Celtics Prep for Cavs After Rare Time Off
WALTHAM, Mass. – Every NBA team gets a lengthy reprieve from basketball during February’s All-Star break. The Boston Celtics are on the short list of teams that were blessed with another long break during this grueling NBA season.
The Celtics played Sunday evening in Indiana and don’t return to the court until tipping off against the Cavaliers at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Brad Stevens gave the team three days off before the group reconvened on Thursday and Friday for two physically-demanding practices.
“We got to reboot and have two good days of hard practice and tried to get our legs back under us,” Jared Sullinger said following Friday’s session. “When you take a break like that, you kind of, not really get out of shape, but mentally get out of shape if you follow what I’m saying.
“I think that was the biggest thing right now is just getting all of those Christmas cookies off of our back and getting ready to play on Saturday.”
When this break began Sunday night, the last thing the Celtics wanted to think about was another game. They had just fallen by 27 points at the hands of the Pacers, marking their third consecutive loss and fifth in their last seven games overall.
This break, as it now seems, couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I think the break was needed,” said Jeff Green. “I think the November schedule really kind of burned us out a little bit.”
Green also said the team was able to take a step back and reassess itself during the time off.
“It allowed us to think about what we needed to do to get back on the right track,” he said.
The Celtics discovered something during their self-evaluation: their defense had dropped off considerably.
Boston has been regarded as one of the league’s top defenses throughout the first two months of this season. It ranks fifth in opponent scoring and third in opponent 3-point field goal percentage. The C’s haven’t lived up to that standard of late.
The last three Celtics opponents have each scored at least 106 points while giving Boston a notch in the loss column. Those opponents have also combined to shoot 47.7 percent from the field.
Admitting such slippage at the defensive end, where Boston prides itself so much, was not an easy thing to do. However, the Celtics diagnosed the issue and worked hard to fix it over the past two days.
“Our emphasis has been trying to get better at the defensive end of the floor,” said Stevens, “there’s no question about that.”
It won’t take long for the Celtics to figure out if that hard work has paid off. They return to the floor on Saturday to take on a Cleveland team that just scored 125 points Thursday night. Kyrie Irving scored 40 points in that game, while Tristan Thompson scored 22 and Dion Waiters added 20.
“I watched last night’s game live and it was as entertaining a basketball game as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stevens said of Cleveland’s 127-125, double-overtime loss to Atlanta. “Irving put on a show. That’s probably putting it mildly.”
Stevens clearly recognizes the challenge his team will face on Saturday, but he refuses to predict how the Celtics will react to that challenge following its stretch of five days without a game.
“It can go both ways so I don’t want to predict that,” said Stevens. “I’ve been on teams where they’ve come back after break and they’re really good. I’ve been on teams where they’ve come back after break and they’ve looked stagnant. Bottom line is we’ll find out tomorrow how we play.”
We don’t know how the Celtics will play, but we do know that they’ll have no excuses heading into Saturday’s showdown with Cleveland. They should be fresh and sharp after a very rare and very lengthy in-season break.