Celtics coach Brad Stevens brings out the best in guard Isaiah Thomas

February 10, 2017 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. — It never takes much for the frustration with naysayers to come bubbling to the surface with Isaiah Thomas.

The Celtics arrived here for last night’s game against the Blazers, 24 hours after Thomas played a game in Sacramento, Calif., his original NBA home. The reminders were everywhere of how Kings management, over the course of his first three seasons, repeatedly tried to find another solution at point guard when the solution was staring them in the face.

That solution, in Thomas’ mind as well as those of an increasing number of fans, was the player now with the Celtics. But it’s all good, as he likes to say.

“I’m happy where I am now,” he said.

The reason is multi-folded, from the unique experience of playing basketball in front of the appreciative Garden crowd, to fitting into the ideal system for his talents under Brad Stevens, to the coach’s willingness to accept Thomas for who he is.


No wonder Thomas is happy. No player can ask for more than a coach who understands how to use him.

“Everybody that comes through, we’re not looking at what they can’t do, we look at what they can,” said Stevens. “They’re in the NBA for a reason. You soar with their strengths and go from there. He brought something to our team that we didn’t have with the ability to get into the paint with the ball, play pick-and-roll.

“Once we got more time together with regard to the system and everything else, you realize he can do a lot of stuff as a 2 off of the ball, even though he’s small,” he said. “He just does so many things well, and we choose to focus on that.”

This approach has not only been a hallmark of Stevens’ time with the Celtics. It has marked his entire coaching career, dating back to when he got the most out of a Butler University lineup that didn’t have the talent of the major Division 1 programs, but invariably had players who worked harder than their competition.

Once he came to the Celtics, and implemented a system that has improved by the season, Stevens found he had common ground with all sorts of players.

Rajon Rondo has butted heads with virtually every coach he has played for in this league — except for Stevens, who had great success working with the mercurial guard.

Jordan Crawford was generally considered an uncoachable gunner when he joined the Celtics, until Stevens successfully turned him into a point guard.

In Thomas’ case, defense is probably the final frontier, and a challenge that the 5-foot-9 guard is probably never going to conquer. The frequent problem of Thomas getting isolated in the paint against an opposing big man off a bad switch doesn’t have a good solution. But even here Stevens sees promise.


“He does a lot of good things in that end,” said Stevens. “Obviously there will be matchups you try to avoid, but every time he hears people say that it makes that chip on his shoulder grow. He hears all of that stuff about not defending. The bottom line is he does a great job going over screens and trailing screens, he guards 2’s and 1’s. We put a lot of onus on him to guard both sides.”

And to improve. That demand has worked with many players before.

“It’s all about players and it’s all about ultimately them deciding we’re going to be the best versions of ourselves every day,” said Stevens. “The league is unforgiving. If you don’t play really well you get beat. That’s the hard part about this league.”