Boston Celtics stars Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Daniel Theis, Aron Baynes and Coach Brad Stevens took part in a global conference call ahead of the upcoming NBA London Game between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. Below are some of the highlights.
Q. The start of the season so far for Boston has been very, very good. You’re currently in first place in the Eastern Conference. Do you think that this season you really have all the tools to fight against Cleveland in the postseason and to try, of course, to reach the NBA Finals?
AL HORFORD: Yeah, I mean, I feel like we’ve been playing really good basketball, like you said. I feel like we have a really young group that our guys just keep getting better as the season goes along. As a group, we’re going to keep getting better, and I do feel like we have what it takes to contend for a championship.
Q. You missed the chance to play in London when the Hawks came over a few years ago. Does that actually make it even more satisfying that you get the chance to actually come over here this time?
AL HORFORD: Yes. I’m very excited. As soon as we found out earlier this summer we were going to play in London, my wife and I were just ecstatic, very happy about it. I’m really trying to make the most out of the trip. We’ve been to London before. We love the city. So we’re looking forward to spending a couple days over there.
Q. What have you learned about Kyrie Irving that has made you improve your game?
AL HORFORD: Kyrie is a great competitor. He’s a guy that has proved that he can play at a really high level, and I think that he’s made our team better. He has, in his own way, challenged me to be better, especially to be more aggressive on the offensive end, and just striving to be a better player. So it’s been a lot of fun being able to play alongside him.
Q. What is it like working with such a young, talented group? Also, what it is like to be compared to Gregg Popovich because of the impact you’re having?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, first and foremost, I really enjoy coaching this group. We have a long way to go. I don’t think we’re playing at the level of a 60-win team, so we’ll find out how good we are when everything is done.
As far as being compared or talked about in the same breath as Coach Popovich, I would have to check the source and tell them they probably don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m not in that ballpark, and I’m pretty cognizant of that. This is a league that is incredibly humbling to be a part of because the players and coaches are so good. Every single day you have to stay on your toes just to survive, and I think that that’s something that you don’t take for granted.
This is a difficult task against the best of the best. To be compared to somebody like Pop, again, it’s flattering, but I don’t take it too seriously because I know how far away I am from a guy like him.
Q. How important is it for the players and the league to play overseas?
BRAD STEVENS: I think we all recognize the impact of the NBA but certainly the impact of basketball across the world. I think of all the many incredible things that basketball has given to me, it’s been the opportunity to go to different places because of the game. When I was a college player, I played in four different countries in Europe. When I coached at Butler, we took our team to Finland. We took our team to Italy. We had set up a trip to go to Australia right before I left.
As part of the NBA, I’ve already gotten a chance to coach in Madrid and Milan and also go on an NBA Cares trip to Johannesburg, and now we get to come to London. Without basketball, I don’t get to go to any of those places.
To me, it’s just another thing to speak to why we’re so thankful to get an opportunity to do what we do, and kind of, I guess, the global impact of the game and how we’re all tied by the love of the game, and I think that that for a basketball junkie like me is the fun part of it.
Q. In London you’ll be facing Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and other talented young players. Do you see games such as this one as an opportunity to
showcase your development alongside guys almost at a similar stage of their career?
JAYSON TATUM: Yeah. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a great game. There’s a lot of talent on the floor on both ends, especially young talent, and I’m excited to have the fans over there get to see it up close and personal.
Q. Coming over to London next week, what are you most looking forward to doing while you’re in London other than obviously playing?
JAYSON TATUM: My mom is coming over, so just go find nice places to eat, go sightseeing, walk around. It’s a little bit warmer over there than it is here, so try to get out of the hotel.
Q. How does it feel being one of the fans’ favorite players in Boston, and did you expect to play such a role? And the second one is are there any personal teasing with other German NBA players because you are the only one playing on a team at the top of the league?
DANIEL THEIS: First off, I would say the Boston fans are special anyway, so every game is sold out. Every play I get, it’s loud from the fans for me. I mean, I should say some fans. It’s an honor for me, for sure. I just try to play like I’ve played the last years, bring energy. And the second one, for the other German players, now in Chicago they’ve made a run. They’re getting better. They have played the last year on the highest level. [Chicago’s Paul Zipser] played a lot of games. So I hope all the other German players and teams they play for, they’re going to get better this season.
Q. You’ve excelled in your role coming off the bench now for years. Can you explain why this role suits you so well? And can you tell us how many friends and family will come over to the London game from home?
DANIEL THEIS: I don’t mind starting or coming off the bench for the game. Like I said, I’ve been doing this in Bamberg for years. I just try to bring energy, play defense when I step on the court. For me, it doesn’t matter if I start the game, come off the bench or whatever, so whenever the team needs me, I try to be ready. I’ve got my brother coming with his girlfriend to London. My wife is coming from Boston to London. And I’ve got some friends or people I know that play in London, like all around London, soccer, they’re coming to the game, too.
Q. Just wondering what you and the guys are looking forward to most about coming over here to London? Might be a little bit cold, I guess, when you get over here. Are preparations all going ahead?
ARON BAYNES: I know we’re definitely looking forward to it. There’s a great following for the NBA over there, and we’re excited to get over there. It’s a different culture for everyone to learn. I don’t know if it’s going to be colder. I think it’s negative-17 Celsius here today. It’s probably a little bit warmer over there for us. At least we’ll go and thaw out a little bit while we’re in London, which you don’t hear too often. We’re looking forward to getting over there. The game is definitely our No. 1 focus, but also getting out, seeing some of the sights. I know my wife is coming over, and she wants to go to a play in the West End and we’ll go to a couple other places.
Being from Australia, we learned about the British history growing up, so it always takes it to another level for us being able to go over there and walk through Piccadilly Circus and see Leicester Square. There’s stuff that is pretty awesome for us, seeing Buckingham and Parliament, Big Ben. That’s what we grew up learning about, so it’s always good to be able to go over there. It’ll be my wife’s first time in London as well, so she’s definitely looking forward to it.
The Philadelphia 76ers host the Boston Celtics at The O2 in London on Jan. 11 as part of NBA London Game 2018. The game is live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS.
Source: Pitch London
Image: Stuart Cahill