Brad Stevens arrived at TD Garden around 2:30 p.m. Monday, five hours prior to the scheduled tipoff for the Celtics’ preseason game against Toronto.
Then on the night of his NBA debut, Stevens, the league’s youngest coach (36) and the new leader of its most championship-rich franchise, walked onto the empty arena’s fabled parquet and took a look around.
“I had to see where my seat was,” he said.
He didn’t make the moment out to be anything mystical or magical, and he apologized that it wasn’t something more special. He was simply looking for his seat, he said.
Stevens is, in fact, quite the early bird: when he coached at Butler, he often arrived at Hinkle Fieldhouse at 7 or 8 a.m. on game days and he would stay there until tipoff.
“It’s kind of nice to get here by yourself and close that door and go to work,” he said.
But, as per usual, Stevens, formerly the star coach a Butler, said he didn’t have any nerves before the game, that he was just eager to see how his team would compete and how possible lineup combinations would perform.
His players saw it a little differently. “Yeah, he’s kinda nervous a little bit, but who isn’t?” said forward Gerald Wallace, a 12-year NBA veteran.
Kris Humphries, a nine-year-veteran, added, “As a player, you can tell when someone knows what they are doing and they don’t. We respect his knowledge of the game and it’s going to be an adjustment for him to come out there and get used to the NBA game.”
Seventeen world championship banners hang in the Garden’s rafters, the most of any NBA team, but Stevens said the glorious history and expectations that they represent did not weigh on his mind. He said he sees them at the Celtics practice facility anyway.
“They couldn’t be further from my mind right now,” he said.
He said he received a few messages of good luck, but not too many.
“I think most of the coaches probably think, ‘Well, that’s an exhibition game,’” he said. “Maybe they’re saving their ‘good lucks,’ which I’ll take.”
When Stevens walked out onto the court just before the game, wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a green-and-white striped tie, nearby fans reached for a high-five and a few cheers came from the crowd.
It wasn’t a deafening ovation then, nor later when the lineups were announced and he was introduced to the Garden crowd as the Celtics new coach, the replacement for Doc Rivers.
Stevens took a seat in between veteran assistant coach Ron Adams and returning Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, a former candidate for the Celtics head job.
Then the game began, the start of a new era, and the Celtics missed eight of their first nine shots and fell in a 14-2 hole before bouncing back, scoring 10 straight.