C's Focused on the Process During Western Swing

PHOENIX – The Celtics began a five-game, West Coast road trip Friday night that includes matchups with two presumed title contenders and their most hated rival. But they aren’t looking at it from that sort of big-picture perspective. Instead, they’re concentrating on today.

If there’s one thing Brad Stevens has engrained in his players’ minds, it’s that they must focus on the process of improving. The process of improving hinges upon taking each day as it comes, and capitalizing on each day as an opportunity to improve.

Ask the Celtics about their overarching goals heading into this monster of a road trip, and you’ll get an answer that drips of the process.

“We’ve just got to take it game-by-game and day-by-day and see where we’re at,” Isaiah Thomas said before Saturday’s practice in Phoenix as he replied to a question about the team’s goals for the trip.

Pressed further on the issue, Thomas held strong to his sentiment.

“You just try to take it game-by-game,” he politely replied while repeating his stance. “You don’t want to get too far ahead or worry about what’s happened in the past. You just want to take it one game at a time.”

Across the gym, about 75 feet away and about five minutes earlier, Jae Crowder gave a very similar response after being asked the same question.

“We just take it one game at a time,” said Crowder, who tallied 14 points and six rebounds Friday night in LA. “The first game was against the Lakers last night and we took care of business, and now we’re focused on Phoenix.”

Crowder did let his mind slip briefly, saying, “Of course you want to win all five of them, but you’ve got to leave here with a winning record.” It was clear, however, that he and his teammates are concentrating on the process of improving day-by-day and letting the results take care of themselves.

Today, Boston’s opportunity to improve arrives via the practice court, where they came together for a brief session before Sunday’s early tip-off at 3 p.m. local time in Phoenix.

Before the team took the court, Stevens gave his perspective on the process and why it is critical to a team’s success.

“The one thing about just being focused on the process and being focused on day-by-day improvement is, it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday,” he said. “It’s about getting better today. It’s about taking the two or three things you really need to work on and trying to improve that.”

Stevens then commented on why focusing on the previous day, or the following day, could be a hindrance.

“Basketball is not a perfect game,” he said. “You’re not going to play perfect. You’re not going to play the same way every day. But you’ve just got to hopefully build good habits as you move forward through a season and hopefully build and grow as a team.”

Does that sound like “coach’s talk”? Absolutely. But it’s the mindset of the Boston Celtics, and it’s the foundation of their success.

Boston is 40-22 this season, good for the fifth-best record in the NBA. It just dominated the Lakers in Los Angeles, and it will attempt to do the same to the Suns Sunday afternoon in Phoenix.

For now, though, it’s all about Saturday, and Saturday is about getting better on the practice court.

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