Celtics' Stevens praises Heat coach Spoelstra: 'I think the world of Erik'

By Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

The mutual admiration will morph into something more competitive Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., when the Eastern Conference finals resume.

Tuesday, though, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens stressed that when it comes to Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, he is a big fan.

"I think the world of Erik," he said after the Celtics' practice at Disney World. "I think the world of their whole program. I think they're tremendous.

"But that's the fun part of this. When you're playing at this time of the year - I guess not this time of the year, usually you're getting ready for training camp - but when you're playing in the playoffs, that's the part that is fun. There are tweaks that are made game to game by both teams, some bigger impact, some smaller impact, some that may or may not be noticed. But I think he's terrific."

The compliment of Spoelstra came after Stevens mentioned taking something out of each of the Celtics' series, from the first-round sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers, to the second-round seven-game escape against the Toronto Raptors, to standing down 2-1 to the Heat in this best-of-seven series and watching the Heat play to the strengths of Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, among others.

"I learned stuff from Philly, learned stuff from Toronto, learning every day from Miami," Stevens said. "I think Erik is tremendous on both sides of the ball. I think that the way that they have morphed their team to play around the strengths of Adebayo at the elbow and all those guys cutting off of him, and then to be able to play with Dragic or Butler in pick-and-rolls or isolations or get matchups or whatever, is tremendous.

"Then, on the defensive end, I think the additions of Crowder and Iguodala gave them a ton more versatility at the trade deadline, but it also, I think, made everyone else a better defender because it gave them a little bit more help. The schemes that they've put in place make it really hard to find a good shot."

As for his own team, Sevens said he is encouraged by the progress of forward Gordon Hayward, who returned in Saturday's Game 3 victory, after missing five weeks with a severely sprained right ankle.


"I didn't anticipate necessarily playing him 31 minutes," Stevens said of Hayward's playing time Saturday, "but I never thought he looked like he was completely gassed, either. I thought there were times where obviously he wanted to come out and we took him out for a quick breather. But I was more worried about the conditioning aspect of it than necessarily the structure of the ankle.

"Our training staff felt really good about where he was and how much work he had put in and that it looked like it was going to be able to handle it. Knowing we had four days off and knowing the recovery was going to have a little bit more time, it extended his minutes a little bit."

Stevens said taking measure Saturday made it easier to plan during these intervening days off.

"Now he knows he can do it," Stevens said. "I think sometimes when you come back and you're on a minutes restriction and you play 15 or 20, then the next step is 22, then the next step is 24, then the next step is 26.

"He knows he can do it as long as we pace those stints well, and so that's what we'll keep doing. He won't get to 40, but he'll play minutes."

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