Stevens wary of Kawhi-led Raptors; Celts ‘can’t skip steps’

Brad Stevens says no one is going to hand the favored Celtics anything this season.

The Boston Celtics may be the darlings of Las Vegas in terms of the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals, but don’t try to sell Brad Stevens on that bet.

The Boston Celtics coach told Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe the Toronto Raptors, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the postseason a year ago, aren’t going anywhere, especially after having added Kawhi Leonard in a blockbuster trade with the San Antonio Spurs, along with veteran swingman and strong defender Danny Green.

“Kawhi’s ability to impact a game on offense, on defense, I think the addition of Danny Green as well — that’s a really versatile, good team,” Stevens told Himmelsbach.

“Toronto was the best team in the East and they added one of the best players in the NBA. So I’m sure they’re excited about their team.”

The Raptors finished four games ahead of the Celtics in the East last season. However, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward said to be progressing daily as they rehab serious injuries that prematurely ended their seasons a year ago, Celtics such as Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have spoken confidently about Boston’s chances at reach the Finals.

However, Stevens pumped the brakes at least a bit on such talk.

“We can’t skip steps,” he said. “We can’t talk about being the favorite. We can’t talk about being in the mix. We can’t talk about being a playoff team. We have to go back and earn all that with our work all the way through.”

Stevens admitted, though, having big expectations isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“The one thing I will say is, you’d rather be in the position of having expectations and having everybody back, because that means the guys in the locker room are the ones that earned it,” he said.

“And I think having earned expectations is a positive thing.”

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