Celtics

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith questions Brad Stevens over Celtics’ struggles with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown

"You should not be a .500 team with two studs like that."

Brad Stevens and the Celtics are 15-15. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

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The Boston Celtics have taken plenty of heat over their recent struggles, which have left them 15-15 in the early going.

On Monday’s First Take, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said he is starting to question Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

“Listen, I like Brad Stevens,” Smith said. “I think he’s an exceptional basketball mind. I think that when he first arrived, he proved himself to be one of the young innovative coaches in the game of basketball. He’s a class act, class personified. I genuinely like him, and I genuinely like him as a coach. I think anyone who knows anything about basketball has to respect him.”

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Still, Smith contends, having players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should preclude a team from a .500 record.

“When you have a star like Jayson Tatum — and make no mistake about it ladies and gentlemen, that young brother is a star and guess what: So is Jaylen Brown — the bottom line is, you should be better than a .500 team,” Smith said.

Smith believes Stevens’ issue isn’t his knowledge of the game, but rather his motivational skills.

“I’m talking about that leader of men that’s able to peel something out of you that you might not even know is inside of yourself,” Smith said. “The great, great coaches figured out a way to do that over the years. It’s something about you as a coach, where you shove aside the X’s and O’s because everybody knows what the other is doing that’s able to peel something out from inside of you and say ‘Okay, I’m gonna maximize the potential, even the potential you didn’t know you have.’

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“That is the element I have not seen from Brad Stevens. I think the Celtics have reached the point where now it’s called upon to find out whether Brad Stevens has that little extra something in him to get that little extra something from his players.”

Danny Ainge recently told Toucher and Rich that Boston’s struggles have “nothing” to do with Stevens.

“My coach is more prepared and humble than anybody,” Ainge said. “He respects Washington and Detroit more than anybody in that entire locker room. It has to do with the players. I think it’s just a maturity issue with the team.”

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Still, Smith thinks the noise will only build if the losses continue to mount.

“I think you’re going to hear a lot of noise if this stuff continues in Boston with these guys struggling,” Smith said. “You’re going to hear a lot of people talking about why have we raved about Brad Stevens so much. They are going to be asking that question, fair or unfair.

“You’ve got Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This is the sport of basketball, you should not be a .500 team with two studs like that.”

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