Talking to Celtic Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau

Tom ThibodeauTom Thibodeau has an NBA coach for nearly twenty years. For many of those years, he worked under Jeff Van Gundy, who has called him a strong prospect to be a head coach one day soon. When Boston's Doc Rivers looked for a new assistant this summer, Thibodeau is said to have been at the top of the list of coaches who could help Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce succeed together. His move from Houston to Boston was something of a homecoming for Thibodeau, too, who is from nearby New Britain, Connecticut, and once was an assitant coach at Harvard, and at Massacusetts' Salem State, where he both graduated and coached.

Thibodeau has been praised for everything from his tutelage of Yao Ming to making the Celtics a much-improved defensive team. He agreed to talk a bit about the Celtics' season so far:

First of all, Boston was one of the worst teams in the league last year, now you're the only undefeated team left. It has to be kind of fun.
It is fun. It's just the start of the season. We know there is a long way to go, but obviously, we're pleased with the start of the season.

The story of this team, it has been written a million times, is that you have these three superstars, these three primary scorers which not a lot of teams have. But I know you're a defensive guy. I don't want to talk about these particular players, but, in general, superstars aren't known for their defense in most cases. They often try stay out of foul trouble and keep fresh to be scoring on the other end. Is that a particular challenge you face with this team?
The thing that they've done, and it's a credit to them, all three came in early, and they were in great shape. And I think the big thing for any team with your best players, along with carrying the load to score, I think that their leadership qualities have to help set the team apart in terms of the commitment to defense. And I think they committed to it right away. The fact that they were in great shape. They got here early. And I think they united and inspired their teammates.

What are some of the things that you actually see on the court that let you know these guys are committed?
Well, I think right from the start, the fact that they came in in great shape, and I think when you talk about their talent and their ability to score, and, of course, Garnett has been on the all defensive teams, first team several times. So that's the obvious. But I think what has probably gotten overlooked is the fact that Paul and Ray have done a very good job with their defense as well.

I think when you watch them in practice, the fact that they practice extremely hard every day. So it's not only the obvious is during games when you see their performance, but the way they prepare for each practice, the way they conduct themselves during practice, I think it allows for the team to have a real good, solid practices.

I noticed just watching the Nets game the other night, Kevin Garnett seems to have a real ability to poke the ball out of people's hands, too.
Yeah, I think he's as versatile a defender as you'll find in this league. His individual defense is terrific, obviously, his team defense is terrific. His ability to guard multiple positions is a great asset to the defense. He can play 94 feet. He gives you the ability to do some switching that normally you might not do. So I think it's a great asset to have.

Of course, he's high energy, and he's a multiple effort guy. And he seems to be everywhere, all over the court. He's done a great job of anchoring the defense and shutting the lane down.

Those three guys have played a lot of minutes. And I get emails from TrueHoop readers saying, "What's with this? Why aren't they sitting a little more?" Is that something you're worried about?
I don't know if we're worried about. I think all three are around 38 minutes. You'd like it to be a little less. We had one overtime game already. But we're pleased with our bench play. Eddie House is doing a terrific job, as has James Posey, and Scalabrine, and Tony Allen's starting to come around.

Some on the bench -- Scalabrine and Posey -- missed a game, so we were a little shorthanded there, but Glen Davis stepped up. So we're pleased with the bench. In terms of their minutes, you know, 36 to 38 minutes, that's what they're accustomed to playing.

With all the attention the stars are getting, is it hard to keep those bench guys prepared? What do you do when all the media is crowding around those three players?
I think that's the great thing about those bench guys. I think Eddie House, Pose and Scal, have been around, and they've played on good teams so they stay ready. And Tony Allen's done a terrific job rehabbing, coming off an injury. He keeps getting better and better each day. And of course, Glen Davis has been very productive for us as well. So we're very pleased with our bench play.

I think a big part of that comes from the fact that with the main three guys that the way they practiced, it prepares everybody because you have to compete hard in practice.

Looking at your roster, you kind of had to have somebody emerge. It turns out Glen Davis has been that guy in the frontcourt. But it seemed you didn't have enough real proven big men that everyone was saying, well, you know, how are they going to fill these holes? But he's been pretty remarkable, huh?
Yeah, Glen's done a solid job, and also along with that Kendrick Perkins gets overlooked. He's a solid individual defender, and he also shuts the paint down so he's protecting our basket. So he's done a terrific job.

And Rajon Rondo at the point has been very, very active. Of course, he plays passing lanes very, very well. So those two guys sometimes get overlooked. But I think, overall, the bench play has been terrific.

Now your point guard situation, if you talk about Rondo, a lot of teams will give significant minutes to two or even three point guards. You really only have one real point guard playing any significant minutes, and that's Rondo.
Well, Eddie's played a lot of the back up point guard minutes. But I think the fact that Kevin is such a terrific passer and you can run your offense through him at times, and when you look at how unselfish Kevin is and, along with Kevin, both Ray and Paul are terrific play makers as well. So the ball is moving very freely.

I think we're playing unselfishly. Maybe at times a little too unselfish. We'd like to get our turnovers down a little bit. But, overall, we're very pleased with the way the ball's been moving.
When Rajon is not in the game, what is your philosophy? It seems that you're kind of letting Ray and Paul and Kevin create a lot. Then sort of they end up finding guys like Eddie House wide open?

I think philosophically where we'd like to be, is we want to be an inside/out team. The obvious is with Kevin inside. But also, you know, we want to penetrate and get the ball into the paint and then kick out.

We feel the three-point shot could be a great asset for us.

Of course, Eddie's been terrific behind the arc, and Ray is one of the great shooters in the game. But Posey has hit
a number of big threes for us. And Scalabrine can stretch the defense also. That is also a big part of our offense.

Is there some obligation with these three players to make sure everybody gets enough touches? Is that something the coaching staff has to worry about, or do you sort of let the shots come where they may?
No, no one's worried about shots. The one thing we want to do is, we want to set a tone as to who we are and how we're going to play.

So, we started off in training camp. We knew we wanted to be a defensive team first, a rebounding team second. Low turnovers, get the ball inside and share the ball.

So, when you have players like Kevin, Paul, and Ray, oftentimes they're going to come upon more than one defender. When that second defender comes, we want that ball to move freely, and they've done a great job of kicking that ball out, finding the open man. And I think we're doing a good job of making that extra pass.

Maybe it's too early, maybe it's too late is there a moment you start thinking to yourself, wow, this is a special thing we have going here?
Yeah, like I think the big thing is you don't want to get ahead of yourself.

I think what we're trying to do, is each and every day we want to do the right things. We feel that if we can improve each day that that will prepare us to play the best at the end of the season. And that's what we're striving to do.

I know your winning margins have been fantastic. And you guys are the best team in the league by any statistical measure. But what's giving you trouble?
Well, I think the big thing is he we want to get the turnovers down. That's the big thing. I think the other thing is maybe a little less fouling, you know, keeping the ball in front of us. Those are the two big areas for us right now.

Anything I haven't asked you about that we should know about how your team runs?
Well, it's pretty simple. When you look at it, we have three primary scorers that command a lot of attention. Offensively, we try to play through them. But that being said, we also want the ball to move, we want our players moving.

Of course, defensively, we know there are going to be some nights in which we don't shoot the ball as well as others, and we want that defense to be a constant. Each and every night we want to commit to it and keep building on it.

It looks good so far.
Well, thank you.

(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)