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NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: CAVALIERS vs CELTICS

May 24, 2018

Brad Stevens

Cleveland, Ohio: Practice Day

Q. Asking about the emotional peaks and valleys of the Playoffs, with a player like Al [Horford], do guys like Jaylen [Brown] and Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris look to him as well as yourself for a calming influence, for lack of a better word, and then just a quick follow-up on that, you can't get away from it tomorrow, the narrative is going to be that it's possibly LeBron's last game in Cleveland and there's going to be an urgency there. Talk about those things.
BRAD STEVENS: Well, first and foremost, with regard to Al and his composure and his poise and kind of a steadying influence, I think that he has a great effect on all of our guys in the locker room, and I think that the deal is you can't ride the emotional roller coaster. You can't live or die with every loss or win. You just move on, and you get ready for the next one and you play it as well as you can, and I think one of the strengths of this team has been moving on.

We're going to have to move on from last night's win, play better than we have to have a chance to win Game 6.

With regard to the other question, at the end of the day, it's incredibly hard to beat a good team in the NBA one time, and our focus is on what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance at being successful tomorrow night.

Q. There's so much talk and focus on individual assignments on defense, but in your three wins, I want to kind of get your read on how you think the team's overall defense has been collectively, and I guess what I'm looking at is specifically you always talk about defending both halves of the court when you're in half-court defense. How do you think that's come along throughout this series?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, knock on wood, if you look at our numbers, they're pretty good in the half court. We just have to play in the half court more and more. There's going to be times as we've talked about all week that there are -- that we're going to be matched up in a way that we'll be smaller than the guy we're guarding, and part of that is the situations and predicaments they put us in, and by the way, they put everybody in. The couple of times that we didn't switch yesterday in the middle, they burned us bad and got to the rim and then got a kick-out three, and those are the things you're trying to avoid.

At the end of the day, you're trying to make it as hard as possible, make people go through you to try to score, and that starts in transition. But if you look at it from the comparing our numbers defensively against the Cavs to what we needed to be going into the series, I think we're pretty close to where we needed to be to give ourselves a chance. But if we get beat in transition, we have no chance.

Q. What went into the decision last night to kind of shorten the rotation, aside from clearly obviously you guys are still a little under-manned?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, there's a lot that goes into it, and I'll leave it at that. But it has nothing to do with the guys that didn't play because I think all those guys are ready to help when called upon and have great attitudes and have been great teammates and prepared just as hard and well for their time as the guys who did.

Q. What are kind of the challenges in having a shorter rotation in general? You guys did it last night without playing anyone huge minutes. I think Al was out for 40 but everyone else was in the 30s. Is it sometimes talked about too much, like how did you just play seven guys?
BRAD STEVENS: It would have been a lot harder on our guards if we would have started small again because it's harder to rotate -- now you're rotating two guys in for four spots instead of one.

Q. Cleveland obviously tried to stick with Al Horford's body and keep him from getting in space. How do you think you guys have reacted to that, and how has that impacted what you guys have done?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, I think the longer you get in the Playoffs, the more you're playing really good players on both sides of the ball. They're very focused on trying to be physical and take away what people want individually. Same things we're trying to do, they're trying to do, and ultimately I thought Al did a really good job last night. I thought we were much better at getting him the ball, even when we didn't score, and we had a few turnovers there late against their post doubles, and Al's walk up top, I just thought we made a better conscious effort to get him the ball. I did not think we were -- we've got to finish better at the rim. That's been pretty well-documented over the last two games, and we've got to be -- we've got to continue to play with the poise that we played with at times yesterday, especially as we go into Cleveland, because when we try to hit home runs, we try to make really tough plays, and that's just out of our competitive spirit. You know, it's the greatest strength of our team in a lot of ways, and it sometimes makes us hit some home runs. But that's when we've really been hurt in transition is when we've had bad offense.

Q. With their sense of urgency, and I know you coach your own team, but do you expect that they'll go with a short rotation, too, depending on matchups? Do you counter that with more pressure on your end?
BRAD STEVENS: You have to make -- to me, you have to make -- as the series goes on, you try to make the best decisions that help you match up as well as you can defensively, and also provide some opportunities on offense. There's a lot that goes into it. There's a lot of time, thought to when guys are going in, when guys are coming out, all that stuff. But I thought their bench played really well. Like we didn't do a great job as far as like guarding some of their bench players yesterday.

Q. What does it mean to you when you see guys like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier not shoot the ball well but not hang their heads and still execute in other aspects of the game? How happy does that make you feel when you see that out there on the court?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, we're going to have to do that tomorrow night as a collective group, and there's going to be moments that don't go our way, and the minute you hang your head or the minute, like I just said, you lose your poise and try to hit home runs, that's when it backfires on you. We just need more and more of that, but those guys -- you know, they did a good job last night of just kind of staying the course and playing through a tough shooting night, and you know, as a team we had a tough shooting night. But our calling card all year has been the other end of the floor.

The other end of the floor is only effective if we have five guys back. You know, it doesn't matter if we have three guys back or four guys back or four and a half guys back. We have to have all five on a string ready to guard.

Q. You talked yesterday pregame a little bit about Aron Baynes. I was just wondering, people know he's a big, tough guy, but at what point during the year did you really see he could change games defensively, given how versatile he was on that end?
BRAD STEVENS: You mean just overall throughout our season?

Q. Yeah.
BRAD STEVENS: I'd say very early. In the preseason we played Charlotte with Dwight Howard. We played Philly with [Joel] Embiid. We played Embiid the third game of the season, and it became very clear very early that Baynes was one of our better individual defenders. And then I've just been amazed at his team defense. I think he's a tremendous communicator. He's a tremendous talker. He's very prideful. He plays to exhaustion.

We've got a lot of tough guys on our team, but I think they all will tell you Baynes is one of the toughest we've all been around.

Q. A lot of the series and the other Conference Finals, as well, a lot of the half-court offense has been focused on trying to find mismatches when teams are switches. Do you see that as something that is maybe part of the evolution of offense as we go forward in the NBA or something that's just kind of happening because of the match-ups so far?
BRAD STEVENS: It just depends on what your team does best and who you have on the court and everything else. I don't think it's new. Like I think that the NBA for a long time has been about finding matchups and finding the right matchup to attack. Probably more isolation when I was growing up than now. Obviously there's a lot of talk about it with the way Houston has played all year, but what gets lost is it's isolation, but it's isolation at 25 feet, and you have to guard all that space. You know, it's not isolation at 12 feet like maybe it was 20 years ago. You know, I think ultimately LeBron has been trying to find his matchups for years now, ever since I've been in the league. He's been great at figuring out who he wants in that pick-and-roll, and if you're switching, then he knows what to do. If you're showing, then he really kills you. If you've got a big that can't keep up with him, he'll go downhill at him. And I've heard him say before, and you can see it, he's faced every coverage there is. There's only so much more there is to do, you just try to mix it up as much as you can throughout a course of a game to try to make it as difficult as you can on him. But I don't think it's a new concept. I just think that because of the way Houston has played with such success, people are talking about it more.

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