SAN ANTONIO — Count Brad Stevens as a major admirer of the Spurs’ Way.
The Celtics coach offered his compliments to the Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich. San Antonio has reached the playoffs for 22 consecutive years under Popovich and look again to be a Western Conference contender this season.
“I was 18 years old when this all started,” Stevens said. “I have no idea what the right answer is [to their success] because I haven’t lived it but I would say from afar, they’ve just stayed the course. They’ve had good players, really good coaching, a really good front office. And it hasn’t always been exactly how they wanted but they just stayed the course with it, even through some of the early playoff exit and as a result, they have a ton of banners.”
Stevens is 2-11 against the Spurs following the Celtics’ 135-115 victory over the Spurs on Saturday evening at AT&T Center. The victory was also Stevens’s first in seven tries at AT&T Center.
“Who enjoys that?” Stevens said when asked if he enjoys the matchups with Popovich. “He’s great. You learn so much when you watch him. I’m thankful our guys had a chance to play for him [with Team USA] but has anybody enjoyed coming here in the recent past? He and the players have had a lot to do with that but it’s fun to watch them play.”
He liked what he saw
Popovich was the Team USA coach for the World Cup team that included four Celtics — Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart. Although Team USA finished a disappointing seventh in the tournament, Popovich had nothing but praise for the quartet and the experience.
“It was a wonderful summer; I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed being with a group more — the four Celtics and everybody else,” he said. “It was like a daily clinic for about 48, 49 days. But those guys were great. They were motivated. They worked hard every day trying to pick up in a very short period of time what we needed to do to compete.
“They were great teammates with everybody else. I couldn’t have asked for more as far as on the court and enjoying their company off the court. It was a really good group.”
For years, it was rumored Stevens would become a part of the Team USA staff under Popovich but he said he never discussed a position. Popovich named Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Villanova coach Jay Wright, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, and Pacers coach Nate McMillan to his staff.
Kanter makes progress
Enes Kanter missed his seventh consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee. He continues to make progress in his recovery, according to Stevens.
Kanter bumped knees in the season opener against Philadelphia and the team has taken a cautious approach. He made the three-game road trip with hopes of returning.
He was ruled questionable for Thursday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets but was eventually a late scratch. The Celtics ruled Kanter out of Saturday’s game early Friday.
“It’s the same old thing,” Stevens said. “Hopefully he’ll get better soon.”
Kanter worked out the past few days but the training staff refused to clear his return. The Celtics return home to play the Dallas Mavericks on Monday and Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
All’s well with Smart
A few days after Smart barked at officials after receiving his fifth foul midway through the third quarter against the Hornets — and then barked at Stevens for telling him to calm down — all is well between the two. Smart actually apologized during the game and Stevens said it’s just part of the Marcus Smart package.
“Marcus is an emotional guy and we love that part about him,” Stevens said. “He’s a passionate guy. Inevitably we have a lot of days together to sit down real briefly and move forward. The other day he was frustrated, getting those five fouls.”
Smart scored 16 points against the Spurs, committing just two fouls in 25 minutes. He exited with 9:47 remaining in the game after taking a knee to the groin.