Big on Brad:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Gregg Doyel Colum­nist The In­di­anapo­lis Star USA TO­DAY Net­work

Bos­ton’s Stevens is qui­etly emerg­ing as one of the NBA’s fore­most coaches, and he might just be get­ting started.

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS – We’re a star-ob­sessed pop­u­lace and the NBA is a star-driven league, and these con­fer­ence fi­nals are from an­other galaxy. Golden State has Steph and KD, Dray­mond and Klay. No other names re­quired; you know who they are. The War­riors are play­ing out West against Hous­ton, led by The Beard and CP3. Here in the East, Cleve­land has LeBron. Bos­ton? Bos­ton has Brad. This is crazy, what Brad Stevens is do­ing, in terms of per­cep­tion and real­ity. The NBA is all about the star, the player, the name on the back of the jer­sey. The rest of us buy into it, be­cause it’s true: With­out those guys — with­out a whole bunch of those guys, un­less your team has LeBron James — an NBA team can’t go any­where in the post­sea­son.

Un­less your team has Brad. And then your team can go to the 2018 East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, even if it has been shed­ding su­per­star tal­ent in lay­ers, los­ing the sum­mer’s big­gest free agent ac­qui­si­tion five min­utes into the sea­son opener (Gor­don Hay­ward to a bro­ken leg), then los­ing the sum­mer’s big­gest trade ac­qui­si­tion (Kyrie Irv­ing, knee) with 15 games left in the reg­u­lar sea­son. That’s two All­Stars and more than 45 points per game, poof, with­out com­pen­sa­tion. Just … gone. So who’s left for the Celtics? Brad. How did the Celtics win 55 games this sea­son? Why are they still alive in the 2018 NBA play­offs? Why did they take a 1-0 lead on Cleve­land, throw­ing guck into LeBron’s most glo­ri­ous post­sea­son yet? Brad. Brad. Brad. What’s un­fold­ing in Bos­ton is joy­ous to watch here in cen­tral In­di­ana — in In­di­anapo­lis, in Zionsville, in Green­cas­tle — be­cause Brad’s one of ours. And be­cause he’s one of ours, we know this: He de­serves all of it, and will be changed by none of it. He’ll still be Brad. Just Brad. As reg­u­lar a guy as a guy can be, even as he’s mild-man­neredly muscling his way onto the NBA mar­quee by re­mind­ing us that he’s one of the two or three great­est bas­ket­ball coaches alive.

Don’t get me started on the 2018 NBA coach of the year award se­lected by coaches. Toronto’s Dwane Casey won that Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion award, and eight coaches re­ceived votes in all. Brad Stevens re­ceived zero. How do you ex­plain that? You don’t. You can’t. You ac­knowl­edge it’s there, you shake your head, and you keep it mov­ing.

Let’s go to Cleve­land, where LeBron James and his coach, Ty­ronn Lue, were talk­ing about the Celtics be­fore these con­fer­ence fi­nals. Lue refers to Stevens as “an all-world coach,” while LeBron makes the ar­gu­ment that Bos­ton, even with­out Hay­ward and Irv­ing, is much more tal­ented than ad­ver­tised. LeBron does this by prais­ing Bos­ton’s coach by name — “You all know how I feel about Brad Stevens” — and then by say­ing Bos­ton still has plenty of very good play­ers. “Guys,” he called them. Glady Knight had her Pips, Snow White her Seven Dwarfs. Brad has Guys. Now let’s go to Bos­ton, where ESPN’s Rachel Ni­chols is sit­ting be­fore the con­fer­ence fi­nals with three of those guys: for­ward Jayson Ta­tum, guards Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown. They re­ally are good play­ers, OK? My point isn’t that Brad Stevens is win­ning with­out tal­ent. Ta­tum, 20, and Brown, 21, are fu­ture All-Stars. Rozier, who knows? He en­tered his third NBA sea­son a ca­reer 4.3-ppg scorer but was av­er­ag­ing 18.2 ppg in the play­offs af­ter lead­ing the Celtics to se­ries wins against Mil­wau­kee and Philadel­phia. The Celtics have six play­ers scor­ing in dou­ble fig­ures in the post­sea­son en­ter­ing Game 2 vs. the Cava­liers, in- clud­ing five-time All-Star power for­ward Al Hor­ford (17 ppg).

But ev­ery­where you turn, it’s: Brad, Brad, Brad.

And Jaylen Brown, he hears it. In that in­ter­view with Ni­chols, sit­ting in front of Larry Bird’s re­tired No. 33 jer­sey, Brown was say­ing: “Brad’s a great coach.”

But he also was ac­knowl­edg­ing the na­tional per­cep­tion:

“I think that’s prob­a­bly what a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ica thinks: That he’s tak­ing a bunch of no­bod­ies and mak­ing them into some­bod­ies.”

And that’s my point: The NBA is a su­per­star-driven league, and af­ter those in­juries to Gor­don Hay­ward and Kyrie Irv­ing, the Celtics’ su­per­star is Brad Stevens.

And this just doesn’t hap­pen in the NBA, where the player is ev­ery­thing. The Celtics added Bird in 1979 and saw their vic­tory to­tal rise from 29 to 61. Cleve­land added LeBron twice, draft­ing him in 2003 and sign­ing him as a free agent in 2014, and saw its vic­tory tally rise from 17 to 35 the first time and from 33 to 53 the sec­ond.

Early this week, ESPN was hyp­ing the start of the CavsCeltics se­ries by post­ing a graphic of “wins in head-to­head matchups” by the se­ries’ two big­gest stars: LeBron James and Brad Stevens.

No, Stevens can’t and won’t score a point in this se­ries, and he didn’t grab a re­bound or hand out an as­sist in Bos­ton’s 108-83 vic­tory Game 1. But in the NBA, great of­fense is a re­sult of great tal­ent. But great de­fense? That’s great coach­ing.

And what Brad Stevens did to the 76ers’ Ben Simmons in the last round — then what he did to LeBron in Game 1 — was nasty.

Simmons is the pos­si­ble NBA Rookie of the Year, a 6-10 point guard with freak­ish ex­plo­sion, and the Celtics erased him. In one game he made zero field goals. In an­other he at­tempted zero free throws. Over­all, in five games, the 76ers were much bet­ter when Simmons (-63) wasn’t even on the court.

Same thing hap­pened in Game 1 vs. the Cava­liers. LeBron, whose post­sea­son run has reignited the Great­est of All Time con­ver­sa­tion, had his worst game of these play­off by far (15 points on 5-for-16 shoot­ing from the floor; seven re­bounds, nine as­sists, seven turnovers). The Cavs were -32 for his 36 min­utes on the court.

Stevens isn’t merely slow­ing down op­pos­ing stars; he’s us­ing them to his ad­van­tage.

What’s hap­pen­ing this post­sea­son in Bos­ton hap­pened all the time when Stevens was at But­ler, where he would take a nice ros­ter and turn it into some­thing scary. The Bulldogs reached the 2010 NCAA cham­pi­onship game with a fu­ture NBA su­per­star, the afore­men­tioned Gor­don Hay­ward, then did it again in 2011.

When Hay­ward was in the NBA.

Stevens is just 41. Wasn’t so long ago he was av­er­ag­ing 26.8 ppg for Zionsville High, win­ning all-con­fer­ence honors at DePauw Uni­ver­sity, putting his eco­nomics de­gree to work at Eli Lilly and Co., then do­ing some­thing crazy and leav­ing Lilly in 2000 to vol­un­teer in the But­ler bas­ket­ball of­fice.

What hap­pens next seems a bit more pre­dictable: Some­day he’ll coach the U.S. Olympic team — just watch — and be of­fered the Duke job af­ter Mike Krzyzewski re­tires.

And at some point he’ll get to coach a Bos­ton Celtics team with a healthy ros­ter, a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect for ev­ery­one else in the NBA.

WINSLOW TOWNSON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens calls a play against the Cava­liers dur­ing Game 1 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals in Bos­ton.

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