning, that’s how we are going to win.
I came here, and we started changing the organization around. That’s that grit and grind and hard work and believing, man. You forget there was a time when nobody believed in us, counted us out. People used to think of the Memphis Grizzlies, they’d be like, “Ah, they ain’t nobody.” And now, even when we lose, it’s not like that anymore.
Scoop: That’s expectations. That happens to every team once the culture of the organization starts changing. Have you grown along with those expectations?
Randolph: In our minds everybody still counts us out, but we still believe in ourselves. Even though we haven’t been playing our best, the way we want to play, the season is still early. We still believe that we are one of the best teams in the league. We believe that. But we have to accomplish that [on the court]. Our confidence is high. We know we can compete with anybody.
Scoop: It’s just a matter of proving it.
Randolph: That’s all it is, man.
Scoop: What’s the fundamental difference in you all now than, say, two seasons ago — let’s go there — since Rudy [Gay] has been gone and since Lionel [Hollins] has been gone?
Randolph: I think our maturity and being together. You know that core being together so long — me and Marc [Gasol], then Mike [Conley] and TA [Tony Allen]. And everyone’s work ethic has improved.
No. 4: Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars? — One of the fringe benefits of having the best record in the NBA is supposed to be realized in February when the All-Star Game rolls in. Last season, the Atlanta Hawks ran the table for an entire month and saw their starting five named as Players of the Month, and then four members of the team suit up for the All-Star Game. Well, Steph Curry wants to do one better — and who could blame him? — and put 5 Warriors in the All-Star Game. Far-fetched? Well, we probably can count on at least three. Five might be a stretch, but, well, stranger things have happened. Here’s Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News …
Stephen Curry wonders if there should be a ceiling for the 25-1 Warriors.
“Why not five?” he said.
All-Star voting has begun and MVP Curry is a sure thing a year after being the leading overall vote-getter. Backcourt mate Klay Thompson also made the Western Conference team last year, and do-everything forward Draymond Green seems like a strong candidate.
“The way they we play, every given night we all want to have an impact on the game,” Curry said. “Stats may look a certain way and you can make judgments off of that. But when a team goes 25-1, and hopefully we keep that trajectory going, hopefully individual guys are recognized for what they mean to the team.”
Curry said Green — who is averaging 14.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists and shares the NBA lead with four triple-doubles — now has the respect of fans across the country.
“It means a lot to have the support of fans, but the importance for him is we’re winning games and he’s helping us do that,” Curry said. “Whatever comes of that is just a bonus.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, is out of the hospital and doing fine. She holds nothing against LeBron James, who crashed into her sitting courtside and sent her to the hospital on a stretcher … So what’s the story about Justin Bieber getting baptized at Tyson Chandler‘s house? … Stan Van Gundy likes where the Pistons are headed, even though his team is tired after a 4-OT win over the Bulls … Steve Nash is lending a helping hand to Klay Thompson … Meyers Leonard is in a serious slump in Portland …