Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (left) and Mike Budenholzer (right) are having quite the matchup in the first round. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)
There’s been plenty of talk over the last three games about the coaching moves made by Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer.
There was Stevens changing his lineup and inserting Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into the starting lineup with great results before Game 3. There was Stevens going with a small lineup that gave the Hawks fits, especially in the fourth quarter of both games in Boston and there were the two timeouts call by Budenholzer with 15 seconds left in regulation of Game 4. He proceeded to watch his point guard dribble out the clock without actually getting a shot up at the rim as the game went to overtime, where the Celtics dominated and tied the series.
The advantage went back to Budenholzer on Tuesday as his decision to stay with a perimeter was rewarded when the Hawks connected on 14-of-35 shots from beyond the arc. Budenholzer also took a page out of Stevens’ book by going smaller and moving Paul Millsap to center for long stretches of the game.
But Stevens said in a conference call Wednesday it’s important not to become overly obsessed with turning the game into a chess match.
“I think that’s what you have to look at. I think that’s what you have to figure out. I think you always start with a mountain-load of information and your desire is to get to basketball in its simplest form,” Stevens said.
“I’ve shared this quote before, my old boss at Butler used to quote Lincoln when he said, ‘I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.’ I think that that’s a coach’s job, is to try to make it as short, simple and sweet as possible and then let guys go out there and play a fast game with a clear mind, and that’s the bottom line, that’s my job and that’s what I’ll stay up thinking about doing. The goal will just be to go out and do our stuff as well as we can.”
The thing that’s killed the Celtics in this series is giving up too many double-digit runs to the Hawks where the Celtics either don’t score or put up very little resistance. Of course, Game 2 featured the 24-3 run by the Hawks to start the game. There were two such runs Tuesday that did them in, a 26-6 second-quarter spurt that turned a 10-point Celtic lead into a 10-point hole in a heartbeat. In the third quarter, the Celtics were within striking distance at 66-57. Then the Hawks scored 18 of the next 19 points to put the game away. In total, the Celtics were outscored 70-33 from midway through the second quarter to the start of the fourth.
Every NBA game, even in the playoffs, will have its fair share of runs. But the difference in this series is that the team making them usually wins the game.
“I think in four of the five games, and I don’t know exactly what the run would be in the first game, but they’ve hit us with major runs, yesterday they hit us with two,” Stevens said. “They hit us with the one in the second quarter and then they hit us with the one at the end of the third quarter. It was a six-point game with six minutes left in the third and we had struggled to score, but we were up with six minutes left in the second.
“I think that we’ve got to do a great job of not getting overanxious, offensively, not creating points for them by turning the ball over or taking quick shots and then making sure that we’re just better defensively than we were. There were a lot of things, again — we could talk about one or two things, you have a game like that with the runs that they had, it’s a lot more than one or two things.
“Listen, there’s not a person around that respects how good they are and how well-coached they are than me. You anticipate that they’re going to come out with a great sense of urgency and a great way about them, and execute whatever they’re trying to do well with whoever is on the floor.
“And so, whether it’s showing Isaiah a little more attention or playing small or whatever the case may be, whatever they decide to do, the way can operate, they’re going to do it full-go and that’s what makes it go. That’s what makes it work is that that’s a connected group and a really well-coached group. And it’s why we’ve had our hands full from the get-to. It’s been a fun series to compete in and it’s going to be a fun series to compete in [Thursday] night.”