Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a reputation for his terse interactions with reporters, unafraid to respond to questions with one-word answers or even no answers at all.
But when he was asked on Sunday about the history of the Celtics, he shared an unusually detailed story.
“I’ve been coaching the Spurs team for a while now. And when you go down to the arena, coaches have a little office where you can sit and think about the game and work yourself up into a lather,” Popovich said before his team’s 95-87 win at TD Garden. “And think about things that confuse the issue, and forget that it’s just basketball. And in that room, there’s a chair and there’s a table. And a lamp. And there’s one picture on the wall. And it’s been there for the last 18 or 20 years. And that’s John Havlicek. So I do think about the legacy here.”
Popovich said the picture of Havlicek, the former Celtics great, was hanging in his office when he coached at Division 3 Pomona-Pitzer in the mid 1980s. He then brought it along to his various stops, including when he was named the Spurs’ coach in 1996. Popovich said that about 10 years ago, Havlicek actually stopped in the office during a visit to San Antonio.
“He sat across from me and we got to talk a little bit,” Popovich said. “I stammered and that kind of thing, and just stared at him and talked to him a little bit. So I’m sure he saw [the picture], because it was right behind me on the wall right there.”
Too early to decide
Popovich was recently named the next head coach of the US national team; he will take over for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the 2016 Olympics. Last week, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he would be interested in being an assistant on the team. But on Sunday, Popovich said it was too early to discuss how he might assemble his staff.
“2016 is what’s important right now,” he said. “I don’t exist right now.”
Popovich did have some glowing words for Stevens after the Spurs’ win, however.
“I really respect what he does,” he said. “I’ll still watch his Butler tape, trying to learn some stuff he did [as a coach] there, to be honest with you. I really respect the hell out of him. He’s a really fine young coach.”
The Celtics starters got off to quiet starts offensively in the season’s first two games. But Stevens said before Sunday’s game that he was not ready to make any changes.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is we’ve talked about the rotation, and there are certainly some challenges that come with that. But it’s going to continue to be who plays the best.”
The start of the Spurs game did not go smoothly, either, as the starting lineup was a combined 1 for 7 with three turnovers in the opening quarter before Isaiah Thomas came in off the bench.
“We’ll do more research on it, more looking at it,” Stevens said after the game. “I don’t think we’re going to have rotations and all that stuff figured out as early as you’d like, because it’s one of those things where we’ve got a lot of equal guys.”
Stevens is in the early stages of what could be a long NBA coaching career and Tim Duncan is in the final stages of what has been a magnificent career as a player. And the two are both 39 years old. Stevens said he has long admired Duncan, particularly how he has adapted to the game as his career has progressed.
“He totally seems to have accepted leading and doing it humbly and leading by example, and also being willing to sacrifice, because he may not be the first guy they go to in the post,” Stevens said. “He’s certainly capable of giving you 25 and 15 on any night, but he may not be the first or second guy they throw it to. For a guy his caliber to accept that says a lot about him.”