NBA Awards Keeps Brad Stevens Out Of Coach Of The Year Debate

Golden State remains undefeated in the NBA Playoffs and now they await the winner in the Eastern Conference to battle once again for the NBA Championship for a third straight season. By the way things are going, the Cavs are likely to make it again by defeating the Celtics. But right now, the Warriors are favorite to win the title at -420, especially with the team they have now." --- David Strauss, line manager.

In many ways, we should be thankful that the annual Coach of the Year discussion isn’t as intense as what we’ve seen for the league MVP. Yet the problem with how the awards will be presented now – a made-for-Turner Sports award show where finalists were announced a month in advance – is that it forces observers to disregard candidates truly deserving.

Brad Stevens has been considered one of the best young minds in the game, a fact cemented once he left the certain comforts of Butler University to go pro and take over the Boston Celtics. Even if they don’t pull off the improbable and beat the favored Cleveland Cavaliers, it should already be known that he had been working with some sort of voodoo magic with this team.

The Celtics’ adjustments for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals act as the latest proof of his effectiveness. Going into an amped up Quicken Loans Arena after getting shellacked on their own court in Games 1 and 2, the Celtics knew that they needed to do more than make up for lost scoring. Stevens inserted Marcus Smart into the starting lineup, which not only improved the team’s defense for the full game, but let the team control the pace against a Cavaliers team that wanted to run and gun on the smaller Celtics. He also made some superb play calling in the final minutes that led to Avery Bradley's lucky-but-not-really game-winning three.

While this lineup change was forced upon him – Isaiah Thomas was declared out for the rest of the playoffs before Game 3 – Stevens was no stranger to making the most of a depleted lineup as proven by the Celtics’ 19-8 record in the 27 regular season games they were without Bradley, their top defensive guard. His lineup adjustments were criticized late in the season as Boston was pushing for the East’s top seed, but perhaps a couple of those losses gave Stevens even better insights on what will work in case he would have to break glass in case of emergency.

It’s how Gerald Green, of all people, started in two first round playoff games against Chicago in order to play small ball and counter a Bulls team that shouldn’t have given them as much trouble as they did. It’s how Boston’s stable and proven depth eventually won out over Washington’s rebuilt bench in the tough seven game Eastern semis. And it’s how the Celtics were still able to score 111 points without an All-Star guard who had the league’s fifth-highest usage rate in both the regular season and the playoffs. (And yes, it helped that LeBron James had a bad night.)

The calm in the storm. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe)

Even though it’s a regular season honor, it’s hard to imagine anyone arguing against the three candidates as fiercely as they had for those for MVP. We tend to not care as much about the men in suits unless they win multiple championships or coach themselves into unemployment.

Playoff performances be damned, it’s likely that San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will take home his fourth COY award, breaking the tie with Pat Riley and Don Nelson for most honors ever. And while Mike D’Antoni pushed the Houston Rockets to great heights, Erik Spoelstra worked miracles with a Miami Heat team that played far greater than expected. Yet it would have been nice if the debate around this award, or rather all of the regular season honors, could have remained open. Brad Stevens made a hell of a case for himself long before Monday night.

Game Odds: Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Boston Celtics +15-105
Cleveland Cavaliers -15-115

217½ O-115 / U-105

No Moneyline

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