BOSTON -- Boston Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens has been apologetic in the face of questions about his emotions during this so-called Reunion Week that took his team to Brooklyn to see old friends Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Tuesday, before wrapping up with a visit from former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
Stevens is a bit of an outsider in all this. He never coached Pierce or Garnett and he's only briefly interacted with Rivers. Heck, even his team -- one that has taken on Stevens' typically cool, calm demeanor -- has downplayed the emotional aspect of these last two games.
But that doesn't mean Stevens doesn't respect what Rivers accomplished here. So when the Celtics honored Rivers with a video tribute after the first quarter of Wednesday's game, Stevens joined in the standing ovation.
"I’ve been asked this a lot this week about my emotions or my thoughts coming into the game," Stevens said. "I respect a good coach. I’m appreciative of the opportunity that I have. I’m appreciative of the time that he spent here. I’m appreciative of the good times he had and I’m appreciative of the tough ones he had that built to those good times. I don’t know him very well, but I admire what he’s accomplished and everyone else was up and I should have been up too."
Their situations are very different, but it's interesting to hear Stevens talk about appreciating how Rivers navigated the tough times to get to the good ones. As the Celtics travel this bumpy and uncertain rebuilding road, there's likely to be a fair amount of those tough times for Stevens and Co. Wednesday's 96-88 loss to the Clippers was Boston's second straight, dropping the team to 10-14 overall.
But Rivers is confident the Celtics found the right guy to get them back to contender status sooner than later.
"[Stevens has] coached as long as me, just not in the NBA," Rivers said. "He’s going to be terrific. He’s going to be a terrific coach. I think he’s already doing it. He’s just solid, does his job every night ... that’s what you want. Brad’s going to be a terrific coach and he’s going to be here a long time."
The 37-year-old Stevens has a six-year contract. Early returns have been encouraging, but he's so focused on the day-to-day progress of his team and enduring the daily process that he almost certainly never allows himself to think too far beyond the task at hand. But if he's able to navigate this transition process and eventually gives Boston a chance to compete for another banner, there could come a time when he'll be feted the way Rivers was on Wednesday.
Maybe at that point he'll be a bit more emotional. Right now, his focus is demanded elsewhere.
Read on for a few more notes from Wednesday's game:
BENCH DISPARITY: Boston played without two of its bench bigs in Kris Humphries (sore right knee) and Kelly Olynyk (sprained right ankle). That didn't help matters against the big and athletic Clippers, because Boston got virtually no production from its second unit. The five-man combo of Vitor Faverani, Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace, Phil Pressey and MarShon Brooks combined for four measly points on 2-of-7 shooting in nearly 51 minutes of floor time. By comparison, Jamal Crawford scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting on his own off the Clippers bench and Darren Collison added 10 points (the duo doing some serious fourth-quarter damage). "They got 34 points off the bench and Collison was huge late and, when Crawford gets going he’s as good as anyone, he’s hard to stop," Stevens said. "They were really good, they were really tough."
NO EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT: Jared Sullinger has gushed about what Rivers meant to his development since joining the NBA. He said Rivers pushed him hard as a rookie last season, then even after taking the Clippers job, stayed on top of him as Sullinger endured some off-court troubles before training camp this season. But asked if he had any extra emotions during Wednesday's game, Sullinger quipped, "It was just a basketball game. No emotional attachment, not like my girlfriend was playing on the other side."
DOC ON PUSHING SULLINGER: Here's Rivers on his part in pushing Sullinger after the Celtics drafted him in the 2012 draft: "I was hard on Sully, but in a good way," Rivers said. "I was hard on him this summer when he got in trouble. I love him. He’s a good kid. He’s going to be a great player. You could see that now, you could see it last year. He had the [back] injuries with me. I’m just so happy to see his growth. I love all of my guys, bottom line. And I always have. I think that’s what you should do as a coach. Some would disagree with that, but that’s not how I’ve ever worked. I just think you invest in them as much off the floor as on the floor. Sully, we spent a lot of time together." And his message to Sullinger this summer? "My message is just always do right -- always," Rivers said.
DID RIVERS WALK OUT ON C'S?: Rivers admitted he didn't like the way his departure played out this summer and said he felt he had no voice in the process at times. But asked if he agreed with the idea that he walked out on Boston, Rivers said, "I don’t think so. You can portray it any way you want, but I don’t think so. At the end of the day, I was thinking, after nine years it was time for me to go. And I really believed that. I shared that with [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and he knew that. And not for any other reason than I’m a coach and, when you think your voice is heard too much, it’s just time. There didn’t have to be anything bad about that."