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Warning sign saves former St. A hoop coach Clifford

BOSTON — The guy coaching the Bobcats Wednesday night was unable to perform his duties last Friday night. Steve Clifford was busy.

The longtime NBA assistant and pride of Derby Line, Vt., who spent four years as an assistant coach at St. Anselm College from 1985-89, had spent the day in a Charlotte hospital getting two stents placed in his heart.

He went home on Saturday, was at practice Sunday and was back on the bench for Monday’s game against Atlanta, all after experiencing the worst pain of his life while at dinner last Thursday evening.

After all this, Clifford considers himself exceedingly lucky.

“Where I’m fortunate is a lot of people unfortunately don’t get a warning sign, and I did,” he said before Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics. “By doing that, they were able to clean it up. I was told in six, seven months, a year, I could have had a real problem.”

Not to be dramatic about it, but the “real problem” could well have been game, set, match, as it, unfortunately, is for so many.

And while two NFL coaches have recently had similar issues related to stress, Clifford has gone out of his way to point out that what befell him has relatively little to do with him achieving his NBA head coaching dream this season.

“What happened to me is a lot more a byproduct of what I’ve done for 30 years than what’s happened the last five months,” he said. “Most of my issue, to be honest, is genetic. And I do have to take better care of myself. I have to sleep better. I’ve got to do better with my diet, exercise better.”

Clifford then spoke of the debilitating nature of the NBA traveler, a lifestyle that has lifted profits in the statin industry.

“Advance scouting is the toughest thing I’ve ever done, just in terms of the toll on your body,” said Clifford, who has been in the league since 2000 and been an assistant for the Knicks, Houston, Orlando and the Lakers. “I mean, literally you’ll go sometimes a week to 10 days where you’re lucky to get two or three hours’ sleep a night. You may be 16 nights, 16 cities, and when the game ends your day is just beginning. So that job was tough.”

It got easier his second season when he became an assistant, but the job still took a toll. And with a family history of heart issues, trouble was lurking.

It knocked even harder a week ago when he went to dinner with one of his representatives and Knicks broadcaster Mike Breen.

“It just hit me, my chest,” Clifford said. “I’d never felt that much pain. We had just ordered and, man, it just ... you know. So I went in the bathroom, put water on my face, and then you think you’re overreacting. Then I couldn’t even stand up. I was down on my hands and knees and it was getting worse. So I went out and said I had to call 911.

“As soon as I got oxygen when the ambulance arrived, ever since then I’ve had no pain. The guy was saying to me, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are.’ If I wouldn’t have felt enough pain ... When I got to the hospital, I felt, like, I overreacted. I’m fine.’’

Clifford’s daily schedule is now limited.

“They don’t let me do as much in practice,” he said. “They have me go right home after.’’

“But still, when you’re sitting at home watching ‘Law and Order’ or whatever, you’re still thinking about your team. You’re trying to find a way to be better at your job. With anything, there’s good and bad, and we’re all fortunate to be able to do something we love to do.”

Considering what he’s been through, any NBA sideline was a welcome sight. But Wednesday night was even more special for Clifford, who had family, friends, his Maine-Farmington coach and some teammates in the TD Garden crowd.

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