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.
With the excitement ahead of the NBA London game, I had the opportunity to interview Celtics stars Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Aaron Baynes and Coach Stevens. Please see below the interview. For more information on events throughout the week, follow me on twitter @Msbennybonsu
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.
We spoke to you in September and you were quite optimistic about what the Celtics could achieve this season, even though there was a lot of doubt based on changes that happened during the offseason. Do you think you can have fun being part of a successful team, or are you too involved in the process of winning night after night to enjoy the progress made by the Celtics?
AL HORFORD: I think the focus always has to be on the night tonight, but I do sit back and look at the big picture. We’ve had a lot of adversity as a group, a lot of guys that have never played in the NBA that have come in and had an impact. I look at all that and I do appreciate the progress and how well we’ve played. But then also at the same time, I always bring myself back down, and it’s important for us to focus on the game to game and the process and just continue to get better. And I think that’s the key for our group.
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.
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.
Do you think with the resurgence of the 76ers, especially with the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the young corps of the Celtics, who are doing big things in the Eastern Conference, basketball fans are likely to experience the 76ers- Celtics rivalry like we saw back in the ’80s? Are we likely to see that in a few years?
ARON BAYNES: I do think there’s definitely a great young core group on both teams. That’s one of those things that’s exciting about this game coming up in London is there is so much young talent. We have Jayson [Tatum], who is playing phenomenally. He has had a lot more on his plate than anyone really thought coming into the season. And then Jaylen [Brown] is backing up his rookie year very well. They’ve added a lot of pieces around here, so there’s a great young core here.
And then Philly, they’ve got Simmons and Embiid, and that’s definitely their core. It’s going to be for a long time coming into it.
It’s one of those things that’s going to be hopefully a good rivalry over the next few years. It will be a fun one when we get out there in London, for sure.
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.
Jaylen Brown recently commented that it’s a new year so it’s a new day, so starting in January is like starting the season all over again. What are you going to do as a team going forward knowing that the Cavs and Raptors are chasing you down to take the No. 1 spot in the East?
JAYSON TATUM: We’ve got a lot of games left, and now we’ve got some time off where we can practice and regroup and tighten things up that we need to work on, and take it one day at a time and practice one game at a time.
Considering how well you are playing, you’re shooting so well from the three-point line and you’re definitely one of the best rookies so far in the season, do you have the Rookie of the Year award among your goals for this season?
You mentioned you want the guys to take in some of the sights in London. How different is the prep for a road trip like this to one of the other ones you would do during the regular season in terms of different time zones, different climate, different fan base, different arena to what most of the guys have played in before?
BRAD STEVENS: Well, these guys are so used to playing in big arenas and special venues that we don’t give a second thought to that. I think it’s more the opportunity we do get to practice at least once or twice there, and we get to work on some things we need to work on. I mean, a lot of times in the NBA you’re playing one night, hopping on a plane, playing somewhere else the next and then flying out. This is the most unique part about this trip, other than the fact that it’s across the ocean in London, is the fact that we’re actually going to be in a city for a couple of days before we play and have a chance to work together.
So that’s a real unique part from a travel perspective, from a preparation perspective. But everything else will be what I would say is pretty similar to the norm.
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.
Events like NBA London speak to the ever- increasing international culture within the NBA. Do you think that’s part of the reason the league is in such a good place? And then the second question, is Gordon Hayward traveling to London?
BRAD STEVENS: Gordon Hayward will not travel. He has not traveled on any of our road games yet and probably won’t for a little bit longer, until basically he doesn’t need our equipment here to do what he needs to do. So that’s still down the road a little bit.
As far as the international influence on the NBA, I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s one of the coolest parts of my job. I mean, we have a player from the Dominican Republic, we have a player from Germany, we have a player from Australia, we have a player from France, we have a player that was born in Egypt. It’s a special thing to be around people from all over the world working toward one common goal. That’s why people love sports, because we get a chance to see that kind of intentional pursuit, and it’s certainly a great part of the NBA, especially with all the different backgrounds on every team.