The Celtics won 40 games in coach Brad Stevens’ second year, 48 in the third, and now 53.
The Celtics coach goes into his third straight year looking for a way to get past the first round, this time with the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, and another first-round loss would be the first serious blemish of Stevens’ career.
But there’s something about breaking that 50-win barrier that hits Bradley now.
“That’s an accomplishment, for any team to get 50 wins,” he said. “An outstanding season is 60. But 50, that means you’re on your way to the kind of season that every team dreams of having. Usually if you have 60, that means you’re one or two in your conference.
“It’s a big goal, and I’m pretty sure he’s had that goal set. We’ve played well this year, and Brad has done an even better job.”
As process-driven as he is, though, Stevens never put a number on the improvement he wanted to see.
“No. I thought we were going to try and do our jobs to the best of our ability every day, stick to a process of focusing on growth and making sure we were getting better, and let the chips fall where they may,” said the Celtics coach. “I’ve always thought you start with a baseline of what is your competitive makeup as a team, and then it’s how you prepare. The results are a function of all those more important things.”
The climb that followed was steady, albeit with two straight years of early playoff exits. But Bradley took heart in the improvement in the win column each year.
“It’s hard, takes a lot of sacrifice, a lot of believing in the process,” Bradley said. “Me personally, being here since Day 1, you don’t know what to expect. All you can do is work hard, do your role and hope for the best. We’ve been fortunate to have a great group of guys.”
That doesn’t mean peace. Isaiah Thomas, sometimes frustrated with his use by Stevens, spoke out twice this year. Marcus Smart, late in a loss in Washington, argued on the bench with two assistants before leaving early for the locker room, where he punched a hole in the wall.
“One of the things about teams — we’ve seen it a couple of times this year — is that tensions have risen, or there’s been moments where guys are frustrated, and that’s part of it,” Stevens said. “That’s something I’ve always believed, you grow through those things. Those frustrations and tension expedites your growth.”