Celtics coach Brad Stevens is clearly the most competent person currently employed within the city of Boston. I say this with the utmost respect for my wife, the Falafel King of Downtown Crossing, and whoever is in charge of payroll at Boston.com. We have some stellar workers in this frozen old town, but no one shines brighter than the second-year Celts coach who some-damn-how has his ragless, tagless, and heretofore hopeless team fighting for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 25 games left in the season.
The Celtics went 7-4 in February, their first winning month in a season and a half. Sure, they’re 11 games under .500; sure, they’re going to get smoked in Cleveland Tuesday night (Editor’s note: this column was written before they got smoked in Cleveland Tuesday night). Sure, ESPN.com notes they’ve played the softest schedule in the league over their previous 14 games, during which time they went 7-7. But they’re still only two games behind dead-in-the-water Brooklyn for the 8th seed in the East, with the suddenly Bosh-less Miami Heat just a half game ahead of the Nets.
I don’t like the Celtics’ chances a ton—they’ve got Indiana and Charlotte gumming things up twixt them and Brooklyn, with Detroit just a half game behind; and the Celts play 13 of their final 24 on the road, including one in Cleveland and one each in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, before another dose of LeBron in the Garden. But I positively love the idea that they have any chance at all. The Green have an outside shot at the postseason, despite the fact that Evan Turner has been their most consistently valuable player through the first two-thirds of the season.
Seriously, Evan Turner.
Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are long gone (to the extent that Jeff Green was ever here), Jared Sullinger is out for the season, and Kelly Olynk’s allegedly minor ankle injury morphed into “no commuter rail service today because, uh, it snowed two weeks ago and then it was cold that other time’’ territory.
And I like Avery Bradley, but he’s in his fifth year now, and a dirty truth about the NBA is that players become who they’re ultimately going to be much earlier than we like to admit. Avery Bradley is a great defender and a good shooter who is also a 6’2’’ guard who averages 1.6 assists a game on the team with the 5th-most made field goals in the league. When you move the ball as ineffectively as AB does, a 14 point-per-game average is barely treading water.
That leaves us with the two fun guys, rookie point guard Marcus Smart and our lord and savior Isaiah Thomas. Smart is a good defender who has played five games this year in which he has failed to hit a single shot. He has hit more than half of his field goal attempts five times as well. He averages 3.5 assists a game. Marcus Smart is not good at offense. Thomas, on the other hand, was downright heroic in winning the most recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. He is also a 5’ 9’’ gunner who will play entire months at a time resembling Nate Robinson without the weekly dunk. Oh, and there are also Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller; they’re all right. And it’s nice to have Jae Crowder around too. He’s useful.
But still: The NBA is a star-dominated league. I think coaches tend to get far too much credit and blame in all sports, none more so than basketball, but it’s impossible to watch this Celtics team win 40 percent of their games without concluding that their one true star Brad Stevens. I am very reluctant to buy into the coach-as-building-block model of sporting success, but at this point I would trust Brad Stevens to do anything he wanted.
My understanding is that the Boston Public Schools superintendent search is coming along nicely, with a handful of qualified candidates in play. So you dodged that bullet, Brad. But I think at this point it would be downright treasonous for our very most talented Bostonian to refuse his true calling: Brad Stevens has to take over the MBTA. I tend to side with the analysts who consider the T to be screwed up beyond reasonable hope of repair, but I said the same thing about the team that jumped Brandon Bass(!) at center to start overtime against the Lakers last week.
Sure, the Celts lost that game, but they went down fighting. The most persistent complaint I’ve heard about the MBTA this winter isn’t just that they’re failing, but that they’re not showing any signs of life, not giving off the faintest whiff of an organization that gives a damn whether they win or lose. It’s high time Brad Stevens rectify that. If we can talk him into splitting his time between the MBTA and the Celtics for the next couple of months, there’s an outside chance that not only will the C’s make the playoffs, but we just might be able to get a train to North Station to watch the action.