Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Friday that his focus over the final weeks of the 2013-14 season is progress.
The Celtics didn't make much of it during Friday's lopsided 114-98 loss the surging Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. Stevens would have loved to celebrate Avery Bradley's big offensive night as the fourth-year guard matched a career high with 28 points, but Boston's defense was so poor it diminished Bradley's output.
"I think [Bradley's scoring was] the only reason [the final score] was even respectable, to be honest," said Stevens. "I think that we weren’t very good on the defensive end of the floor. And when Avery started going off, we just accepted trading baskets instead of really getting stops."
Stevens had said before the game that there were still plenty of areas he was intrigued by over the final weeks of the season, including how the backcourt tandem of Bradley and Rajon Rondo works together.
"I think the Rondo/Bradley [combination] is really important and I feel like we’re doing things more efficiently, even though it’s not always showing up in our numbers, especially our shooting," said Stevens. "I’d like to see those guys get a rhythm together and see if they can enhance some of our numbers."
After spending 31 quality minutes together in Wednesday's win over the Miami Heat, Bradley and Rondo were paired for 28 minutes in Friday's loss. The Celtics were minus-5 in that span and did indeed struggle to shoot the ball and generate consistent points when that duo was on the court.
But this was the sort of night where little went right. Rookie Kelly Olynyk, who had been one of the bright spots in recent weeks with his development, logged only 16 minutes before fouling out with four points and four rebounds.
"I was thinking about Kelly a lot because Kelly has really played well in the past few weeks, and he’s really taken advantage of the time that he’s out there," said Stevens. "I think that, the minutes that each guy gets, it’s important that they play well. That’s where hopefully we’re not just talking about the young guys; we’re talking about guys like [Brandon] Bass and guys like Jeff Green and guys that have been around but are still guys that can develop and get better."
Stevens stressed that he simply wants his players to identify the things they do best and immerse themselves in those roles.
"Obviously, Avery Bradley with his shooting, we feel like he’s continued to grow and get better," said Stevens. "I think really on down the line you can point to each guy and say there’s one or two things that they’re a lot better at. They key is getting back to being great at what you do well. Your strengths have to stand out. Your strengths have to be perfected. I look across the league at some of these really good teams and these great players and you give a guy that shoots 18-footers an 18-footer, he makes it every time. Every single time. You give a guy an open 3 and he makes it every single time. That’s what the great teams do. That’s where, if you’re a good shooter, become a great one. If you’re a good ball handler, become a great one. Yes, [our players] have added some things to their repertoire, but I think at the end of the day, sometimes less is more.”
MERCER AND THE MADNESS
Stevens is no stranger to a March Madness upset from his Butler days, so he was asked before Friday's game for his thoughts on unheralded Mercer taking down Duke.
"I heard the part where [Mercer hasn't] been to the tournament since 1985," said Stevens, who was actually recruited by the private university in Macon, Ga. "That’s kind of what makes the tournament special, right? The stories about that and the other part of just having a bunch of older guys that didn’t make it the last few years but all just kind of stayed the course. Those teams, like we’ve said here -- teams that play hungry, teams that have a chip on a shoulder, are always dangerous."
Does Stevens always root for an underdog like the one he used to coach?
"I actually pull for people I know, first and foremost, and then like anybody else, if you don’t know anybody on either sideline, you pull for what would be perceived to be the underdog," said Stevens. "Again, what a fun time of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how that all continues to play itself out."
PIERCE: NETS ARE UNDERDOGS
Speaking of underdogs, old friend Paul Pierce suggested that the Nets, slowly climbing the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, could fly under the radar entering the postseason.
"Right now, we’re definitely going to be the underdog," said Pierce. "No one is really talking about us. We feel like we match up well with pretty much anyone in this league, especially in the Eastern Conference. The chips will fall where they may. Come playoff time, we feel like we can compete with the best of them. We feel like we can be one of the better teams in the East, if not come out of the East. I think we’re going to be able to surprise a couple teams."
The Nets have found success recently while having Pierce play the power forward position. As Stevens noted after the game, "Pierce at the 4 is a problem; that’s a problem for everybody. It’s a problem and [the Nets have] done a good job adjusting [to injuries]."