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Brad Stevens on Marcus Smart’s Relentless Defense and Boston’s Pitch to Kevin Durant

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The Boston Celtics may not have a true superstar or an obvious way to cash in their treasure trove of assets, but they have Brad Stevens. The fourth-year NBA coach has dragged Boston to the playoffs the past two seasons despite having just one All-Star (Isaiah Thomas in 2016) on the roster. He’s quickly become one of the most respected coaches in the league, and he joined Bill Simmons on The Ringer NBA Show to talk all things NBA, including Marcus Smart and Kevin Durant.

Check out the full podcast here. This transcription has been edited and condensed.

Why Brad Stevens Trusted Marcus Smart With Guarding Paul Millsap

Brad Stevens: One of the things I really like about Marcus [Smart] is when Marcus is here, you know he’s here. You know he’s in the room, you know he’s in the game, you know he’s in a defensive drill in practice. He’s got a presence about him that can liven a room. He’s got a great competitive spirit about him.

Defensively, obviously, he’s as advanced as any guy that I had ever coached at that age — not just from the standpoint of the physical toughness and strength and athleticism, but also just the understanding of where to be at the right time. He clearly had great coaching growing up, and he just knows the game. …

I think that as he continues to progress — and everybody has talked about his shooting, which I know he has worked really hard on — the other parts of his game offensively have really expanded. He was better off the pick-and-roll in Year 2, I thought he did a great job of getting into the paint, finishing, kicking out, [and] making plays — especially during the playoffs. I think his greatest strength will always be that he’s a guy that makes winning plays that sometimes aren’t quantified.

Whether that’s guarding [Paul] Millsap for eight minutes or guarding [Kristaps] Porzingis for six minutes or guarding the point guard for the next four, he’s just a guy that will do anything you ask to help his team win.

Bill Simmons: How long did you think about putting him on Millsap before you did it? I was sitting on my couch going, "We might have to put Marcus on Millsap but that’s just crazy," and then you did it.

Stevens: Well, you’re smarter than I am because I was just thinking about it like in the huddle. I looked up at the thing and Millsap had 45, I thought, "You know, I should switch and give somebody else a shot." Sometimes your guys can be playing great defense but the guy [you’re defending] is getting in such a rhythm that you have to switch the look just to switch the look. Marcus, you know the one thing about Marcus is he is going to do everything in his power to make it incredibly difficult for that person to score the ball. He may be smaller, he may be whatever, but he’s going to do everything in his power — he is a relentless competitor, and so at the time, it made a lot of sense. But I can’t say that it was something I went in thinking going into the second half.

How the Celtics Used Tom Brady to Try to Recruit Kevin Durant

Stevens: So, I didn’t even know that [Tom Brady] was going for sure until that morning. … The players and I flew together from Atlanta, because we had met with Al [Horford] the evening before. [Brady and Celtics representatives] quickly went out to eat lunch before the meeting, and you know, I think [he is] a great example of a guy that is obviously an incredibly high achiever, has won at the highest level, is totally committed to being the greatest that he can be, and loves being a part of Boston sports. He loves living in Boston, talked about how much his family enjoys Boston … about raising his kids here — you know everything else. He really came across as just a normal guy, and I was really impressed with him. It was the first time I had really spent any time with him. I had been to a practice of theirs before where I got a chance to meet him briefly, but he was great and people respect not only the fact that he’s accomplished all that he’s accomplished, but he’s just a really down-to-earth person.

I felt very good about how we presented ourselves [in the team’s pitch to Durant]. Having been through 13 years of recruiting prior to coming to Boston, I felt like that we went in there, and I think that we focused on the right things to focus on and put our best foot forward, and I felt really good that we had left no stone unturned, so that was that.