Brad Stevens stayed out of the spotlight as the Celtics celebrate their second trip to the NBA Finals in three seasons, but his finger prints are all over this accomplishment. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Brad Stevens did his best to stay out of the limelight, as usual, after the Celtics clinched their second trip to the NBA Finals under his watch on Monday night. The team president of basketball operations greeted players in a side hallway on their way to the locker room, staying out of view of most cameras.

Wyc Grousbeck gave Stevens a shoutout during the trophy presentation but Stevens otherwise succeeded in keeping a low profile after the win, just the way he prefers to operate. This was a night for the players and coaches, not for him. Make no mistake, however, Stevens fingerprints was all over this win as Boston overmatched its third straight Eastern Conference opponent as it continues its quest to secure the franchise’s first title in 18 years.

Boston had plenty of luck go its way in the past few weeks, but this team created some of its own with the way it was built last offseason.


The path to the NBA Finals couldn’t have been much easier for the Celtics, but it’s easy to forget Boston cruised despite not having Kristaps Porzingis available for its last 10 games. A lot of that is a credit to Stevens and his front office for building a frontcourt to withstand an injury to Porzingis.

A variety of low priced options fortified Boston’s top talent and those pieces came through during the postseason. Center Luke Kornet had multiple big games off the bench as a backup center while guard Payton Pritchard was a net positive in a sixth-man role all postseason. Even deep reserves Oshae Brissett and Xavier Tillman had their moments against the Pacers.


More important than the bit players, Stevens built a core of starting talent capable of withstanding the absence of a player like Porzingis on the postseason stage. Jrue Holiday and Al Horford were able to slide into bigger offensive roles without taking away anything from their defensive contributions. Boston’s front office brushed off any declarations that the team needed flashier depth behind Porzingis and Horford. Through three rounds, that calculation looks correct.


Stevens wasted no time putting his fingerprints on this roster when taking over in the summer of 2021. He sent Kemba Walker, as well as a first-round and second-round pick to Oklahoma City to bring back Horford. He also sent two players and a first-round pick to San Antonio for Derrick White during the 2022 season.

Brad Stevens brought back center Al Horford in the summer of 2021, and he has fit in nicely with the Celtics, who are in the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Horford has been a rock since his return, with the added bonus of Boston re-signing him on a discount extension after his max deal expired. His fit next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had always been ideal and bringing him back as a supplemental piece has put this group in position to succeed.

The same can be said for two years ago betting on White, who has surpassed the offensive upside even the most positive pundits had for him in San Antonio. Finding a guy with his durability and defensive versatility has taken some pressure off Boston’s top talent, even if it took Coach Joe Mazzulla an extra year to give him the role he deserved.

Stevens fixed that problem this offseason, sending Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon out the door to bet on White and make sizable upgrades in Jrue Holiday and Porzingis. The window of opportunity was clearly here and now with this group with Brown and Tatum about to start earning supermax extensions. It was now or never for the Celtics to push all their chips in and they did so in a way that put them above the rest of the NBA talent wise.


Betting on Brown and Tatum to fill a leadership void opened by Smart’s departure was also a calculated gamble that worked well as both stars have showed improved maturity during this playoff push.


After a tumultuous run last postseason, year two with Mazzulla has been a far smoother ride. Stevens placed a ton of faith in the young coach in the wake of Udoka’s suspension and he showed plenty of warts managing a top-tier contender.

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Coach Joe Mazzulla took over under trying circumstances and Brad Stevens stuck with him. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Stevens stuck with Mazzulla through the turmoil and a full offseason of preparation worked wonders for the 35-year-old. His growth was apparent as he was able to put more of his stamp on the team day in and day out. With simpler lineups choices for crunch time and a dynamic offensive lineup, Mazzulla had his team playing consistently and was able to manage minutes and personalities well. It was a boring 64-win season in a way that Stevens likely loved. No drama, no long losing streaks, just steady play for the better part of 82 games with guys enjoying doing it for Mazzulla.


This team has not completed the job yet after cruising past an undermanned Eastern Conference but Boston will be the heavy favorites no matter what happens out West. With Porzingis expected to be ready for the NBA Finals, the Celtics will be well rested and have their full arsenal of weapons to go against their toughest test of the season.

Stevens has put this group in the best possible position to succeed and it’s now on the players to finish the job.

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