They overachieved at overachieving. They made a habit of beating teams that were better than them. They thrived after the unexpected absence of Gordon Hayward, and their success was unlikely enough that it was only natural to wonder how much of it had to do with their coach: Brad Stevens.
The Butler Bulldogs of 2011 were so much like this year’s Boston Celtics they might as well have played on a parquet floor.
Before he was maybe the best coach in the NBA, Stevens was maybe the best coach in college basketball, and never was he better than when the Bulldogs made it back to the sport’s national championship in 2011. They didn’t have a first-round NBA draft pick on their roster. Their leading scorer was a senior—a senior!—who took special pride in how disgusting his socks were. There are more players from that team already coaching basketball than still playing basketball. And they almost won the national title anyway.
“This Celtics team has Butler written all over it,” said former Butler guard Will Veasley.
They were down three starters in their Game 1 against the Sixers, coached by Brett Brown. They won anyway. The Celtics are still underdogs in this series, and they appear to be one year away from contending for the NBA title again, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable for them to make the Eastern Conference finals even if they don’t have Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers have won nine more games over the last two years than their statistical profiles would have predicted, which is the most in the NBA, according to Basketball Reference.
Why? Cleveland has LeBron James. Boston has Brad Stevens: