The Celtics open their exhibition season tonight with a tilt against the visiting Toronto Raptors at the TD Garden, but new head coach Brad Stevens maintains that breaking down the Raps isn't exactly a priority for him at the moment. He's more focused on his guys.
"I haven't delved into the opponents all that much yet," Stevens said pregame. "I probably won't for the first half of the exhibition season."
Then, in the next breath, he proceeded to rattle off a comprehensive Toronto scouting report from memory.
"They're very athletic, very long," Stevens said when pressed on the matter. "Obviously, DeRozan and Gay are wings who can score, and Valanciunas is a guy who's been a little bit undervalued collectively, around the league. Then Lowry puts heat on you, obviously, with his ability to penetrate and get inside the defense, and he's a guy who shot 36 percent from 3, so it's not like he's not a capable shooter. And Amir Johnson, when he hits shots, that makes it very difficult to defend them in general. I've got enough of a baseline about them to know them personnel-wise and generally what they like to do."
Quickly, confidently, seemingly effortlessly, like he could do it in his sleep, Stevens was able to rattle off intelligent 102 words about an opponent that means nothing, as today is October 7 and tonight's game doesn't count. It's not required of him at this point, but Stevens knows DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas inside out.
Maybe that's just the way Brad Stevens is.
They say preseason basketball is an opportunity to learn about your new players, but in Boston, we're perhaps learning more about Stevens than anyone. This is Brad Stevens - well-studied, well-spoken, always well-prepared. He's a basketball junkie. He never stops learning, and he's more than willing to spill his wisdom to the world.
Most 36-year-olds with mid-major college backgrounds would be a little bit jittery walking into the TD Garden for their first day as head coach of the Celtics. Not Stevens - he simply meant business.
"I just had to see where my seat was," Stevens said of his first time walking into the building. "I hate to be so boring and bland, but I was just looking for where we sit and how I get out there. I've got to figure out which door still goes out there on my way out. Hopefully somebody will direct me."
The spotlight will be bright on Stevens, tonight and throughout this inaugural season. He had a sparkling six years at Butler, going 166–49 and making several deep runs into the NCAA Tournament with an unlikely Cinderella team, but the NBA is a whole different animal, and he's playing a high-stakes game with a six-year, $22 million contract to prove it.
So is he nervous? Not so much.
"Not really," Stevens said. "I'm anxious to see how we play. I'm anxious to see how we compete, do all the little things and, you know, play against somebody else. I'm really anxious to see us get some film against somebody else tonight. That's the biggest thing."
Some coaches might walk into the Garden, look up at the 17 championship banners and start thinking about their place in history. Not Stevens. He's just here to take care of business tonight.
"They couldn't be further from my mind right now," the coach said of the banners above him. "I don't think I'm here because of necessarily anything that's been accomplished, but more because of how we go about trying to get there. That's what I'm trying to focus on right now. I just want us to play hard, play together and compete through ups and downs.
"I'm a basketball guy. I'm just excited for a new season."
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