A healthy Avery Bradley has been getting back to form since his return from a sore Achilles. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
If there’s one dividend from the early season injury bug that the Celtics are cashing in on now it’s rest.
Specifically, it’s the rest players like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and Jae Crowder were able to gain as the rest of the league was going through the grind.
Every year, there’s intense debate as to what to do at the league level to discourage teams from resting their players at the end of the season as playoff-bound teams prep their star players for the postseason. This was brought to a head on March 11 in San Antonio when, on a nationally televised game, the Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant was already sitting with his left knee injury. The Spurs rested Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge.
What’s Stevens’ take?
“I understand the discussion and certainly we’re all sensitive to the fact that somebody is going to watch a game in TD Garden for the first time tonight,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Indiana. “That’s why I don’t know if this is fortunate or unfortunate, probably more unfortunate because you never want to have injuries, but we had a lot of injuries so we got rest because we had to get rest.
“I do think in the last week of the season it is a little bit different. But I also understand as each team goes about it to try and best set themselves up for the postseason, the idea and opportunities to get rest. I’m hopeful, like everybody else, that the extra week in the season can appropriately handle some of those things but there are some really tough stretches in this and it is difficult. You just have to try to manage those as well as you can.
“If some team chooses to rest their players then I understand it has to be a discussion but I understand why they do it.”
To mitigate some of the schedule grind to make it easier on players, the NBA shortened the preseason, adding a week to the schedule to spread out more games. Still, teams like the Celtics still faced a huge challenge.
“We knew going into the year, and I think this is probably what a lot of teams do, they look at the schedule,” Stevens said. “We knew December was going to be a monster and on Dec. 30 we were going to play six games in nine days and then we knew early February the West Coast trip coming back, All-Star break, Toronto, Detroit, back, West Coast trip again, you knew that was going to be really tough. You just kind of know that in advance and try to plan for it the best way you can. But again, some of our decisions were alleviated by the fact that we didn’t have guys available because of injuries. Again, I understand why teams do it but I understand the dilemma.”
Jae Crowder entered Wednesday’s game shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. He has taken 605 shots, 340 from long range. That figures to 56 percent of his overall shots from long range.
“If they’re all open, whatever, right? And even if they’re lightly challenged, he’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Stevens said. “You look across the league at guys that do what he does, that’s pretty typical. I think that’s something that’s a great testament to him, that he can continue to be as consistent as he’s being, shooting that percentage and shooting as high of a percentage with that volume.”
Speaking of Crowder, the forward said the team’s increased rebounding proficiency is the result of better focus in the area. Stevens said it was something else.
“Well, to be on the incline in rebounding for us was going to be really easy because we started in the basement,” Stevens said. “We had nowhere to go but up, so. I think it’s a matter of being in great position before the shot goes up, it’s a matter of making hard, initial contact on the block out, it’s a matter of guards pursuing. Sometimes, they’re going to bounce over you head and taller guys are going to get it but you try to take the luck out as much as you can.”
This, of course, is the greatest time of year for college basketball. Before Wednesday’s game, an Indiana reporter reminded the former Butler coach that his Indianapolis-based school came oh so close to dethroning the defending national champion Florida Gators in 2007 in the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs leg the Al Horford-Joakim Noah-led Gators in St. Louis before falling, 65-57.
Before reporter could finish the question about the game 10 years ago Thursday, Stevens interjected.
“Al Horford charged. That was a charge,” Stevens said of the controversial play in the second half.
Have you told him that?
to him when we first signed him. We had a one-point lead with three minutes to go and we had a doctor and a dentist guarding Horford and Noah. That was not ideal. Horford took one of our undersized 4s – probably an undersized 3 who is now an assistant at Butler – took him from the 3-point line to the basket and got an ‘and-1’ and it was a charge. You can ask Al about it later.”