Celtics are Learning To Fight Natural Instincts

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Boston Celtics know that there are 48 minutes in an NBA basketball game. What they are working to figure out, however, is how to maintain a high level of play for the entire duration of those minutes.

Boston has opened up its season with two losses that each featured some great moments and some bad moments. The Celtics have shown that when they play team basketball, they can be pretty darn good, but when they get away from that togetherness, it’s a recipe for disaster.

That fact was on full display during Friday night’s home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics led by as many as 22 points in the second half thanks to a fantastic display of team-oriented basketball. Their final 16 minutes of the game, however, was at the other end of the spectrum.

“I think we just got stagnant,” Jeff Green said on Saturday. “The ball stuck. Guys were trying to go one-on-one. Plain and simple when you look at the film.”

Brad Stevens’ message must have been delivered to his players, because he made a very similar statement to the media just moments before.

Brad Stevens on the sideline

Though Brad Stevens is 0-2 since making his NBA coaching debut, he is instilling a winning mentality in his players.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images Sport

Said Stevens, “The ball stopped moving the way it was moving in the first half and we tried to isolate a little bit too much.”

Boston’s rookie head coach has an idea as to why the C’s stopped moving the ball as they had been in the first half. Stevens insinuated that his players were hoping that the Bucks would raise the white flag and wait for the final buzzer to sound.

“With a 24-second shot clock in this league, you can’t play timidly,” said Stevens. “You can’t play to hope the clock runs out. You’ve got to play through each possession. You can hold the ball maybe in the last minute if you’re up, but that’s about it. You’ve got to just play your game and play it as well as you can.”

Hindsight is always 20-20. The Celtics watched film of last night’s game and they recognize that they didn’t maintain their high level of play throughout the contest. It’s great news that they’re willing to acknowledge that fact, but this is the second consecutive game in which they’ve failed to play consistently throughout the game.

That’s the bad news, but there’s good news, too. Boston played about 24 minutes of good basketball on Wednesday. It improved to playing about 32 minutes of good basketball on Friday. This group is in the process of learning how to win together in the most talented basketball league in the world.

“Honestly, we’ve got a lot of guys who don’t have the experience that we did last year,” said Jared Sullinger. “So we’re just learning on the fly.”

Green, for one, seems as if he’s already learned the lesson. He went into detail about what he has learned through these past two games, and how he and his teammates can use those lessons to their advantage.

“Knowing that there are ups and downs, momentum swings, and just fighting through those momentum swings when it’s not going your way,” said Green. “I think that’s probably the toughest, because you’re not all going to play a perfect game, you’re not going to make every shot, you’re going to turn the ball over. You’ve just got to figure out a way to play through it.”

There are two keys to playing through such adversity. The first is having great players, and the second is playing team basketball. Stevens and Sullinger touched on those topics Saturday afternoon.

“I think that’s one of the things that separates great players,” Stevens said of stepping up in the face of adversity. “Danny (Ainge) was talking about this this morning. A guy like (Larry) Bird, as many big shots people talk about guys like that hitting in situations to win games, the shots they hit to stop runs were just as big. The willingness to step up and make that shot in that moment is a huge moment.”

Sullinger, who spoke moments before Stevens, spoke simply but truthfully about how critical team basketball is to being successful.

‘It’s a team game,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that as a team, we play better instead of individuals.”

This riddle can be solved, and the answer is very simple. The Celtics must recognize what has put them in position to win games and fight the urge to relax.

“The game is just like anything else in life,” Stevens said. “If things are going really well, it challenges you because the natural instinct is to lay off.”

Learning how to fight that instinct for 48 minutes is a process that the Celtics haven’t completed yet. The lesson continues, but rest assured that games like last night’s at TD Garden will be falling into Boston’s win column sooner rather than later.