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Celtics coach Brad Stevens is cool under pressure

Just because Celtics coach Brad Stevens remains even-keeled does not mean his competitive fires aren’t burning.jared WICKERHAM/getty images

The subject is Brad Stevens.

“I have not heard him raise his voice,” said Celtics guard Courtney Lee.

Not once?

“Not once,” added fellow guard Avery Bradley.

Several Celtics say the same of their rookie head coach, who is known for his measured mien, no matter if his team is playing well or poor, if it has won or lost.

And, true to the stereotype, the 37-year-old Stevens has remained even-keeled even as his team has opened the season with losses in four of its first five games heading into Friday’s matchup against the Magic in Orlando.

However, Stevens said in a recent interview that this reputation is a misconception.


“The whole ‘calmness thing’ is way overblown,” he said.

Observers have questioned that side of him before, specifically his competitiveness, because he can, at times, come off as emotionless.

But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn’t see it that way at all.

“Sometimes people can misinterpret competitiveness by facial expressions and demonstrative and yelling and screaming and throwing coats,” Ainge said. “He has a great control of his emotions, a great temperament, and is not nearly as demonstrative. But he is extremely competitive.”

Added Celtics assistant coach Ron Adams, “People will be, but don’t be fooled by the boyish exterior that you can take from Brad.

“He’s like all really outstanding coaches: He has a burning desire to win. He may not show it to some people, he may not coach it as demonstratively as some people, but believe me, it’s there.”

So why the chill attitude?

Stevens’s colleagues say his overall measured demeanor is part of his process.

“And the best proof you’ll find that Brad is process-orientated is if you watch the last few seconds of the Gonzaga game,” said Drew Cannon, Stevens’s statistical guru at Butler whom Stevens hired to work with the Celtics.


Ah, the infamous “Gonzaga game.” Stevens is asked about it often because his actions in it seem unreal. It took place in January, when Butler faced eighth-ranked Gonzaga at home and trailed, 63-62, with 3.5 seconds left.

Stevens stood on the sideline with his arms crossed and remained that way even as one of his players stole the ball, drove upcourt, and made the winning shot at the buzzer that turned Hinkle Fieldhouse into a madhouse.

As fans and players celebrated on the court, screaming and jumping and searching for someone to hug, Stevens robotically uncrossed his arms and walked toward Gonzaga coach Mark Few to shake his hand. (YouTube it.)

But whether or not that shot went in, Cannon said, Stevens’s next step, no matter what, was to shake Few’s hand. And, even then, he’s cautious about celebrating too much. Why?

“If we hit a shot and Brad goes crazy, the players could take that as winning is the only thing that matters, that if we don’t win, everything we’re doing is wrong,” Cannon said.

“He definitely takes into account how every action will affect the players, even if it’s innocuous.”

There was a turning point for Stevens in that regard, after the first road conference game in 2007-08, his first season as Butler’s head coach.

The Bulldogs lost, 43-42, to Wright State and Stevens felt like he was too uptight during the game, which made his players the same way.


From then on, he wanted to remain measured and instill calm confidence, telling his players that they were all right and that they just needed to focus on the next possession.

“Maybe some guys relate better to somebody screaming on the bench,” said former Butler forward Matt Howard. “But when I look over and the guy is not flipping out because a team went on a 7-0 run, that helps me to calm down and focus on what’s happening next.”

Stevens said former Butler coach Todd Lickliter influenced him in this area.

“Coaches have a tendency to really focus on what you did poorly or what a guy can’t do,” Stevens said, “and he was great at saying, ‘Focus on what you can control.’ ”

Said Lickliter: “What you’re trying to do is influence the outcome.”

As a coach, Stevens’s calm stems from preparation. He covers every detail, developing plans and backup plans. By game time, he and his team believed they were ready.

“The more prepared I am, the calmer I will be,” Stevens said.

During Stevens’s time at Butler, the Bulldogs won 65 percent (37 out of 57) of their games decided by 6 points or fewer. In the 2009-10 season, when they reached the national championship, they played 12 such games — and won all but two.

Still, Josh Burch, a close friend of Stevens and a teammate at DePauw University, said he sometimes wondered, “Is this guy aloof? Does he not care?”

Burch added, “You look at him, and talk about a poker player. You don’t know what’s going on in his mind.”


Burch said he came to realize, though, that Stevens would act that way, in part, so not to give the opposition a clue as to what he might do next.

Stevens knew, Burch said, what most coaches would do in certain game situations, and he might do the opposite just to surprise the opposition.

“It is a poker game to him,” Burch said.

It is a way to influence the outcome.

Another way was to be fiery with referees and players.

“He kicked us out of practice a couple of times when we weren’t doing things the right way,” said Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who played for Stevens at Butler. “He’s extremely detail-orientated. When you’re not focusing on those details, he gets pretty upset about that.”

Frustrated with Butler guard Ronald Nored’s defense during a game once, Stevens grabbed a roster and pointed to the name of each opposing player, saying as loud as he could during the timeout, “ ‘Who can Ron Nored guard?’ ”

Nored was the team’s best defender and later became the first two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Horizon League. The comment, to put it mildly, lit a fire under Nored, who shut down his man. Butler won.

In another game, Stevens told Howard, who was known for a high motor and strong work ethic, “I can’t believe you’re not playing hard.”

“For me, that’s all it takes,” said Howard, who then wanted to move mountains.


Howard said he realized in that moment how well Stevens knows his players, which helps him find exactly the right words if he needs them.

However, there have been hidden moments, beyond the mere shattering of a clipboard, when Stevens was not so “calm” at all.

On Dec. 22, 2009, Butler’s record stood at 8-4 after a 65-57 loss to Alabama-Birmingham, the Bulldogs’ largest margin of defeat in 87 games.

The team reconvened a few days after a Christmas break and was listless during a morning practice. Before the afternoon session, Stevens had the locker room stripped down. Even the quotes on the walls were removed.

All that remained in the room’s center was Butler’s second-place trophy from the prior year’s league tournament.

Stevens’s message: Keep this up and this is what you’ll be — runners-up, at best. “He was very calm,” Nored recalled. Stevens then pointed to bare spots on the walls where the quotes had been and asked his players to recite them from memory. Some could, some couldn’t.

“It’s not just up there to be up there,” Stevens recalled telling them. “It’s up there for a reason. If you all believe in it, it works well together.”

From that point on, the team won 25 straight games, not losing until the national championship against Duke. “It was a big moment,” Stevens said, looking back.

Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.