addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");
NEW YORK – The Celtics needed Wednesday night.
And they played like it.
Boston, coming off of a tumultuous 48 hours that featured everything from a resounding loss to questions about lineups and rotations, couldn’t afford to lose to the Nets in Brooklyn.
One reporter reached the point of asking Brad Stevens earlier in the day if the Celtics had reached a crossroads. Stevens contemplated the question before replying, “That’s a good question.”
Had Boston actually reached a crossroads? Would another defeat have crushed this team’s mental state and drawn out even more drama over the next 48 hours?
We’ll never know, because the Celtics did exactly what they set out to do at the Barclays Center.
“We knew what we had to do to come in and get a win,” said Jae Crowder, one of Boston’s sparkplugs off the bench. “We just came out with a little more effort than they did and it showed late.”
That’s a fact, as evidenced by Boston outscoring Brooklyn 70-56 over the final three quarters of the game.
What the Hornets did to the Celtics during Monday’s loss, the Celtics did to the Nets during Wednesday’s win. Boston out-hustled its opponent. It won the 50-50 battles. It played with a purpose. The Celtics didn’t win this game by mistake; they won it by going out and taking it.
As Brad Stevens told his players throughout the contest and again in the postgame locker room, “You earned it.’”
But, as the coach added, it wasn’t easy.
“That was a hard deal for us,” Stevens said. “We had to figure it out. We had to grind it out.
“We only scored 89 points and missed a lot of bunnies, but at the end of the day that’s the way basketball works. You’ve got to earn some.”
The Celtics earned this win with their defense and tenacity. They put forth one of their best defensive performance all season, limiting the Nets to just 81 points on 40.5 percent shooting, all while forcing 18 turnovers.
“We had effort going for us, and once we have that going for us shots don’t have to fall because plays are going to be made,” said Crowder. “With hard play, we don’t have to rely on shot-making that much. That’s the one thing we’ve been lacking of late. We had it tonight and it showed.”
Crowder was at the forefront of that movement. He was all over the court, making multiple hustle plays that undeniably inspired his teammates to do the same.
“That’s one thing I try to bring every day is effort and hustle plays,” the newly-acquired Celtic said after the game. “I play hard and it trickles down to everybody on the team and they try to play hard and try to play with a little bit more urgency and it showed.”
As Crowder’s style of play became more and more contagious, the Celtics became more and more of a force against Brooklyn.
“You could see everyone playing hard,” said Avery Bradley, who was right there with Crowder in the energy department. “Everyone was trying to leave everything out there on the floor for one another.”
Such had rarely been the case over the past two-plus weeks. The Celtics had not looked like a team. Instead, they had looked like a group of individuals who were attempting to find their way. Wednesday night, they finally bonded together on the floor.
“I think this is the first time for a full game that we have (played for each other),” said Tyler Zeller, who finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. “At times we’ve done a great job playing together. At other times we fall apart of they pressure us out of what we want to do. But I think tonight we stayed focused on what we needed to do.”
That was to play together, to play with effort and to play with a purpose, all with the goal of returning to the win column.
“We needed it,” a relieved Bradley said of the victory. “Everyone was frustrated … We knew we needed to come out and get a win and we need to do the same thing in Indiana.”
Step One of that process is already in the books. The Celtics needed a win Wednesday night in Brooklyn, and they went out and earned one. Now it’s on to Indiana to see if they can do the same Friday night.