WALTHAM — Brad Stevens has worked in close proximity to successful sports teams before, but nothing like what he has encountered since arriving in New England.
“It’s unbelievable,” the rookie Celtics coach said before practice Tuesday.
A quick rundown:
Last year, the Red Sox won the World Series, the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final, the Patriots were one win away from the Super Bowl, and Boston College running back Andre Williams was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
In the college basketball ranks, Harvard and UMass reached the NCAA men’s tournament this year, with Harvard winning a second-round game.
And then the UConn men’s basketball team won the NCAA title Monday night, with the UConn women’s team doing the very same Tuesday night.
Stevens pointed out that the region he came from, Indiana, has done rather well in sports.
“But maybe not quite as many championships,” he added.
“Obviously, it’s always unbelievable to watch champions perform . . . especially the professional sports teams, what they’ve accomplished is remarkable and you can learn a lot from them.”
It does place Stevens in an interesting position, though, because amid all that local success, the Celtics are having one of their worst seasons in history, with a 23-54 record heading into Wednesday night’s game in Atlanta against the Hawks.
Those 54 losses (with five games left) are the third-most in franchise history, trailing the 2006-07 (58) and 1996-97 (67) teams.
In other words, the Celtics are the lone brown spot on the apple, sports-wise, and that bothers Stevens, who can look around and see just how high the bar has been raised.
“It’s hard being in the position we’re in,” he said. “It’s hard being the team that’s not achieving.”
Does he feel more pressure to win, to try and keep up with the Joneses?
“I don’t know if the pressure feels any different to me,” he said. “It feels the same. It’s self-imposed.”
MRI for Humphries
Stevens said forward Kris Humphries will get an MRI on his right knee Wednesday instead of traveling with the team to Atlanta. Humphries missed Saturday’s game against Detroit with a strained right patella tendon. Stevens also said that Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger are expected to play against the Hawks. Bradley has been sidelined for three games with a strained right Achilles’ tendon, and Sullinger missed practice earlier Monday after suffering a bruised thigh Saturday. Sullinger said he doesn’t want to take any time off, though. “I want to finish the season out strong,” he said. “There’s never been a quitter inside me. I want to finish this season out.”
The Celtics will miss the playoffs, so the only role they can play now is spoiler. “We want to be that team,” said point guard Rajon Rondo. “Hopefully we can mess up Atlanta’s record a little bit more and knock those guys out of the playoffs.” The Hawks sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are looking to clinch a playoff berth. “It’s beautiful, now you have a chance to spoil somebody’s playoff contention,” Sullinger said. The Celtics will also play playoff-bound Charlotte and Washington in their final five games. But Stevens said he doesn’t relish the role of playing spoiler, nor will he try to use that as motivation for his players. “It’s more about focusing on us,” he said. With the Celtics not playing for the postseason, Rondo said the mood around the team is “more relaxed. We’re not playing for a seed, trying to jockey our position anyplace. It’s pretty relaxed. Guys are still upbeat.”
Rondo reaffirmed that he doesn’t plan to play this weekend against the Cavaliers in Cleveland, as that game is the second of a back-to-back set and Rondo hasn’t played in such games all season, instead sitting out to rest his surgically repaired right knee. As Rondo was speaking to reporters, forward Jeff Green came up behind him and said, “I just want to say, ‘Go UConn.’ ” Rondo attended Kentucky, which lost to Connecticut in Monday’s NCAA men’s championship game. Rondo noted, though, that Green went to Georgetown, which didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament this season. Stevens said he watched most of Monday night’s game. “Having been on the other end of two of those, I feel for the team that lost,” said Stevens, who reached the NCAA title game in 2010 and 2011 and lost both times.