BOSTON - Brad Stevens was up late the night of March 21, 2015.
Though he's usually up watching game film anyways, Stevens was watching another basketball game on this night - Butler vs. Notre Dame.
Formerly the head basketball coach at Butler before signing a six-year deal with the Celtics in 2013, Stevens took his Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA Championship Games in 2010 and 2011 as a No. 5 seed and No. 8 seed, respectively, coming up just short both times. This year, the 6-seeded Bulldogs lost in OT to the Fighting Irish in the Round of 32.
It appears as though Stevens has taken that magic with him to Boston, where the Celtics are playing their best basketball of Stevens' tenure with the team.
With their win over the Hornets on Monday night, the Celtics improved to 33-41 and finished the month of March 10-8 – their second straight winning month. The win also put them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
So why now? What is it about Stevens that turns him into Mr. March? Perhaps it’s his level-headedness and attention to detail that rubs off on his players by this point in the season.
"I'm still getting to know this group,” Stevens said of his Celtics. “Obviously I was with 13 groups with Butler. Our better teams got better as the year went on, and practices became better - which is really unique. And the best teams, the teams that ended up going as far as the Final Four, were laser-focused. And when I say that, I mean they never missed something they could control ever. The biggest thing as you move forward in those tournaments is that you get better.”
The final stretch of games for Boston this season isn’t quite a tournament – but it’s nearly as important, with six teams fighting for three spots.
And just like sets of tournament games are played with just one day in-between games, rarely are there long breaks in the NBA.
"He's just a smart basketball coach,” Jared Sullinger said. “He's one of those guys if you give him enough time to prepare for a game he's going to overdo it and at the same time he's going to have the players so engaged to the game of basketball they're always going to be ready to play at a certain time.
"I think this kind of represents March Madness for him. I think that's where he's his best. Where you have a game on Friday and turn around and have a game on Sunday, that's pretty much the NBA. He was always prepared for every NCAA game. I think that's where he thrived most.”
Both Tyler Zeller and Sullinger were familiar with Stevens in college. In fact, Stevens heavily recruited Zeller’s brother, Cody, who ended up choosing Indiana.
“I respected Butler greatly,” Zeller said. “I knew that his players played hard for him.”
That’s one thing those Butler players and these Celtics players certainly have in common – they all played hard for Stevens. But what about focus? “Teaching” focus isn’t so simple, but Stevens has his ways to pull it out of them.
“I think it's something that, No. 1, is you find passion and you really try to teach towards the passion of somebody,” Stevens said. “Because everybody is a lot more focused on what they like. So you have to develop a collective passion for doing things the right way on both ends of the floor and promote the individual strengths within that. Then hopefully you all have it moving forward in one direction."
And that one direction has been up the Eastern Conference standings and into the playoff picture.