- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is headed home, but he doesn't expect the first 24 hours to be a particularly fun experience.
Stevens and the Celtics flew to his native Indianapolis after Saturday's 106-99 loss to the Washington Wizards with the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers waiting on the tail end of a back-to-back.
Stevens, who grew up a Pacers fan and spent 14 years as a coach at nearby Butler University, admits he's uncertain how it will feel to play inside the familiar confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I don't know. Certainly, I’ll know a lot of people in the building," said Stevens. "It’s a wonderful place, a wonderful place to be raised. As much as you look forward to that for the time we’ll get to spend [with friends and family] afterwards, if anybody has watched [the Pacers] play, you know I’m not really looking forward to the game."
The Pacers are 21-5 and handed Boston a 97-82 loss at TD Garden in late November. Boston has played its best basketball since that point and, despite losing two in a row, players view Indiana as a chance to gauge their progress.
Stevens' players also understand how important that game will be to their coach, even as he attempts to keep the focus on the team he'll be coaching against.
"Bottom line is, it’s an Indiana Pacers game and they’re going to have a great fan support; they’ve got a great team," said Stevens. "You know I said this before we played them the first time: It’s the best Pacers team I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And so that’s a great challenge that we have. As a competitor, you want to try to challenge yourself. And at the same time, the people that are going to be in that building that I know, and I’ll know a lot of them, are really special to our family and that whole state and that whole city is to us."
Stevens will get a chance to exhale a bit after Sunday's game. The Celtics plan to take three days off from Dec. 23-25. His family will stay in Indianapolis for a bit before making about a five-hour trek to spend Christmas with his in-laws. Stevens smiled as he noted, "My wife [Tracy] is happy."
A win against Indiana would certainly brighten the holiday season for Stevens as well.
A handful of notes after Boston's loss to Washington:
CRAWFORD SEES OLD FRIENDS: Jordan Crawford registered 11 points, eight assists and three rebounds against his former team, but committed a team-high five turnovers and was minus-4 in plus/minus in the loss. Asked if he had any extra motivation for the game, Crawford said, "I just wanted to win the game. [Boston had] lost one before that, so I wanted to get back on track." He admitted it was good to see some of his former teammates, many of whom gushed about his progress in Boston. The Celtics acquired Crawford from the Wizards at February's trade deadline in exchange for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa.
MOVING ON: Knowing the challenge Indiana presents, the Celtics wanted to put Saturday's loss behind them quickly. "It’s only going to get tougher," said Jared Sullinger. "We’re playing against one of the best teams in the East. So it’s only going to get tougher, so we gotta buckle down. And as much as I don’t want to say this, we kinda gotta wipe this one out and get ready to play [Sunday]."
BRADLEY'S OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: Avery Bradley scored 21 of his team-high 26 points after the intermission, and the Celtics leaned hard on him after the intermission. Bradley made 10 of 14 shots in the second half, including eight from the mid-range or deeper. He provided a needed spark while running with a reserve group late in the third, even if it couldn't fend off the Wizards' rally. "I just think [Bradley] had a good roll about him," said Stevens. "He’s playing with a group that isn’t necessarily known individually for scoring the ball. When you’ve got it going, it’s our decision to keep him going and try to go to him as much as possible. He did a great job with it. It’s part of his growth and I think he can get a lot better. I think his effectiveness on the offensive end will just continue to improve and improve."
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
5dESPN Stats and Information Group