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Brad Stevens shaken by former player’s death

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Brad Stevens coached his Celtics on Tuesday night, hours after former player Andrew Smith died from cancer at 25.Kathy Willens

NEW YORK — Brad Stevens was visibly shaken and overwhelmed with emotion. He had just lost one of his favorite players.

Andrew Smith, the Butler center who played for Stevens on two Final Four teams, succumbed to cancer Tuesday, five days after Stevens left the Celtics to visit him in Indianapolis.

Stevens spoke with the media less than two minutes before Tuesday's 120-114 loss to the Knicks, fighting off tears and nearly breaking down as he discussed Smith, who was just 25.

"The last week has been tough," Stevens said. "I was happy that I got a chance to say goodbye. And this is really about, when you coach somebody, you get a lot more out of coaching them than they do from you. So . . . that's that. I could go on and on and it wouldn't do him justice."

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Smith battled cancer for two years. When Smith's condition worsened, Stevens left the team and missed last Thursday's game against the Bulls to see him one final time.

"He was special. He was tough," Stevens said. "He was a really good player, found a niche and became one of the more high-achieving guys that I got a chance to coach from where he started.

"But the last two years, he's been through a lot. He never gave in. That's it."

Stevens said he will attend Smith's funeral.

"I'm glad I got a chance to go back last week and I'm really appreciative of the Celtics and ownership for letting me do that," he said. "At the end of the day, I'm going to go out and do my job and do it as well as I can."

Patched up

Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart walked into the Celtics' shootaround Tuesday morning at Madison Square Garden joking with each other, Smart offering a loud giggle. The two had made up after clashing in the waning moments of the Celtics' loss Sunday in Memphis.

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Crowder screamed at Smart following Smart's frustration foul on Mario Chalmers with 33.9 seconds left and Boston trailing by 1 point. All the Celtics needed was a stop, but instead, Smart handed Memphis two free throws.

Several teammates jumped on Smart, but his argument with Crowder was glaring. However, the two discussed their differences and moved forward, according to Crowder.

"We didn't want to foul right there," Crowder said. "We wanted to play it out and see if we could get a stop, score and then win the game. Emotions were high. It was a pivotal part of the game. We just weren't happy. We voiced our opinion but we got over it."

The two players talked several hours after the game.

"You cool off and you approach it like men because we're all men," Crowder said. "We get over it. We're teammates. I love him. He's a great player. He's a great competitor. What he brings, we need. We just got over it. He knew he messed up. He apologized. That's all I can really say. It's not we were going to be mad at each other forever, it was just heat of the moment. Guys are trying to win the game at that point."

Crowder expressed his admiration for Smart.

"I know we need him. I told him we need him," Crowder said. "If we were to get into that situation again, I know he'll do the right thing. I would want him on the court. He's a dog. He's going to fight and scrap and make plays and we need it. It's a growing step for us."

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The Celtics players and coaches met in Memphis and agreed to curtail arguing with officials and complaining about calls. Smart's foul was a byproduct of a non-call on a layup attempt the previous play.

"We're going to let Brad and the coaching staff take care of the referees and we're going to keep playing," Crowder said. "We'll keep getting respect throughout the whole league if we keep playing hard. That's the way we want to play."

Trying to rebound

The Celtics were pounded on the boards by Memphis in the second half, 35-14, an embarrassing number for a team that prides itself on attacking the glass.

Two days later, Jared Sullinger, who collected one second-half rebound, was asked about that fateful 24 minutes.

"You get complacent when you got up by 21 [points], I guess," Sullinger said. "You don't do the little things that necessarily helps you win games. We've just got to hone in to what we need to do. It's hard to explain but we'll get better."

Sullinger said his primary goal Sunday was to keep Memphis center Zach Randolph off the boards.

"I was in a wrestling match all night, I knew I wasn't going to get a boatload of the rebounds," he said. "As a group, we've just got to rebound better. We've just got to get out of a lackadaisical mind-set."

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Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.