Popovich is NBA gold standard but Stevens could be on his way


For years, Gregg Popovich has been the standard by which all NBA coaches – the successful ones, at least – are measured.


He is easily the most accomplished coach in the NBA and when he finally decides to call it quits, he’ll be remembered as one of the best ever.

Being that good requires a keen eye for talent, which is in part why the Spurs (17-8) remain one of the top teams in the Western Conference despite having played their entire season up to this point without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.

He is reportedly going to make his long-awaited season debut on Saturday, the day after the Celtics play the Spurs.

Regardless of whether Leonard plays, you know the Spurs are going to give the Celtics all they can handle.

Dealing with key players being out is something Celtics coach Brad Stevens has managed all season.

First, he lost Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have each missed games as well.

And yet here are the Celtics, boasting the best record in the NBA (22-4), which includes a perfect 8-0 record against the Western Conference.

Popovich remains the standard every coach tries to meet. But you would be hard-pressed to find another NBA coach whose trending in that direction more so than Stevens.

“He is a special person,” Popovich said of Stevens. “And that’s on and off the court. He’s very intelligent. Intelligence is fine. But if it doesn’t come along with incisiveness and judgment and emotional maturity, it doesn’t do you much good. He’s got all those things and that’s large; not many people have that. It shows the way he handles people, the way he coaches. He’s going to be a great one before it’s all over with and he’s already a hell of a coach.”

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown will wear goggles tonight to protect his inflamed right eye. He missed the victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday with the eye inflammation. Rookie forward Jayson Tatum didn’t travel with the team to San Antonio for personal reasons and is expected arrive there this afternoon and expects to play tonight. Here are five more under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:

He has been the fifth starter, but don’t be fooled. The 6-foot-10 center has been an instrumental figure in Boston’s ascension to the top spot defensively in the NBA. And the foundation for his defense began in San Antonio under the watchful eye of Popovich. Baynes’ defensive rating is 91.2, which is tops among all NBA players.

From the time the halftime horn sounds, to their return to the floor, the Celtics become a different team. Despite an impressive 22-4 record, the Celtics have finished the second quarter facing a deficit 12 times. But in those 12 games, they’re 8-4. “At halftime, it’s not a lot who-rah this, who-rah that,” said Kyrie Irving. “It’s more or less, what we need to execute best at going forward and just correcting things. Brad comes in and says what he needs to say, and we just go out and do it as professionals.”

For all the struggles Marcus Smart has had this season shooting the ball, he’s still going to play major minutes for the Celtics for two reasons: his defense and playmaking. From the time Boston selected him, Smart has distinguished himself as an above-average defender. But what we’ve seen more of this season is his evolution into being a really good playmaker. His alley-oop passes to Al Horford for dunks, and his thread-the-needle passes to teammates cutting to the rim, have been big pluses this season. He’s shooting just 29.8 percent from the field, but he’s averaging 5.4 assists, which leads all reserves this season.

When you think about international NBA players coming on out of nowhere, the Spurs usually come to mind. But the Celtics have an international talent in Theis whose impact has been a key to Boston’s success this season. The 25-year-old rookie from Germany is coming off a career-high 11-rebound performance the win over Dallas. For the season, he is averaging 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 12.5 minutes per game.

Boston will have its hands full tonight, but at least they don’t have to worry about Leonard, who is expected to miss what will be his 26th game this season. The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year has yet to play in a game this season due to a right quadriceps injury and is reportedly set to return to action at Phoenix on Saturday. Leonard was third in the league’s MVP voting a year ago when he averaged 25.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists along with 1.8 steals per game.

Contact Us